Principal Hotline: What To Do When the Principal Survey Backfires?

How could I have misjudged everyone I work with?

illustration of principal surrounded by teachers shaking their heads

Dear Principal Hotline,

Recently, at the suggestion of my professional learning community (PLC), I sent out a principal survey to all of my teaching staff. We’ve had a great year and I couldn’t wait to get back all the praise for how smoothly things went. It’s tough being a principal because you rarely get to hear about how you’re doing your job. I worked hard to appreciate them in the ways I thought they enjoyed and wanted to learn how good a job I was doing. So, imagine my surprise when I got back a ton of really negative responses to the surveys. They said I had no follow through and that I already made decisions before asking them their opinions. They said I was unapproachable!

I went to every staff party and laughed and bought drinks for everyone. I am bewildered, confused, and more than a little upset. Should I have even sent out the survey? How should I respond? How can I get my self-respect back? I know this is a big one and I really hope you can help.

Sincerely, Misunderstood, Misrepresented, and Miserable


Dear Misunderstood,

Getting negative feedback hurts. I get it. Really, I do.


Everyone feels misunderstood from time to time. What I want you to do is step back and look at the responses your staff gave you as objectively as possible. Maybe you need to give yourself some time away from thinking about the surveys at all. Come back to them in a month.

You handed them a principal survey for a reason—what was that reason? You wanted to know how they feel.

Part of the hurt you’re feeling is probably because of the way people express themselves when they’re anonymous (just peek at any comments section on any web site). Some of what your staff said may simply be random animosity left over from an isolated incident. It may seem almost impossible, but don’t take these things personally. Being the boss is hard. Sometimes there are situations where no matter what you do, someone will feel like you’re the bad guy. Make sure the person who feels that way isn’t you.

Take these responses and learn from them.

Are there things you didn’t follow through on? What were they? How can you make sure you follow through on similar projects in the future?

Think about how approachable you are during school hours. Letting loose with your staff is wonderful, but it won’t make up for problematic relationships within the workplace. If you’re always too busy when a staff member asks for a minute of your time, they may feel like you’re unapproachable regardless of your intentions.

Because that’s the thing—you asked for their perceptions and they simply don’t have the ability to read your mind.

What you shouldn’t do is beat yourself up.

At your first faculty meeting, address some of the major headlines. Tell your staff you’d like to do better. Ask for constructive input. If your teachers are concerned you’re not including their opinions when you make decisions, open the floor up to suggestions during meetings so they can share their opinions. Set open office hours, and make sure your door is physically open during that time. If a staff member is talking to you about something important you while you’re on your way to figure out why it looks like someone tried to set the bathroom on fire, ask them to speak with your secretary or assistant so they can find a time that you’re able to give their concerns the appropriate amount of time and respect – and make sure your assistant knows which appointments or obligations are most important to you.

In the meantime, take a bubble bath, hug your kids or fur babies, or go for a massage. Make note of the positive things (however small) mentioned in those surveys. And take a moment to congratulate yourself for everything you’ve accomplished, and for caring enough to ask your staff for their input in the first place.


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