School Leaders’ Role In Teacher Retention

education leaders role in teacher retention

Across the country, schools are dealing with teacher turnover that could have a detrimental effect on education.

The troubling part of the situation is that new teachers who are early in their careers are among those most likely to leave teaching. While retention rates vary geographically, some research (including recent findings by the National Education Association) estimates up to 50 percent of new teachers will leave the profession within their first five years of teaching.

The pandemic has also put a spotlight on teacher turnover. The health crisis, and the demands it has put on educators emotionally, physically and technologically, has been a factor in both new and veteran teachers’ decisions to leave teaching. The National Education Association surveyed 2,690 of its members and found that 32 percent of respondents planned to leave the teaching profession earlier than anticipated due to the pandemic.

Another survey in 2020, by RAND Corporation, had similar results, with nearly one in four teachers reporting plans to leave their job at the end of the 2020-2021 school year. Prior to the pandemic, one in six reported plans to leave, according to the RAND survey.

Indeed, the pandemic has caused people in all types of professions to reconsider their careers, leading many to resign from positions and seek new opportunities. However, teacher turnover has been a concern since before the pandemic.

Examining Teacher Turnover

Although many of the reasons why teachers stay and leave teaching are known, turnover remains a problem. This, experts say, points to a need to develop comprehensive strategies to improve teacher retention.

The quality of school leadership is cited as a major factor in teachers’ decisions about whether to stay in a school or the profession. Therefore, education leaders perform an important role in the strategies to reduce teacher turnover. 

In response to the turnover, many school districts are investing in efforts to recruit and keep teachers. Broadly, efforts to retain teachers have focused on collaboration, professional development and work conditions.

What Can Education Leaders Do About Teacher Attrition?

It is the responsibility of school leaders, particularly principals, to develop ways to increase teacher and staff satisfaction. Leaders can act in positive ways that contribute to a teacher’s decision to stay. Here are more qualities of school leaders that benefit teacher retention:

  • Increased visibility: New teachers, especially, want to see and interact with their principals.
  • Honesty: Feedback helps teachers know what they do well, and areas of improvement.
  • Openness to expressing values and beliefs: This can help strengthen teacher-leader relationships.
  • Encouragement: Validation and positive affirmations lead to more job satisfaction.

It is often the students in the most need who suffer when their schools are short staffed. This effect of teacher turnover has caused many to further delve into retention strategies for schools with at-risk student populations. Research on turnover in high-poverty schools found that effective education leaders do the following:

  • Ensure teachers have necessary resources, communication methods and sensible budgets.
  • Have strategic hiring and retention practices, including providing regular evaluations and helping teachers continually improve.
  • Listen to teachers’ ideas and engage them in decision-making.

Advance Your Education Leadership Skills to Lead Effectively

As a school leader, you must focus on more than finances, resources and schedules. School leaders must know how to create and maintain an inclusive school culture that centers on supporting teachers so they can best educate students. Carlow’s Master of Education in Educational Leadership can provide you with the knowledge needed to respond to today’s educational challenges—and lead positively and effectively.Photo Credit: “Teachers planning” by Allison Shelley for EDUimages is licensed under CC BY 2.0