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Ensuring your school leaders feel supported helps cultivate a sense of community, leading to an increase in retention rates.

4 best practices to support and retain school leaders

Ensuring your leadership team feels supported helps cultivate a sense of community, leading to an increase in retention rates

Key points:

  • A culture of continuous learning helps leaders, teachers, and staff grow and develop throughout their careers
  • Mentorship programs and intensive training are two components of a well-rounded system that supports academic leaders
  • See related article: How to reimagine teacher leadership

For new school leaders, the first few weeks on the job can feel overwhelming. As a former principal, I know that leaders can only be effective when the right systems of support are in place. In fact, a recent research brief by RAND Corporation found that 16 percent of principals left their schools in the 2021-22 school year for a variety of reasons, including high workload, stressed work-life balance, threats to safety, political debates, budget constraints, and a lack of growth opportunities.

This research continues to highlight why it’s imperative that schools and districts create a culture of continuous learning so that leaders, teachers, and staff grow and develop throughout their careers. It also shows the importance of building a comprehensive leadership framework that includes transparent expectations and includes specialized support touchpoints – from onboarding to thoughtful professional development opportunities.

To support the retention of exceptional leadership talent within your school or district, I’ve compiled a list of four best practices that I’ve learned over the course of my almost 27-year career in education.

1. Establish a pathway for teachers who are interested in becoming school leaders

One of the biggest responsibilities school leaders have is to be in tune with their instructors, which includes knowing and understanding their future goals and aspirations. If teachers are interested in becoming a principal or mentor one day, do you have professional development opportunities or pathways to help them gain the experience they need to take that next step? If the answer is no, then it’s time to create this pathway–whether that’s through job shadowing, courses that allow them to build leadership skills, or a collaborative project that allows them to work with other leaders more closely.

For example, we created a program at Florida Virtual School (FLVS) called Aspiring Leaders. This program gives our teachers insight into what it takes to be part of the instructional leadership team and culminates with a project where participants collaborate to solve a current challenge. While this program is not a requirement for a teacher to apply to a management position, it is a great opportunity for them to understand what their future role could look like and if it’s the right fit for them.

2. Provide intensive onboarding training

When starting a new job, there are always nerves and jitters. Part of that comes from the unknown, or not knowing what to expect. We all perform better when we know exactly what our role entails, what is expected of us, and what new processes or procedures entail. It also helps when new school leaders have an adequate amount of time to adjust to their new role, ask questions, and know they’re not on their own. Glassdoor conducted an onboarding survey to validate this theory, and the results revealed a compelling correlation. Employees who rated their onboarding experience as “highly effective” were 18 times more likely to exhibit a strong commitment to their organization.

With this in mind, it’s important to develop onboarding training that is intensive and includes an overview of your organization’s culture, establishes clear expectations for the first 30, 60, and 90 days, teaches best practices to build effective teacher relationships, and provides training on the systems your school or district uses to teach, monitor data, and communicate with students.

3. Develop a mentorship program to provide guidance and support

I can remember several times throughout my career when I started a job and someone who had worked there for years helped me get adjusted. That small act of kindness and support truly made all the difference and I remember not only learning processes quicker, but also feeling like I was part of a team instead of on my own.

Rather than hoping this happens between your staff, I recommend creating a purposeful space where your school leadership can meet, connect, and get to know each other. This allows them to share ideas, learn best practices, ask questions, receive feedback, and form relationships that will last throughout their careers.

4. Offer intentional professional development opportunities

One aspect of work that has always inspired me is learning something new that helps me grow and enhance my skills. Like many of my colleagues, I’m inspired through learning. Yet, with busy schedules, it can be difficult to find the time for these opportunities, which is why I think it’s important that schools and district administrators deliberately build time for teachers and staff to have professional learning opportunities.

We can all get caught up in the day-to-day work, but the only way to grow is to dedicate learning time for your team. I recommend meeting with your school leaders in person several times throughout the year to discuss your key performance indicators, present projects, or hear from third-party speakers to learn about the latest trends in K-12 education. Make the time–your leadership team, teachers, and students and parents will thank you.

If you can’t participate in all four best practices, try choosing one or two. No matter how you decide to help your school leaders, it is crucial to prioritize one essential factor above all else: ensuring your school leadership team is supported. From professional development, rigorous onboarding, mentorship programs, and actively listening to your leaders, you will cultivate an environment that fosters a sense of community, and in turn, you’ll see a natural increase in your retention rates.

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