Recruitment & Retention

Study Highlights Importance of Principals in Teacher-Retention Efforts

By Brenda Iasevoli — September 22, 2016 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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.

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat 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
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
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
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

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

Recruitment & Retention Download GUIDE: How Administrators Can Address Staff Shortages in Schools
The number of job openings in schools this year is daunting, but there are steps district leaders can take to keep operations running smoothly.
1 min read
group of diverse people fading away
Getty
Recruitment & Retention This District Built a Better, More Reliable Supply of Substitute Teachers. Here's How
A Rhode Island school district tackles one of the biggest staffing challenges for school administrators. So far, it's working.
6 min read
Substitutes size is fine
Getty
Recruitment & Retention Many Feared an Educator Exodus From the Pandemic. It Doesn't Seem to Have Happened. Yet.
A RAND Corporation survey of district leaders finds that predictions about principals and teachers fleeing their jobs haven't panned out.
5 min read
People form two lines in front of an Exit sign
E+/Getty
Recruitment & Retention Schools Pay a High Price for Low Teacher Salaries
Teacher turnover rates are rising and more than half of teachers said a salary hike could persuade them to stay in the classroom longer.
4 min read
Conceptual image of salary.
Collage by Laura Baker/Education Week (Images: iStock/Getty)