When the Principal is a Bully

A Principal that bullys, isolates and plays favourites can have a terrible effect.
Giulio Bortolozzo
Nov 25, 2023
Management styles
A bully at the top has outsized negative influence.

The Setup
The teacher target became aware that things were different, that something was afoot, and she felt a sense of foreboding. A competent teacher was about to be systematically attacked by the people who were up to this point considered colleagues, friends. She started to feel isolated. She’d go to the staffroom and sit next to someone who would move when the principal came into the room. They were under instruction not to engage with their colleague as this would be seen to be siding with the ‘miscreant.’

'She started hearing negative things about her being circulated among the staff and other teachers soon began ignoring her in the staffroom.'

Someone (a preferred other) had concocted a ‘problem’ relating to a person on the staff which had to be ‘dealt with.’ Of course, it was claimed, such a problem was affecting the morale of staff, and the propaganda rolled on. This had to be 'nipped in the bud’ declared the principal. The principal and their acolytes actioned their plan as the school principal asserted:
‘Serious claims by others had been made against her.’

The Consequences
Slowly the teacher’s mind, and body grew tired of the incessant innuendo and enforced isolation. Her colleagues wanted to protect themselves and in doing so became enablers; they allowed this to happen. The bully was in the driver’s seat and their sycophant co bully passengers went along for the ride.

'Initially I just started getting sick, getting colds, my immune system went into decline.'

Her body was winding down as her immune system allowed opportune bugs to find their way in to cause sickness. Her health continued to decline. Things were so dire that:
'She eventually tried to commit suicide.'

Principals who bully single out a target for constant criticism and can make unreasonable demands on their victims.

They will have a right-hand person to take notes, to add to and embellish the narrative of ‘the toxic teacher.’ He or she has a job to protect, and the teacher target is just collateral damage.

The Bully Principal Profile
The experience of this person is not unfortunately an isolated case. If you find yourself the target of the principal/boss bully, there are ways you can tell if they are a bully. You can read an article called When Your Boss is a bully by Ronald E Riggio, who identifies eight tell-tale signs your boss is a bully. They are:
1.    Does your boss blame you for fabricated ‘errors?’
2.    Are you given unreasonable job demands or goals?
3.    Does your boss threaten you with pay cuts or being fired?
4.    Does your boss insult you and/or criticize your abilities? Does this happen in front of others?
5.    Are you excluded by the bully and his/her ‘henchpeople’ or given the silent treatment?
6.    Does your boss yell, scream, or curse at you?
7.    Does your boss inconsistently enforce rules?
8.    Does your boss deny or discount your accomplishments and/or take credit for your success?

And I’ll add another couple here:
9.    Does your principal boss have ‘eyes and ears,’ someone who reports what they see and hear back to the principal?
10.  Does your principal illegally use CCTV to monitor the movements of targeted staff members?

‘The smaller the mind the greater the conceit.’ Aesop

If you want to find out more about workplace bullying, you may find these websites useful.

Giulio is an ED.D. candidate at the University of South Australia. He is a student counsellor in the public school system and specialises in Rational Emotive Behaviour Education. He is also a consultant to schools in counselling-based behaviour education systems. He is the author of two self-published teacher/counsellor resources; People and Emotions and Have a Go Spaghettio! both endorsed by Dr Albert Ellis, creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. He is a member of the International Committee for The Advancement of Rational Emotive Education.

Image by Radolpho Zanardo