Many people would be surprised to hear that the teachers who spend each day working to prevent bullying among learners in schools can themselves be victims of bullying in the workplace.

What does bully leadership look like?

Bully leadership is authoritative.  It can be very uncomfortable.

There is the overwhelming feeling of anger. It can mean slamming doors for effect.  There can be psychological bullying, like dropping statements that cause stress for a teacher at inappropriate times.

It can mean undermining the efforts of teachers and jeopardizing their success.  It can involve threatening and abuse of power.

But do bully leaders consider themselves to be bullies?

Principal bullies often believe strongly that they are very capable leaders, and are unable to distinguish between the qualities of good leadership and bullying.

Often bully leaders believe that they are simply getting everyone on their side, focusing on the current initiative.  They see success in their actions. Bully leaders get results.  And they get attention from the District. The District sees the results, cheers the Bully on, holding up to others the “great results” – something all the other Principals should aspire to.

But that “success” is short-lived.  When teacher motivation rests in fear of the Principal, it is not sustainable.

How can the District Recognize the Bully Principal?

It can be very difficult for Cluster Leaders/Circuit Managers to identify a bully principal.  Bully principals don’t show their evil sides outside of their school while they are focused on showcasing and taking credit for their successes.

Circuit Managers and IDSO’s want to see success, and it’s easy to be blinded by a bully principal’s charm and confidence.  There is no reason to delve deeper into what is going on.

What are the signs that something is not right?

  • Good teachers are being let go and weak teachers are being brought in. A bully principal needs teachers who can be controlled.  Teachers who stand up to them are dangerous.  Is there a school where the hiring pattern causes surprise?
  • Vulnerable teachers are doing extra work especially temporary teachers or teachers occupying an SGB post. Look deeply into the new projects and ideas.  Are they being run by teachers whose position are in danger of termination?  Are they being pressured into taking on extra work with their job on the line?
  • A pattern of attack on an initiative. Is an initiative consistently interrupted or questioned by a Principal?  Who is in charge of the initiative?  Is this teacher being bullied by the principal?
  • Is there a principal who is not openly welcomed to collaborate with the others principals? Why is that? Often other principals are fully aware that someone in their midst is a bully – and they steer clear.

How does a Bully Principal affect the school?

  • Good people leave. Effective teachers will not stick around in this environment.
  • The District loses credibility when they unknowingly favour and promote the work of bullies.
  • Future leaders in the building need to take time to re-build trust, which means a longer time before issues of learner achievement are addressed. Children don’t have this kind of time to waste.
  • Desperate bullied teachers may behave unprofessionally out of frustration.

South Africa has a legislative framework that prevents bullying in the workplace, but teachers are reluctant to report when the bully is their boss.

Victims understand the power structure and the preferential treatment their “model Principal” receives from the District, and they are afraid to complain.

Bully Principals have long-term effects on schools throughout a District.  District Officials need solid training on how to recognize when leadership has gone wrong.  Teachers need a safe method of reporting bullying, without fear of retribution.

Now its your turn. What if the biggest bully in your school is the Principal? Let us know in the comments below.


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