Half of school leaders say their stress is so high they are considering a career change or early retirement, according to a nationally representative survey released by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Thirty-eight percent are looking to leave within the next three years, 24% are planning to leave in the next two to three years, and 14% plan to leave in the next year.
The educator shortage is likely adding to school leaders' high stress levels, with 73% of school leaders agreeing that staffing shortages are impacting their school, according to the survey conducted in June.
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of the 1,000 school leaders surveyed said they needed help with their mental health last year, but only 54% actively sought help, and 67% said they received the help they needed.
The findings of the survey confirm anecdotal evidence and concerns from district leaders that principals and assistant principals are being driven out of the education profession. This looming trend follows a similar pattern seen in both the teaching workforce and among superintendents nationwide.
"Our school leaders are stretched thin due to all the demands placed on them, often with little to no support," said Ronn Nozoe, CEO of NASSP, in an email. "The best way to support school leaders’ mental health is to give them the support and tools they need to do their jobs sustainably."
That means there should be more in-school mental health professionals, more social services, a deeper and more robust educator pool and pipeline, more funding for schools and staff, and a greater principal voice in the decisions that affect them, Nozoe explained. District leaders can also improve compensation for school leaders serving the highest-need students and invest in grow-your-own initiatives that bolster school leadership pipelines, he added.
Some of the top factors that would keep school leaders in their profession include better work-life balance (28%), a higher salary (21%), more societal respect for the profession (15%) and more teachers and staff (12%), according to the NASSP survey.
"The teacher shortage directly contributes to school leaders’ struggles with work-life balance," Nozoe said. "The principalship is demanding, and it’s even harder when a school leader needs to teach an algebra class because they can’t hire a math teacher or take over janitorial duties."
To meet the teacher shortage and alleviate work-life balance challenges, state and local education leaders should consult school building leaders on how to use resources, Nozoe said.