What do turnover and advocacy have to do with National Principals Month? Well, each October, the American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA), the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) band together to celebrate principals across the nation. These administrators work tirelessly and dedicate themselves to the schools and students they serve. This selfless dedication is why this year, their focus is advocacy on behalf of school principals.
This year’s theme seeks to address the struggling principal profession. National Principals Month calls on policymakers at all levels of government to advocate and fight for school principals to have the support, preparation and compensation necessary to address the day-to-day challenges of organizing and leading a school.1 Below, we’ll explore why this profession is struggling, the impacts of this struggle, as well as ways it can be rectified.
The Fight Against Principal Turnover
Did you know that the impact a principal has on student learning is second only to that of a classroom teacher’s?2 A school principal helps to maintain a positive school atmosphere, motivate their staff and enhances teachers’ practice. This level of impact means that they also play a major role in teacher retention and overall classroom success. Research has shown that principal turnover is generally disruptive to school progress, often resulting in declining teacher retention and lower student achievement.3 The financial cost of time and resources devoted to finding a replacement for the departing principal is usually significant and often is covered by redirecting funds that had been set aside for the classrooms. The cost for students is even greater, with research showing principal turnover decreasing student achievement for as many as five years following a principals departure.2
This decline in student achievement is due in part to the fact that teacher departures are 17 percent higher the year after a principal leaves the school. This increase in faculty turnover is attributed in part to the fact that campus culture changes once the leadership leaves. Schools that see a high principal turnover tend to lack trust, camaraderie and buy-in from the staff and students.2 No leader wants to leave their team, so what are the factors that drive principals to leave their jobs? The most recent research points to these pain points:3
- Deficient preparation
- A lack of professional development
- Poor working conditions
- Inadequate salaries
- Lack of control in decision-making
- The pressure of accountability policies
Advocating for School Principals
The section above may not have painted the sunniest picture, but current and aspiring school principals should not fear the worst. Given the high incidence principal turnover across the nation, there are plenty of schools looking for the right long-term fit. And the emphasis is on long-term: In order to effectively enact capacity building efforts, a school principal must be in place for at least five years to successfully implement necessary organizational changes such as staff recruitment, retention and staff capacity building.2 So how can policymakers create the changes necessary to retain principals for five or more years?
Firstly, they can more carefully select their candidates. One of the traits most strongly related with job stability is educational experience. This includes preparedness for the school principal position due to in-service programs or an advanced degree. Better prepared principals tend to be less stressed and stay longer, even if they are in high-needs or challenging schools.
Policymakers and practitioners have many ways to address the root causes of principal turnover, and the start is to invest in evidence-based practices to increase retention. It’s important to note that while turnover is higher in low-income schools, research suggests that when classroom conditions are favorable, the faculty as a whole is more likely to stay, regardless of the nature of the student population.
Strategies policymakers at the school, district and state level can implement to assist school principals include but are not limited to:3
- Providing high-quality professional development opportunities: This can range from preparation and in-service to mentorship programs that match new principals with retired principals
- Improving working conditions: Things such as access to support, more time to complete tasks, better relationships with staff, students and parents and a more lenient disciplinary climate can go a long way
- Providing adequate and stable compensation: Providing principals with a salary equal to the responsibilities of the position and which shows value their contribution is key to attracting and retaining effective administrators
- Support autonomy in decision making: Allow principals to make decisions and form solutions that actually address the specific needs of their staff, students and school
- Reshape accountability policies: Reforming these systems encourages efficient principals to stay in challenging schools, which leads to better supported teachers and improved student learning
A Different Educational Approach
As research has shown, educational experience and job preparation are key factors in increasing job stability for a school principal. This makes a program like the online master's in educational administration from the University of Kansas an ideal program for aspiring and current school principals who feel they need more experience.
This fully online master’s program prepares future administrators for the challenges they may face in school settings. By utilizing Jaywhawkville, a hands-on virtual school district that simulates real-word scenarios featuring a variety of different demographics, ethnographics, hiring policies, standardized test performances and issues across 30 virtual school districts. Navigating each of these districts and completing focused assignments with the provided data helps to prepare students for the unique challenges that face school principals and teaches them to build solutions that will work for the situations they may find themselves in.
Whether you’re already an administrator looking for ways to advocate for yourself and your colleagues, or an aspiring school principal looking ahead for ways to fully prepare for the position, consider how an online master's in educational administration from a Top 10 Best Education School (among public universities)4 can help you achieve your goals to the best of your ability.
1. Retrieved on September 10, 2019, from principalsmonth.org/policymakers
2. Retrieved on September 10, 2019, from 3fl71l2qoj4l3y6ep2tqpwra.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Policy-Brief-2018-%E2%80%93-4-Impact-of-Principal-Turnover.pdf
3. Retrieved on September 10, 2019, from learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/nassp-understanding-addressing-principal-turnover-review-research-report
4. Retrieved on September 10, 2019, from usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-education-schools/edu-rankings