Principal Health and Wellbeing: An Overview of a Ten-year Research Program

Year: 2021

Author: Dicke, Theresa

Type of paper: Symposium

Background. We provide an overview of our ten-year research program on school principals’ health and wellbeing. In particular we investigate 1) different psychosocial factors and profiles related to school principals’ health and wellbeing; 2) the impact of school principals’ job satisfaction on teachers’ job satisfaction, students’ achievement and school climate; and  3) the decomposition of school principals’ burnout into state- and trait-like components.Aims. Studies dedicated to school principals report increasingly high levels of strain and burnout. This is particularly alarming as school principals recognise, promote and build the leadership capacity of staff, students, parents and the community, and research has demonstrated the importance of school principals for teachers’ wellbeing. Moreover, research indicates an (indirect) relationship between principals’ behaviours and students’ wellbeing and achievement. It is thus important to identify those variables important for i) individual differences in principals’ health and wellbeing; and ii) the relationships between principals, teachers and students.Design. We use international (TALIS) and national large-scale and in part longitudinal data of school principals’ wellbeing with complex structural equation modelling to answer our research questions.Key findings. With regard to psychosocial factors we show that being a school principal is a high-risk occupation. Our research was able to impact policymakers and resulted in several policy changes to improve the situation of Australian school principals. We found strong evidence that teachers’ and principals’ job satisfaction are correlated. However, only teachers’ job satisfaction related to the climate perceived by students, whereas working environment job satisfaction related to both teachers and principals. Finally, we found that principals’ emotional exhaustion is approximately evenly split between state- and trait-like components. Our results revealed that less experienced principals have more state-like emotional exhaustion, whereas more experienced and female principals have more trait-like emotional exhaustion. This emphasises a likely development of emotional exhaustion from acute to chronic under persistent exposure to burnout-inducing situations with additional evidence for a possible dispositional tendency towards emotional exhaustion. Implications. The research presented sheds light on an understudied and at-risk occupational group and provides suggestions to improve school principals’ health and wellbeing to thereby improve whole-school wellbeing.