School & District Management

New Study: Principals Play a Large Role in Teacher Retention

By Denisa R. Superville — September 23, 2016 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

By Brenda Iasevoli

This post first appeared on the Teacher Beat blog.

A new study suggests that schools districts take a closer look at the principal job if they want to get to the root cause of teacher turnover and find ways to prevent it.

Susan Burkhauser, institutional research associate at Loyola Marymount University, outlines her study in a paper titled “How Much Do School Principals Matter When It Comes to Teacher Working Conditions?” published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. Burkhauser bases her work in part on the intuitive assumptions that working conditions are a prime factor in a teacher’s decision to stay or go and that principals may be in the best position to shape working conditions. Principals, she says, can influence a teacher’s perception of the job by changing actual conditions—by offering more academic and moral support, more opportunities to develop teaching skills and advance their careers, more say in school policy, and the like.

What’s new about Burkhauser’s study is that it suggests that a teacher’s perception of working conditions is closely related to his or her perception of the principal. That is, the way a teacher sees her principal can shape the way she perceives conditions in the school, even before any changes are made, and regardless of what else is going on in the school or district.

Using data from the biannual North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey, Burkhauser measured the relation between the teacher’s perception of principal and workplace climate in four areas: 1) teachers’ time use, 2.) school environment, 3.) school leadership, and 4.) teacher training. She found that the teacher’s ratings of their experiences in these areas matched their ratings of their principals.

Burkhauser writes that “the estimated effect of increasing principal quality by one adjusted standard deviation in perceptions of time use has the equivalent estimated effect of a decrease in seven students per teacher or a movement to a pupil/teacher ratio of 8-to-1 in the average classroom.” In other words, teaching seems more manageable to a teacher who trusts her principal.

What’s more, the measure of principal effectiveness correlated across all four areas. This suggests that well-liked principals who are seen as doing a good job in one area may enjoy favorable perceptions across all areas of school environment. At the same time, Burkhauser acknowledges that it could be that teachers are judging their principals according to whether or not they like the school environment, in which case more research has to be done to determine the cause of this correlation.

Based on the study’s results, Burkhauser advises districts suffering high turnover to conduct a survey of teachers’ perceptions of their working environments. Low scores would suggest that districts need to find ways of training its principals in improving conditions at the school. Districts might also create principal-training programs on how to effectively communicate with teachers, or in providing useful feedback to teachers. They could look to recruit principals who have a record of improving school working conditions.

Burkhauser does acknowledge some limitations of the study. For example, the data come one state, North Carolina, whose particular school accountability policies may shape the principalship and interest in principal jobs in ways that don’t apply to other states. Further, North Carolina does not have collective bargaining agreements for teachers, and so the study’s results may not be entirely applicable to states with strong unions and labor agreements that determine a principal’s job and authority.

Finally, the study doesn’t account for the effects of certain school factors, such as location, or how much autonomy the district gives a principal, all of which affect the principal’s impact. So theoretically, a principal who gets favorable ratings on school environment at one school, may not experience the same outcomes at a different school.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Reported Essay Principals Need Social-Emotional Support, Too
By overlooking the well-being of their school leaders, districts could limit how much their schools can flourish.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management From Our Research Center Educator Stress, Anti-Racism, and Pandemic Response: How You're Feeling
A new nationally representative survey offers key takeaways from teachers, principals, and district leaders.
EdWeek Research Center
1 min read
2021 BI COVER no text DATA crop
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management Download 8 Tips for Building a Digital Learning Plan That Conquers Chaos
Craft flexible strategies, encourage experimentation with new instructional models, and regularly solicit feedback.
1 min read
onsr edtech tips
Getty
School & District Management Opinion New Polling Shows the K-12 COVID Fights Aren’t Going Anywhere
Teachers, administrators, and school boards will continue to be squeezed between two angry, distrustful camps when it comes to COVID-19.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty