“Principal Burnout: Addressing School Leadership Turnover in the El Paso Borderlands,” the latest CERPS policy brief released May 31, 2018, is based on surveys and interviews with campus principals from the elementary to the secondary levels in a large El Paso school district.

The study compares the rate of principal burnout to numbers in other human service professions such as first responders and mental health providers. It also identifies key characteristics associated with burnout risk. The paper concludes with suggestions to better train and prepare principals for exposure to secondary trauma such as when students confide about their experiences with abuse and violence.

“It’s a starting point,” said David Knight, Ph.D., CERPS associate director and assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Foundations. He is one of the paper’s lead authors. “We thought it was important to make districts aware of this trend, especially among early-career principals, who seem to be the most vulnerable to burnout due to a lack of coping mechanisms.”

Annually about one in five principals (21 percent) in Texas leaves their school and 12 percent leave the state’s education system, according to Texas Education Agency data from the 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years, when there were about 7,500 principals.

Knight said principals juggle many duties in addition to serving as the instructional leader, including working directly with students to ensure they are safe and have access to nonprofit and government agencies that provide family support. The emotional nature of the work compounded by other campus duties could lead school leaders to burnout if the proper support structure is not in place.

As an example of a possible reform, Knight said faculty members in the college’s Department of Educational Psychology and Special Services are working to include mental health and wellness training in its principal preparation programs.

Knight’s co-authors on this policy brief are David E. DeMatthews, Ph.D., associate professor of educational leadership at the University of Texas at Austin; and UTEP’s Paul Corrola, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and Special Services; and Elena Izquierdo, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education.