Search form

Principal Actions
Key to Retaining Teachers

Often principals don't realize how much influence they have on teachers' job and career satisfaction. By employing certain behaviors that convey support and respect, principals can be the difference between keeping and losing a teacher, according to some studies. Included: Five principal behaviors that teachers at all career stages value.

The behaviors from principals that teachers find most valuable -- whether they are at the beginning, middle, or end of their careers -- are consistent, and have to do with providing support, according to Dr. Jan Richards, a professor in teacher education at National University in Ontario, California, who has completed two studies on the topic.

Dr. Richards, who presented her findings at the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) conference in April, also noted that the role of principals in retaining teachers in their schools and in the profession often is undervalued.

A classroom teacher for 20 years, Dr. Richards told Education World her focus now is on "encouraging our teachers during these stressful times." She has written numerous articles and given presentations on topics that aim either to encourage teachers to persevere or to suggest ways that principals can encourage teachers more effectively.

Dr. Richards talked with Education World about how principals can more effectively encourage teachers.

"The most valued principals were described as encouraging, available, and understanding," says Dr. Jan Richards, education professor and author.

Education World: What did you learn in your first study?

Dr. Jan Richards: The first study included only teachers in their first five years of teaching, so the results focused on principal behaviors that new teachers value most. The teachers I interviewed were longing for emotional support most of all. The most valued principals were described as encouraging, available, and understanding. They supported the teacher in classroom management issues and especially with parents. This kind of support and respect was empowering. Teachers who had unsupportive principals, on the other hand, were frustrated and angry. They seemed less positive and confident in their ability. The results of the survey of 100 additional teachers confirmed the interviewed teachers' sentiments.

EW: What surprised you about your findings in the April 2005 study?

Dr. Richards: When I did a follow up study (using the same survey with 75 teachers in their sixth to tenth year and 75 teachers with 11 or more years of experience), I was surprised that the same five principal behaviors are most valued across teachers at all career stages.

Teachers value principals who:

  • respect and value teachers as professionals.
  • have an open door policy -- they are accessible, available, willing to listen.
  • are fair, honest, and trustworthy.
  • support teachers with parents.
  • are supportive of teachers in matters of student discipline.

This finding was surprising to me because I thought it might be [the case] that teachers needed a different kind of support after 15 years! No. They still want those same kinds of support to feel encouraged. This was the message I tried to share with the principals [at a conference.] If you want your teachers to feel encouraged and supported, focus on those five important behaviors. The teachers will appreciate you and support you. They will tend to stay in the profession -- and in your school! In a time when teacher retention is a much talked about issue, keeping good teachers in your school is critical.

EW: How, if at all, can teachers communicate the type of principal behaviors that they find encouraging?

Dr. Richards: It is hard for teachers to exercise their voice on this subject to administrators. They tend to fear them. You can tell by their behavior, however. Like one of the interviewed teachers said to me, "I'd follow him anywhere! He's like a father to me." Supported teachers volunteer for committees. They are happier and more satisfied in their work -- and that satisfaction is reflected in their classroom emotional climate.

EW: How do you suggest administrators apply what you learned about principal behaviors that encourage teachers?

Dr. Richards: By reflecting. By realizing that the principal's words and attitudes are very important in the lives of teachers. A principal should ask himself or herself often: Do I treat teachers with respect? Do I have an open door policy? Am I supportive of teachers in matters of discipline and with parents? Etc. Also, a principal should ask the teachers if he or she is supporting them in ways that they really need.

EW: How can studies like yours be applied in administrator training programs?

Dr. Richards: Great question! There are some wonderful principals out there who see their role as "cheerleader" rather than critic. It is those positive examples that should teach the educational administration classes in universities. There are some good books on the subject (like Bringing Out the Best in Teachers by Joseph Blase and Peggy C. Kirby) that would be helpful, but the most powerful influence is a successful principal who can can model what is needed.

This e-interview with Dr. Jan Richards is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.


Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World


Originally published 10/26/2005; updated 10/23/2006