Giving power to teachers helps prevent principal turnover

Giving power to teachers helps prevent principal turnover

(N.Y.)  Burnout among school leaders, which is especially common in high-needs districts, is less likely to occur on campuses that promote teamwork among staff and delegation of power, according to a new report.

The whitepaper, published by the nonprofit NYC Leadership Academy, which provides coaching and professional development for school and district leaders, notes that high turnover rates among principals can often be attributed to school leaders attempting to take on more work than they can handle alone.

“The work of leading a school is a tall order for one person,” write the report’s authors, Nancy Gutierrez and Jill Grossman. “When principals try to do it alone, they inevitably face a myriad of barriers: Important work is left undone; top-down efforts are resisted; student achievement remains stagnant; and opportunity gaps widen. In part because of the intense isolation many principals feel on the job, principals turn over on average every three years, and more frequently in high-needs schools.”

As many as 18 percent of school leaders across the country spend just one year at a site before switching to a new position, according to a study released last year by Columbia University researchers. The high turnover rates among principals were found to have a trickle-down effect throughout their schools. Often, the moral of faculty left behind drops–leading to higher teacher turnover–and student performance suffers over time.

Researchers at Columbia found though surveys of those who had recently left their schools, about 30 percent were unhappy because they felt they had less influence at their school, and that there was a negative school climate.

In order to bolster the influence principals hold and improve school climate among staff, Gutierrez and Grossman said it is important for school leaders to create teams of educators that they can rely on and foster cooperation among them.

At the district-level, authors of the NYC Leadership whitepaper recommend principals from across the school system work together toward collectively meeting the larger district vision. At the site-level, teams can be broken up into three types; one solely made up of administrators who set the direction for the school site; another of teacher leaders and the principal who set school policies and practices, and take on tasks to put those in place; and a third comprised of teachers grouped by grade-level or subject matter to help improve instruction and student learning amongst themselves.

The latter is especially important because when teachers are able to combine their own collective insights, experiences and observations, they can identify and develop strategies to address the needs of each student, according to the report. Providing teachers the time to observe each other’s classes and learn from one another takes some of that burden off of the principal and improves climate as teachers become more acclimated to sharing ideas, authors said.

In order to develop teams that work well, Gutierrez and Grossman said principals will have to do some initial legwork to ensure teachers feel comfortable working in their group.

“They need the confidence to delegate leadership and the ability to develop sustainable systems and structures for distributive leadership and collaborative learning,” Gutierrez and Grossman said. “They need to create conditions that enable team members to trust one another and the principal, and to understand how to use teams to break down isolation between teachers and, in turn, spread effective practices across the school.”