Address the exodus: 3 ways to retain and support school leaders

No matter how you go about developing a strong school leadership team, you must remember the most important aspect: make sure they feel supported.
Robin Winder
Robin Winder
Robin Winder is the senior director of instruction for FlexPoint Education Cloud and Florida Virtual School.

Over the past several years, the teacher exodus has posed a significant challenge for school administrators. However, recent data highlights the need for our concern to extend and encompass other crucial positions within the K12 workforce. Specifically, the roles of principals and school leaders. A recent research brief from RAND Corporation reveals that during the 2021-22 school year, a notable 16% of principals opted to depart from their schools.

This growing wave of departures among school leaders calls for our attention and a deeper examination of how we can retain a passionate and dedicated workforce. As a former principal, I understand how difficult it can be to navigate that position when the right systems of support are not in place. Now, as the senior director of instruction at FlexPoint Education Cloud and Florida Virtual School, I strive to create a culture of growth that sets clear expectations for our school leaders. Here are three strategies school and district administrators can use to effectively maintain a motivated school leadership team:

1. Deliver thorough training when onboarding

The first step in retaining school leadership starts on their very first day with rigorous onboarding. In fact, in a recent onboarding survey, Glassdoor found that employees who rated their onboarding experience as “highly effective” were 18 times more likely to feel highly committed to their organization.

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This is why it’s important that your onboarding is intentional and covers key aspects such as familiarizing participants with your school’s culture, establishing effective teacher relationships and providing training on the systems utilized for teaching, data monitoring and student communication.

Following the initial onboarding, continue to provide training to new principals and instructional leaders during their first month. Focus on instructing them on which data to analyze, including classroom monitoring and individual student reports. Offer intentional coaching to the leaders, setting clear expectations for their accomplishments within the first 30, 60 and 90 days. The objective is to gradually integrate new leaders into the work environment by giving them ample time to seek guidance, receive feedback, and thrive with the necessary support.

2. Offer deliberate and meaningful professional development opportunities

Professional learning should not happen one day of the year—it should be continuous and intentional so that your school leaders continue to grow and learn. One way to do this is by meeting face-to-face several times throughout the year to allow your school leaders to collaborate and present best practices. When they can hear what their peers are doing, it can create innovation and excitement.

I would also recommend providing opportunities for your school leaders to hear from expert guest speakers that cover the latest trends and best practices in K12 education. Getting a third-party perspective can enhance the work they are already doing.

3. Establish a mentorship program

Ensuring your school leadership team has a space to create connections with their peers is an essential aspect of ensuring they feel supported. When I first started as an instructional leader, I remember looking at my peers and thinking, “How do they do that?” This is why pairing experienced and new principals and instructional leaders will be a win for your school or district. This gives the new employees an opportunity to exchange ideas, observe work, receive feedback, and ask clarifying questions—not only when they first start the job, but throughout their career.

No matter how you go about developing a strong school leadership team, you must remember the most important aspect: make sure they feel supported. Your retention rates will naturally increase when you create an environment where school leaders feel like they are part of a community with a common mission in mind—to meet every student where they are so they reach success.

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