Principals & Teacher Retention

By Anthony Rebora — March 01, 2004 2 min read

Principals whose schools do a good job of holding onto teachers share some common traits and strategies, according to a local report focusing on a North Carolina district. Though small in scope, the report adds to the growing discussion of the connection between school leadership and teacher retention.

Concerned about the high rate of teacher turnover in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, the Charlotte Advocates for Education, a nonprofit civic organization, began looking into the relationship between principals, school culture, and teacher retention. The group identified 20 principals in the district whose schools had high teacher-retention rates (with an emphasis on high-needs schools) and sought to learn more about them through a written survey and a focus-group discussion.

From the sample information gathered--16 of the principals returned the survey and eight participated in the focus group--the CAE identified a number of characteristics and strategies shared by its selected school leaders:

  • They tended to have traits associated with successful entrepreneurs. The principals were “visionary leaders” able to articulate school goals, diagnose and resolve organizational problems, and synthesize information. They were also “committed to and passionate about” their jobs.
  • They were teacher-focused. The vast majority of these principals had extensive experience as teachers themselves, and many felt most comfortable in the role of “instructional leader” (though operational issues tended to dominate their time). They cited the importance of giving teachers continual feedback and support, involving them in decisionmaking, creating opportunities for them to work collaboratively, and getting to know them as individuals.
  • They stressed the value of experiential and “nuts-and-bolts” aspects of leadership training. In discussing what they valued most in their own training, the principals rated “on the job training” and “experience as a teacher” as most effective. Asked what they would like to have learned more about before becoming principals, they highlighted issues such as time-management, team building, working with diverse groups, and budgeting and scheduling.
  • The CAE’s report advised the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district to take such themes into account in preparing and recruiting principals, reiterating that effective principals “are key to success in our schools and to increasing teacher retention.”

    While far from comprehensive, the CAE’s report is echoed in various ways by other recent research and commentary. For example, an annual survey report on teaching issued last month by MetLife Insurance Co. said that for many teachers, career satisfaction appears to be linked to their relationship with their principal.

    “Overall, three-quarters (74%) of teachers who are satisfied with their jobs are also satisfied with their relationship with their principal,” the MetLife report found. “In contrast, only half (49%) of dissatisfied teachers feel this way.” The report added that the teachers who are dissatisfied with their careers are less likely to have regular contact with their principals.