University of Minnesota: U of M Principals Survey reveals challenges, optimism and the need for support among public schools leaders

Results of the Minnesota Principals Survey (MnPS), a comprehensive 70-question survey developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI) in collaboration with a diverse group of educators and partners and generously funded by the Minneapolis Foundation and Joyce Foundation, have been released. The survey, which is the first of its kind in Minnesota in terms of its scope and response, aims to elevate the voices of principals, assistant principals and charter school leaders across the state.

“Principals certainly highlighted challenges in the survey, though they also reported optimism with 90 percent reporting they feel they can be successful as a leader in their school,” stated Dr. Katie Pekel, Project Lead and Principal in Residence at the University of Minnesota.

The MnPS sought to to determine how leaders felt about their job, not to assess how well they were doing their jobs. Questions covered a wide range of topic areas, including working conditions, professional development experiences and needs, areas of leadership and responsibility, culturally responsive school leadership practices, state and district policy and supports, and the impact of and lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. Key findings from each area are summarized below.

The complete MnPS report (including the executive summary) can be found at z.umn.edu/mnps22, the executive summary alone is available at z.umn.edu/mnps22es, and all current and future products associated with the MnPS are available at carei.umn.edu/mnps.

Respondents
Every principal, assistant principal and director of a public school or charter school in Minnesota (2,323 total) was invited to take the survey between November 11 and December 6, 2021. 779 K-12 school leaders responded (34%) with a relatively even distribution: 46% of the respondents were from greater Minnesota and 54% were from the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area, with an almost-even split between those representing elementary schools and those representing secondary schools.

Tom Brenner, President of MASSP and the principal of Cloquet Middle School said, “This survey not only reflects what principals are thinking, it provides state and local leaders with valuable data as they consider future policies and supports for schools and their leaders.”

Working Conditions
Respondents were asked about their workload and sustainability, compensation and benefits, time allocation, influence, and job satisfaction.

Leaders reported that on average they are working 58.6 hours a week.
Over 50% reported that this workload is not sustainable.
While 79% somewhat agreed or agreed that their primary role as an administrator is to be an instructional leader, 62% reported they spend much less or somewhat less time on instructional tasks than they would like.
Conversely, 61% of respondents indicated they spend somewhat more or much more time on internal administrative tasks than they would like.
Encouragingly, school leaders reported high general job satisfaction: with 83% of respondents somewhat agreed or agreed that they were generally satisfied with being a leader in their school. Contributing most to this satisfaction were
relationships with students and staff, and seeing students grow—socially, emotionally, and academically. 93% of leaders reported that they felt their work is valued by the staff at their school.

Professional Development Experiences and Needs
Somewhat surprisingly, the professional development that respondents reported engaging in most often, presentations at scheduled school or district meetings, received the lowest usefulness rating. Leaders of schools in the metro area were 17 percentage points more likely than those in greater Minnesota to select advancing racial equity (39% vs 22%) as an area of professional development from which they could benefit.

Areas of Leadership & Responsibility
To achieve a holistic outlook on competency, the survey asked 49 questions across four areas of school leadership and responsibility. Overall, respondents reported the most confidence in management and decision-making tasks and the least confidence in instructional leadership tasks. Examples of tasks for which leaders rated their highest levels of confidence included hiring new teachers, establishing discipline practices, and evaluating teachers. Respondents felt the least confident in tasks such as facilitating difficult conversations with staff about gender identity, supporting culturally responsive pedagogy, and addressing staff mental health challenges.

Culturally Responsive School Leadership
Participants were asked to respond to how frequently they engaged in behaviors associated with Culturally Responsive School Leadership (CRSL), a research-based framework aimed at helping educational leaders at all levels to humanize students and communities in schools. Respondents most frequently reported engaging in critical self-reflection about their own identity, frame of reference, and biases, and least frequently reported including families of marginalized students in school-level decisions. Across all questions in this section, there were significant differences between respondents from greater Minnesota and metro area schools, with metro area school leaders engaging in these tasks more frequently.

State and District Policy and Supports
Respondents would like to have greater influence in both state and district policy. The most commonly-reported barriers to doing so include lack of knowledge of the policy-making process and time to be engaged.

Impact of COVID-19 and Lessons Learned
Similar to other survey findings in the state of Minnesota (e.g., the statewide Safe Learning Survey), mental health was a top concern among respondents. Staff mental health and student mental health were reported as the most significant ongoing pandemic-related challenge, and also the areas in which leaders most-often expressed a need for resources. Over half of respondents indicated that the disruption brought by COVID-19 has already somewhat transformed their school in positive ways. Areas of positive anticipated change from pre- to post-pandemic include the use of technology, alternate learning modalities, communication with families, providing non-academic services, and relationship building with students.

“The results of this survey indicate that while principals remain optimistic about their roles, there are some specific areas, like race and equity, instructional leadership, and mental health where they may need additional support and professional learning,” remarked Pekel.

Next Steps
The MnPS results provide the state with a wealth of information. In the coming months, we will be conducting focus
groups to better understand the data from the perspective of principals across the state. Additionally, over the next
year, we will be releasing policy and practice briefs on topics that survey points to as potentially worthy of further
guidance and support. Finally, we intend to administer the next iteration of this survey in the fall of 2023.

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