Breaking the Silence: Overcoming the Problem of Principal Mistreatment of Teachers

Anthony H. Normore (College of Education, Florida International University, Florida, USA)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 1 June 2004



Reviews Breaking the silence, a book designed to provide insightful and meaningful information for aspiring and practicing teachers and school administrators who wish to become informed and effective educators in schools. The chapters cover: the problem of principal mistreatment of teachers; the many faces of principals' abusive behaviors as well as the possible causes of such behavior; authoritarian and control‐oriented types of leaders and why people consent to such attempts to control them; the most severely aggressive forms of principal mistreatment behaviors; and the effects of principal mistreatment of teachers.



Normore, A.H. (2004), "Breaking the Silence: Overcoming the Problem of Principal Mistreatment of Teachers", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 42 No. 3, pp. 403-407.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The complexity and depth of change required to promote and sustain consistent progress in an era of ongoing education demands calls for appropriate and effective leadership skills and knowledge among school principals to use their administrative positions as one of the keystones of growth and productivity in district and school cultures. Certain leadership styles are appropriate in order to transcend change while other leadership styles are incompatible with the current educational demands. These incompatible leadership styles can be regularly identified as leading to dysfunction. The leaders who attempt to work with teachers and students to promote and sustain systemic change within this environment realize the importance of trusting and respected relationships among school leaders and faculties, while others realize (p. ix) “district efforts to create a positive atmosphere and common purpose leading to improved student achievement and well‐being are hired by behaviors which create a loss of trust among school professionals”.

With this in mind, Blasé and Blase have introduced a book to help constituents of public education to better understand that (p. x) “without the guidance of principals and teachers working together with an energy based on trust and belief in a commonly accepted vision” efforts to improve school performance will fail. This book, Breaking the Silence: Overcoming the Problem of Principal Mistreatment of Teachers, provides insightful and meaningful information that can guide aspiring and practicing teachers and school administrators to become informed and effective educators in schools. The book focuses on the mistreatment of teachers by school principals across North America who abuse their administrative positions by devaluing the kind of caring learning communities schools require to be successful. If ignored, the importance of confronting the issue of teacher mistreatment may be unaddressed yet many outstanding teachers claim they have lost their vigor and zest for teaching or have been reduced to the practice of defensive teaching because of mistreatment. Such statements counteract the work that educators are trying to do. As the authors clearly indicate (p. xii), “principals' abuse has a huge negative impact on school cultures and oftentimes fosters abusive teachers. This abuse has a ripple effect that impacts not only teachers, but their colleagues and students as well as family and friends”.

This book is the result of a study on teacher mistreatment. The data were gathered from 50 classroom teachers across North America over a period of 1.5 years. It's the first study of its kind. The book describes and conceptualizes the mistreatment problem under investigation. The format is researcher, scholar, and practitioner‐friendly. It is clear and easy to follow. Each chapter consists of a comprehensive discussion of the appropriate literature for the chapter concepts that are brilliantly interwoven into the fabric of the chapters' essence. There are seven chapters in total, equally filled with stories and quotes from classroom teachers who have experienced varying degrees of abuse and mistreatment from their school principals. As the authors warn, many of the stories are upsetting and sad and may create feelings of anger and anxiety about the many forms of principal mistreatment reported by teachers and the life‐altering effects of such treatment.

Chapter one discusses the problem of principal mistreatment of teachers. The authors set the stage for the book by presenting a brief overview of the professional literature on the problem of workplace abuse in general and describes the three increasing levels of aggression and mistreatment:

  1. 1.

    direct aggression‐moderate (devoted to chapter 2);

  2. 2.

    direct aggression‐escalating, (devoted to chapter 3); and

  3. 3.

    direct aggression‐severe (devoted to chapter 4).

An explanation for the book's purpose is presented. This is followed by a focus on how findings from this study can have important practical implications to district office personnel and school boards of education. Chapter two explores principals' many faces of abusive behaviors as well as the possible causes of such behavior. Blasé and Blasé focus on how power oriented principals mistreat teachers in the worst sense by misusing formal authority and personal types of power. They share many quotes from a variety of teachers' stories that (p. 27) “reflect the essence of teachers' perspectives of their abusive, domination‐oriented principal”. These principals are considered to embody the cliché “I'm the boss!” and are extremely (p. 27) “directive, coercive, rigid and close‐minded”. This chapter focuses on comprehensive discussions and teacher experiences on what the authors label as moderate aggressions. These aggressions range from discounting teachers' thoughts, needs and feelings, isolating and abandoning teachers, to withholding resources and denying approval, opportunities, and credit to teachers.

Chapter three discusses authoritarian and control‐oriented types of leaders and (p. 45) “why people consent to such indefensible attempts to control them”. Through the use of real‐life stories by teachers the authors examine some of the more aggressive forms of mistreatment, which are direct and escalating. These forms of aggressions range from principals' spying, sabotaging stealing, and making unreasonable work demands to unfair and harsh criticism of teachers' work and abilities. The criticisms range from stigmatizing and pejorative labeling, intentionally vague criticism, gossiping, and soliciting others for disparaging comments to public criticism of teachers at faculty meetings, classrooms, lunchroom, hallways, and through the intercom. The authors confer that such aggressions result in intense fear which (p. 67) “compels teachers to acquiesce to such treatment”. Chapter four examines the most severely aggressive of all forms of principal mistreatment behaviors. The chapter begins by presenting an overview of why people abuse power, the internal causes of power aggression and, the consequences for those who resist abuse or demonstrate personal courage. This is followed by some of the mistreatments that principals use on teachers that range from lying, explosive and nasty behavior, threats, and unwarranted reprimands to racial slurs, sexual harassment, unfair evaluations and forcing teachers out of their jobs. An example of such a severe aggression as reported by one of the teacher's in the study about her experience with her principal is as follows (p. 91): “I asked him about leaving so I could go get a mammogram. He is over six feet, 250 pounds”. He said, “Well, I am a doctor. Come into my office and I'll do the exam.”.

Chapter five and six examine the effects of principal mistreatment of teachers. Chapter five focuses on the wounds of shock and disorientation, humiliation, loneliness, and injured self‐confidence and self‐esteem among teachers, while chapter six examines other seriously destructive and chronic personal and professional effects of principal mistreatment on teachers. Finally, chapter seven provides a comprehensive summary of the authors' research findings and conclusions. Additionally, it presents suggestions, ideas and innovative strategies that school districts, university preparation programs, principals, and researchers can do for overcoming the abuse and mistreatment problems and preventing the devastating effects it has on teachers, teaching, and schools. The authors offer helpful resources that are accessible for teachers and school administrators (i.e. television programs, books, articles and Web sites). In addition to these resources they provide strategies for familiarizing oneself with legal precedents and reasonable standards about workplace mistreatment, being informed about workplace mistreatments, how to be a responsible colleague if a teacher witnesses mistreatment, (p. 152) “bullyproofing” oneself at work, being familiar with survival skills such as “bullybusting” or fighting back, as well as not accepting deceit, constraint, coercion, inequity, cruelty and disregard from any school administrator or teacher. These are but some of the ideas and suggestions offered by the authors that focus on individual, organizational and legal remedies.

At the end of the book the authors provide a detailed discussion of the research design and procedures that helped them unveil the mistreatment issues that face teachers and school administrators. An explanation is presented as to how the teachers were selected, the reasons why the selection process was chosen, and how the data were collected and analyzed.

In reading the book it is imperative to bear in mind that school administration and educational leadership, teacher training and preparation, school district personnel policies and procedures are expanding so rapidly that it becomes difficult to keep up. This book, Breaking the Silence: Overcoming the Problem of Principal Mistreatment of Teachers is very timely and well‐written for particular audiences. The book is a highly valuable, insightful and recommended volume, often presented with great rigor, thought and passion. It is especially recommended by the author of the article for aspiring and practicing teachers, school administrators, school district personnel and boards of education. It will help aspiring and practicing teachers and school administrators to improve awareness and understanding of their conduct and its impact on others. For school administrators in particular it will guide their behavior along the lines of “what not to do as an educational leader” and to realize that it is as important as “what to do”. For district office personnel and boards of education, the book can serve as an impetus for understanding and adhering to their legal, professional and ethical obligations when engaged in recruitment, professional development and terminating employees as it pertains to their responsibility for the general welfare and safety of teachers and the conduct of school administrators. Additionally, well‐publicized policies and procedures at district offices and boards of education will go far in eradicating the mistreatment of teachers. The book is equally recommended as a primary text or resource for educational administration and leadership programs at Colleges of Education and Universities. Colleges of education that offer programs in teacher and leadership preparation would do well to create awareness of factors potentially related to the problem of abuse by providing effective orientation for teachers and administrators including clear descriptions of codes of conduct and offering support and encouragement. These colleges of education can be proactive in improving awareness by setting the example of friendly and respectful interaction and implementing consistent standards of professional ethics.

Blasé and Blase emphasize a comprehensive connection between sound school administrator practices, effective teaching and student learning by demonstrating that (p. 3) “collaboration is successful when school principals build trust in their schools…trust, in turn, serves as a foundation for open, honest, and reflective professional dialogue…problem‐solving; innovative initiatives; and, more directly, the development of the school as a powerful community of learners willing to take responsibility for success and are capable of achieving it…all principals need to work towards this end, and all educational scholars need to willingly confront the kinds of administrative treatment that, most assuredly, undermine such possibilities”.

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