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Leadership Best Practices | Staff and Student Well-Being

Five Research-Backed Strategies to Keep Your Best Principals from Jumping Ship

September 1st, 2022

Principal speaking with a teacherAs a school leader, investing in the improvement and performance of your schools means developing retention strategies to keep your best principals from jumping ship. High rates of principal turnover can lead to disruptions in change initiatives, policy implementation, student performance, and teacher retention rates. The odds of teachers leaving their role increase by as much as 17% when a new principal takes over (Béteille et al., 2012) while other studies have shown that principals are second only to teachers when it comes to factors influencing student performance (Yan, 2019). And with the shortage of teachers being at the forefront of challenges schools are facing this year, it’s an important consideration.

New school principals are especially at risk for attrition, with 11.8% leaving their first school within the first year and 10.7% leaving within the second year. This is increasingly true for principals in underperforming schools with high poverty rates (Burkhauser et al., 2012). It’s critical that principals feel supported and incentivized to remain in their roles long-term to avoid negative impacts on the school ecosystem.

We’ve outlined five research-backed tips and strategies for ensuring that your top principals are motivated to stay with your school long-term and contribute to meaningful change.

Prioritize Professional Development

Principals who feel confident in their abilities are less likely to flee compared to those who don’t feel prepared to take on the challenges of the role. Jacob et al. (2019) finds that providing high-quality training programs to qualified principals can lead to higher retention rates, whether via internal programs or through a district partnership.

Beyond initial training programs, continuous mentoring throughout the role can help principals feel supported and increase confidence in their professional abilities. Mentoring and coaching programs have generally received positive feedback from principals, and are especially important as the educational environment is continuously changing and presenting new challenges (DeWitt, 2021).

DeWitt (2021) further stresses the importance of program quality, noting that run-of-the-mill professional development opportunities will do little more than check off a box and leave principals feeling unprepared.

Promote a Positive Work Environment and Principal Wellbeing

A major reason for high principal turnover rates is a negative work environment resulting from a lack of support and interpersonal relationships as well as a complex disciplinary climate. District leaders can combat this issue by ensuring the availability of adequate instructional resources and supporting the improvement of the school climate (Levin & Bradley, 2019).

With stress increasing among school leaders as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, promoting mindfulness and self-care practices can help principals find balance in their roles and perform at a higher level (DeWitt, 2021). Overall, it’s important to ensure that principals have access to the necessary tools to manage their stress levels and find balance in their work.

Provide Fair Compensation

According to a recent survey, 35% of principals stated that they would leave the education field if they were to receive an offer for a higher-paying job (NASSP, 2021). Ensuring fair compensation goes beyond increasing salaries — it involves a complete restructuring of the district’s compensation strategy for principals.

In some districts, salaries for experienced teachers can be higher than principal salaries, which offers little incentive for entering into a school leadership role. Additionally, many compensation structures rely on student performance to determine annual salary, resulting in a fluctuating and unpredictable income that poses a challenge to personal financial planning (Levin & Bradley, 2019).

Tran (2015) also suggests that ensuring salary competitiveness among neighboring districts can prevent principals from changing schools.

Develop an Inclusive Decision-Making Process

In order for principals to feel that they’re making an impact, it’s crucial that they’re included in the decision-making process. School leaders who move on to other schools or careers often cite a lack of control as one of the primary reasons, especially when it comes to making decisions related to disciplining students and hiring teachers (Levin & Bradley, 2019). Related to this, those that leave their school within the first or second year note that lower levels of teacher capacity, cohesion, and collaboration had a significant impact on their decision (Burkhauser et al., 2012).

District policymakers can easily combat this issue by including principals in decisions related to disciplinary programs and other school strategies. Additionally, cultivating a collaborative decision-making model involving school leaders, parents, teachers, and community members can lead to a wider support system and ensure that all voices are being heard (Yan, 2019).

Spread Out the Responsibility

Job burnout is a type of work-related stress that leads to loss of motivation and physical or emotional exhaustion. When principals feel burnt out, it can lead to reduced feelings of accomplishment, decreased levels of job satisfaction, and increased motivation to quit (Federici & Skaalvik, 2012).

One key measure that district leaders can take to prevent job burnout is to ensure that principals have a solid support team that they can delegate responsibilities to, such as assistant principals, administrative staff, and head teachers (Ruggirello, 2022).

With high turnover rates impacting teacher retention, student achievement, and the overall performance of the school, motivating school leaders to remain in their role is in the best interest of all. Empowering principals to create change within the school environment, and providing them with the necessary resources and support to do so, is critical when it comes to reducing turnover. A principal who is content and driven in their role can have lasting impacts on teachers, students, and the community.

How SuperEval Can Help

SuperEval is more than a way to conduct your annual leadership evaluations. Our platform is used by hundreds of school districts to create goal-aligned leadership teams. Using SuperEval can help you retain your best and brightest school leaders and teachers. Administrators who employ reflective practices gain new insights and uncover new knowledge that lead to innovative ideas. Purposeful leadership evaluations result in professional learning and development.


Béteille, T., Kalogrides, D., & Loeb, S. (2012). Stepping Stones: Principal Career Paths and
School Outcomes. Social Science Research, 41(4), 904-919.

Burkhauser, Susan, Gates, Susan M., Hamilton, Laura S., & Schuyler Ikemoto, Gina. (2012).
First-Year Principals in Urban School Districts: How Actions and Working Conditions Relate to Outcomes. RAND Education.

DeWitt, Peter. (2021). 42 Percent of Principals Want to Leave Their Position. Will You Let
Them? Education Week.

Federici, Roger Andre & Skaalvik, Einar M. (2012). Principal Self-Efficacy: Relations with
Burnout, Job Satisfaction and Motivation to Quit. Social Psychology of Education, 15(3), 295-320. doi: 10.1007/s11218-012-9183-5

Jacob, R., Goddard, R., Kim, M., Miller, R., & Goddard, Y. (2015). Exploring the causal impact of
the McREL Balanced Leadership Program on leadership, principal efficacy, instructional climate, educator turnover, and student achievement. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 37(3), 314-322.

Levin, Stephanie & Bradley, Kathryn. (2019). Understanding and Addressing Principal Turnover:
A Review of the Research. National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) & Learning Policy Institute (LPI).

NASSP. (2021). NASSP Survey Signals a Looming Mass Exodus of Principals from Schools.
National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), Survey Conducted by Gotham Research Group.

Ruggirello, Andrea. (2022). New Research Points to a Looming Principal Shortage. The Wallace

Tran, H. (2015). Does district performance and the regional labor market influence how districts
pay principals in California? Journal of School Public Relations, 35(4), 511-541. doi: 10.3138/jspr.35.4.511

Yan, Rui. (2019). The Influence of Working Conditions on Principal Turnover in K-12 Public
Schools. Educational Administration Quarterly, 56(1), 89-122.

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