Do Teachers Quit Because They Hate Their Principals?

The Atlantic recently published an article provocatively titled “Why Do So Many Teachers Quit Their Jobs? Because They Hate Their Bosses, by former teacher John Tierney. He cites a study on new teachers’ reasons for quitting, which was recently published in Elementary School Journal. I was assuming this study would focus on conflict with specific teachers, but in fact it’s about the principal’s relationship with teachers in general:

The researchers found that the most important factor influencing commitment was the beginning teacher’s perception of how well the school principal worked with the teaching staff as a whole.

It’s not just about individual teachers hating their bosses; it’s about whether principals create a positive climate and help their teachers feel supported. Lead investigator Peter Youngs says principals also need to support new teachers in curriculum and instruction:

“The principal isn’t there just to help the novice teacher handle discipline and classroom management,” Youngs said. “What really makes a strong administrative climate is when the principal also knows the academic content well and can work with the beginning teacher on curriculum and instruction.”

Tierney (or whomever wrote the headline) interprets the study’s findings as “teachers quit because they hate their bosses,” but the study’s conclusion is a bit more nuanced:

We find that the probability that a novice teacher reports a desire to remain teaching within her school is reduced when she perceives the quality of relations between teachers and administrators as poor, even after controlling for a prior measure of intent to remain teaching.

This is a sobering finding for school leaders.

We’re pressured on the one hand to press for student achievement above all, even if it means taking on complacent or underperforming staff.

But the way in which we go about increasing student achievement matters a great deal. If we view teachers as our adversaries and create animosity, we aren’t just driving out those who are part of the problem – we’re also failing to retain teachers who may be quite talented, but have no desire to stay in what they feel is a toxic work environment.

The study’s literature review on administrative climate and teacher retention is worth a read, even if you don’t have time to read the full study.

Yes, it is our job to push for continual growth, and it’s our job to force out those who cannot or will not improve to an adequate level of performance. But as hard as this is, we must do it in ways that avoid destroying the trust and sense of shared mission among administrators and teachers.

How do you hold firm on the “bottom lines” of teaching while also creating a climate of trust with your staff? Some favorite comments from the excellent #edfocus chat last night, moderated by @mccoyderek:

What do you think?

Who’s Really Incompetent?

“If you have a principal who knows there’s a poor-performing teacher and chooses not to evaluate him or her effectively, who’s really the incompetent person?” Mr. Weil said.

EdWeek on the “Dance of the Lemons” process for transferring teachers

Providing Feedback to Master Teachers

Teachers at more advanced levels of proficiency are generally very proud of their practice, and may have been asked to serve as a mentor for student teachers or interns. With such experience, it’s easy to perceive feedback as disrespectful if it’s not delivered carefully.

On a short walkthrough, it’s not uncommon for a principal to leave feedback that fails to take into account the instruction that took place before or after the observation, and it’s easy to come to snap judgments in order to find something to write down.

One way to avoid this trap is to provide low-inference feedback – to describe what is taking place without drawing conclusions about it, then to ask open-ended questions to prompt further thinking. For example, if you observe that students are completing worksheets, and it seems to you that the task is not very engaging or rigorous, you might provide provide feedback as follows:

Students are working independently on practice sheets, while teacher circulates to answer questions and check for understanding.
Questions for reflection: In addition to personal effort, what factors determine the level of benefit students derive from written work?

This question focuses the teacher’s attention on the task’s level of cognitive demand, but without a judgment such as “This doesn’t seem very rigorous.”

Feedback for Performance: The “Next Steps” List

Principals have an obligation to provide instructional leadership for every faculty member, not just those who are struggling. But how do you make an intentional, systematic effort to provide feedback to every teacher, including those who are excellent?

Photo from Flickr user thelastminuteIt can be challenging to provide constructive feedback to your best teachers. What do you say to help someone improve their practice, when it’s already at a superior level?

The answer to this question may not be immediately obvious, so one way to address this instructional leadership challenge is to keep a “next steps” list of your staff. List all of your staff members, and keep notes on each person’s previous work and strengths, and note what the next level of work is.

For example:
Abrams – presented at math conference; working on motivating students who aren’t completing homework.
Baker – recently formed new reading groups; working with one group on summarizing expository text.
Childress – new behavior plan for JT; trying to reduce disruptions to rest of the class.
Davidson – Implemented literacy centers last month; trying to build students’ independence.

Recordkeeping is essential. Just as teachers keep anecdotal and formal notes, it’s helpful to physically keep a “next steps” list. A simple two-column sheet, with names in the left column and blank space in the right, should work.

Teaching for a Living: Views of Principal Support

This survey from Public Agenda contains a host of information about teachers’ views about their profession.

One set of findings is of particular relevance to principals. The study divided teachers into three groups – contented, disheartened, and idealists. While surveys of this type show only correlation (not causation), teacher responses about the support they get from principals are revealing:
survey results

In short, there is a strong relationship between job satisfaction (the category in which the teacher is placed, based on responses to other survey questions) and the leadership and support provided by the principal.

More from EdWeek (registration required) | Full report from Public Agenda

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