In matters of education, the question is what makes a good principal? Are they a good educator? Are they an adequate supervisor? Do they communicate a workable vision for the school? Do they keep students in line?
Is there anyone in the world who is at the top of their game in all four of those categories and more? Unlikely, even in the best of circumstances. If a principal were to come up short in one of those departments, does that make them a bad principal? If so, why? If not, why not? There is more to evaluating a principal than simply pointing out flaws and then declaring them inadequate based on that information alone.
All that said, there are doubtless principals who are not up to the job. Depending on their ambition this can either be a major obstacle for the teachers, students and parents or it can be an opportunity. Here are some things to consider.
In any situation where a supervisor is preventing success, there are two objectives which are not necessarily exclusive. The first is the removal of that supervisor, which may or may not be practical considering the political and economic realities. The second is for the supervisor to improve. This can often be easier than flat out removal, since it is likely any person can be persuaded to improve in their job over time.
Either outcome creates a situation where it is more possible to have a good school, because either option creates the situation where there is no longer a bad principal. In cases where neither option is realistic or practical, the only means of improvement are navigating each management decision through a combination of overruling the bad principal and subterfuge. Both require preparations for mutiny.
If a supervisor like a principal is to be successfully overruled, subordinates will have to come up with a rock-solid case. This requires extensive documentation, including research on district rules, state laws, education guidelines, board decisions, superintendent orders and any precedent set by the current principal.
Documentation is how court cases are won, so it should come as no surprise this is the key tool used in any official setting to defeat bad decision making. Chief among any documents gathered should be communications with both the principal and anyone else directly involved at the school like parents, other administrators, teachers and students. Occasionally, such communications can be used to simply shut down a bad decision by showing it has already been foreclosed by the principal themselves. In other cases, said communication can be used to justify and reinforce a case made to higher authority.
Teachers unionized largely due to conflicts with their principals. In any situation where the weight of the laws and regulations often exceeds the weight of the school buildings themselves, an individual has little to no chance of even protecting themselves much less influencing the direction of the school for the better. Most teachers would advise going to the union first, even before approaching the school board. This kind of teamwork can sometimes cause a bad manager to back down. If it is practiced consistently enough, it can even influence the decision making for the better in the long run, and ultimately that's the whole point.
Be a Lawyer
Non-compliant compliance is one of the chief weapons middle management invented to deal with counter-productive higher management. In some cases, bad managers get into the habit of micro-managing, which can be a very useful tool for the mid-level amateur lawyer, especially when combined with the documentation habit recommended above. The key is to identify conflicting instructions, and then to use one or the other to justify making an independent decision that avoids or thwarts the bad principal's instructions.
When these tactics are combined with those of allies, they can become a source of immense blowback against a bad manager, because the weight of responsibility in continually clarifying inferior instructions will eventually overwhelm their initiative and bring the principal's office to a grinding halt.
As the problem intensifies, it will eventually rise to a level where higher authority becomes aware, and that is usually the point where the teachers and parents can at least air their grievances. At worst, it will put the teachers and principal into a stalemate, which can be used as a mechanism for avoiding further complications and getting more productive things done.
If the situation improves, it is vitally important that the principal receive positive feedback. The danger in adopting a combative stance is that the teachers and parents won't know when to quit, and will sometimes be so involved in their strategy they fail to see they are making progress.
Kindness goes a long way, but then again so does a peace conference. Anything that is leading to progress should be roundly hailed by everyone with a stake in the situation, because positive reinforcement builds on itself and will very often illuminate the path forward.
Bad management is a problem endemic to modern society, so it should come as no surprise it can be found in any large organization like a school, public or private. The process of dealing with it, fortunately, isn't as complicated as some might believe. A good strategy, shared by many and backed by documentation and enforcing responsibility on the part of supervisors and their superiors, is most likely to effect positive change and create a situation where it is no longer necessary to deal with a bad principal. Any situation can be improved, provided the people involved accept their own responsibility to see to it their efforts are not wasted on pointless complaining and adding to the problems. Clear minded dedication to progress can have a dramatic effect under nearly any circumstances.