Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Louann Bierlein Palmer

Second Advisor

Dr. Brett Geier

Third Advisor

Dr. Lewis Walker


Middle school principals, accountability related stress, coping skills


This exploratory qualitative study was focused on the impact of state and federal mandates on the role of middle school principals, specifically what increased responsibilities and major areas of stress middle school principals are experiencing; how any enhanced stress impacts these middle school principals, both professionally and personally; and what coping mechanisms principals use to handle the stress of any increased responsibilities.

The experiences and perceptions of 12 principals from one Midwestern state were captured through semi-structured interviews, and by having them complete Allison’s Coping Preference Scale. Their answers provide a deeper understanding of what it is like leading a middle school in an environment that includes increased accountability and responsibility, student testing, teacher and principal evaluations, stress, and coping skills.

Findings revealed 11 major and minor themes. Nearly all principals have experienced an increase in their responsibilities for implementing federal and state mandates, and associated stress. Specifically, all expressed specific concerns and stress over complying with the logistics of testing mandates, and that their responsibilities have increased related to teacher evaluations, as well as their stress levels. They also reported enhanced stress due to things like accountabilityrelated school labeling, teacher stress with their evaluations, parental communication, and social media issues with students.

These principals revealed that such stress has a negative impact on their personal lives, and that they use a variety of coping strategies daily to relieve stress. Using humor, maintaining a positive attitude, treating stakeholders with humanity, seeking balance, regular exercise, finding quiet time, and talking with family and close friends were all strategies principals frequently used to mitigate stress.

Interestingly, while enhanced teacher and principal evaluations as connected to student outcomes are now a major part of their role, principals reported that such teacher evaluations are so much better than past evaluation efforts. In addition, most voiced no real increased responsibilities or stress associated with principal evaluations. While they felt some mandate streamlining related to such evaluations is needed, such mandates are helping to improve educational outcomes.

This study confirmed, as noted in previous research literature, that the principal profession in this country is indeed a very stressful and difficult one. It contributes to the scarce literature on the accountability-related responsibilities and associated stress of principals in the middle school environment; and it provides a fuller understanding of how principals perceive their work environment as related to state and federal mandates regarding student testing, teacher evaluations, and principal evaluations. It also informs the reader about the stresses that principals are under and some of their stressors; knowing how they handled such stress is important, as well as instructive. Recommendations for leaders and future research are offered

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access