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.



  • I have been bullied for four straight years now. The school principal is very controlling, unethical, and gives preferential treatment to some teachers. If you are not on his “good” list, he would sabotage you with every resource available to him, including using his preferred teachers to come after you. Unfortunately, the district sweeps everything under the rug, as they don’t want “noise” as they call it.

    • The same is happening to me. My principal is unethical and unprofessional. She is the judge, jury and executioner. I voiced a few issues now I’m constantly under attack. I need help.

    • My wife is a sweet, low key, hard working special ed teacher. She has been bullied at 3 different schools by a variety of people from teachers to specialists to principals. It is really scary how many toxic people are involved in teaching. She actually saw someone come barging into a room, yell at, and shake a child! Insane. I’m not even talking about the incompitent or lazy people she has to work with (Often they are also the bullies) who probably cause more overall stress.

  • She is untrained and unqualified. She is a bully who uses her power to manipulate staff members. She is horrible. Anyone who she cannot control like me, she finds different ways to bully.
    Yesterday in a meeting she brought up my name and spoke about my personal life in-front of the entire staff.

  • They try to bully me, but I throw my weight around. I refuse to let them get the best of me. It is nerve wracking when the principal sets his or her eyes on you, but fight fire with fire. Do not be afraid of them. Be prepared to file a grievance. Stand up to them. Most of these principals are insecure.

  • Imagine waking up in the morning positive and excited to go and teach, only to end up feeling negative and defeated after the morning briefing. Every briefing is mentally and emotionally draining. Educators are left feeling stressed, incompetent and sometimes feeling as though they are going crazy. The principal thrives on intimidating, humiliating and micromanaging educators. Sad part is that no one, besides the staff, know about what is going on between the four walls if the school. She puts up a front to visitors, especially our circuit manager who is the most supportive and gentle person. Our learners also suffer. We recently hosted a Mr and Ms Valentine pageant just to get our learners to become involved and experience some lighthearted activity at school. The principal went as far as to switch of the main electricity supply while a colleague was still busy to talk over the microphone. We had to stop everything and learners had to return to their classes. The principal is unprofessional and have no interpersonal communication skills. She is cold and inhumane at times. Calling educators out in front of other colleagues, rudely dismissing educators when she is approached, rolling her eyes at educators, abusing her power in various ways. How can we as the staff demand for such behavior to be addressed and changed if we are too anxious and stressed? There is only a select few colleagues whom she treats properly. The rest of us are treated as slaves.

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