Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

School Principals' Emotional Coping Process

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

School Principals' Emotional Coping Process

Article excerpt


A school principal's professional world is characterized by many challenges and comes with a multitude of potential sources of stress. By comparing the wages, the responsibilities, and the workload, some authors consider that being a school principal is "the toughest job in America" (Carr, 2003, p. 15).

Since the 1960s, a considerable amount of research has been conducted on the subject. Gmelch (1988) points out that between 1966 and 1988 more than 1,300 articles on the stress of school principals were published. However, despite several more recent studies that continue to confirm the high levels of stress of school principals (Cubitt & Burt, 2002; Poirel, 2010; Welmers, 2006), more research needs to be done in order to better understand the phenomenon. Not only should the sources be identified but also a better comprehension of the coping processes needs to be addressed (Dewe & Trenberth, 2004), particularly, the distinction brought about between emotion-focused coping and problem-focused coping (Lazarus, 1966), which has been considered as the foundation in coping theory in many studies on school principals.

Coping Research on School Principals

Many authors have investigated how principals cope with stress. In her classic study, Roesch (1979) has developed a questionnaire to assess the best coping strategies of school principals. Her findings, showing that the main coping strategy for principals dealing with stress is to spend more hours at work, have been replicated in other studies (Abdul Muthalib, 2003; Gmelch & Torelli, 1994; Shumate, 2000). Shumate (2000) used Roesch's coping preference scale on a sample of 221 high school principals and found that planning for the future, discussing with colleagues, exercising, and delegating tasks are also part of the best strategies evoked by principals. Abdul Muthalib (2003) also used Roesch's questionnaire on a sample of 50 principals and found that discussing problems with colleagues was the most popular coping strategy used by principals. Making plans for the future, listening to music, delegating tasks, and taking a break were also mentioned. Liming (1998) created a survey instrument and structured interviews to measure stress and coping on a sample of 24 secondary school principals, and reports that exercise and rest as well as social support were generally evoked, but only out of the school environment with family and friends. Roberson and Matthews (1988) report that 30% of the principals found exercise to be the best way to cope with stress, whereas 13% indicated better time management, and the rest identified delegating tasks and having a positive attitude. More recently, following a review of literature on stress and coping, and on the basis of the frequencies in which they were identified in the literature, Hawk and Martin (2011) have identified five categories of coping by school leaders: (1) exercise/ nutrition; (2) getting away/time off from work; (3) artificial means, stimulants, or prescription drugs; (4) relaxation techniques; and (5) mentoring/guidance from peers.

Nevertheless, on the basis of an analysis of these studies, we can reconsider the research on coping within three main categories: (1) life habits utilized prior to the stressful encounter (healthy eating, regular exercise, sleep), which may increase hardiness (Kobassa, 1979); (2) relaxation techniques utilized after the stress has had an effect (exercise, yoga, meditation, massage), which help evacuate stress-related tensions (Everly & Lating, 2002); and (3) problem-focused coping or emotion-focused coping (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) in real time during the stressful encounter.

From this point of view, despite the theoretical foundations on which they lie, most studies we found on coping have, for the most part, focused mainly on the two first categories mentioned above. To explain this query in research, it is noteworthy to mention that many authors have argued that the use of questionnaires designed to measure coping is part of the problem (Cooper, 1988; Lazarus, 1999, 2000; Ponnelle, Vaxevanoglou, & Garcia, 2012; Somerfield, 1997; Somerfield & McCrae, 2000; Weber & Laux, 1990). …

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