How Professional Development can Address High Principal Turnover Rates

Kelly Nelson-Danley
Kelly Nelson-Danley
Assistant Elementary School Principal; Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction

Student and teacher success is largely impacted by the role principals play within a school. Principal actions help guide the direction of a school and are the driving force behind school climate and culture. Principal turnover can disrupt school progress, impact teacher turnover, and hinder growth in student achievement. The Learning Policy Institute reports that principal turnover is becoming an issue throughout the country. In the 2016-2017 school year, the national average tenure of principals was four years. Furthermore, at that time, 35 percent of principals had remained in their school for less than two years, and only 11 percent had remained at a school for 10 or more years. The Learning Policy Institute also reports that the turnover rate for principals in high-poverty schools was 21 percent. Considering this, it is important to take a closer look at why principal turnover rates are so high and how professional development can help address high principal turnover.

Why are Principal Turnover Rates High?

There are a variety of reasons why principals might leave their jobs. Often times there is a lack of preparation and professional development provided to principals. Especially in challenging schools, principals don’t always have access to¬†continued support and learning opportunities to help them thrive in their roles. Availability of support is important for principals to be able to successfully carry out the complex requirements of their job.

Principal salary is also a factor in whether or not principals stay in their position. After a few years of experience, principals may seek out higher paying jobs either inside or outside the field of education. Much like teachers, principals are paid on salary schedules. Raises are not often awarded, and when they are, they are not significant.

Professional Development to Address High Principal Turnover

While several factors impact principal retention, professional development can help address the issue of high principal turnover rates. Research by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) reveals that providing principals with access to support reduces the chances of principals leaving their schools. Just like any other profession, principals need support in the various stages of their careers. The NAESP stresses that the well-being of students must be at the forefront of school planning and logistics and provides online and face-to-face opportunities for principals to create a solid educational foundation for learning. The following are effective types of professional development that can and should be provided to principals.

  • Preparation programs
  • Internships
  • Mentorships
  • Professional conferences

Preparation programs and internships help new and prospective principals learn the ropes. In these settings, principals are presented with real-world experiences that prepare them for the many duties of an administrator. Once principals are in the trenches, they will need guidance from experienced colleagues. Good mentoring programs can pair new principals with seasoned leaders to form a relationship where new administrators have the opportunity to ask questions, get help with budgeting, and learn strategies to lead effectively in their schools. Professional conferences also provide principals with the opportunity to network with other professionals and to pick and choose professional development sessions that meet their unique needs and the unique needs of their students and teachers. There are many national conferences available to principals. Some of the most popular include the National Principals Conference and the AASA Women in School Leadership forum.

Principals serve as leaders in their schools as they drive school culture and student learning, thus, reducing the turnover of principals is important. School districts should develop more selective processes for selecting administrators, expand pre-service training to better prepare principals to become school leaders, facilitate partnerships between school districts and preparation programs, provide access to mentoring and appropriate professional development, and emphasize organizational learning on the use of school-level data. Principal support is often the top factor that teachers provide as their decision to leave or stay in the profession, indicating that principals need support as well. Supporting principals in the ways mentioned above is key to improving principal retention.

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