Boost Employee Retention Through Leadership Development

In this episode of the Accelerate Your Performance podcast, Dr. Janet Pilcher discusses how professional development for leaders can impact employee retention and workplace environments. She explains the importance of helping leaders learn how to build inspiring workplace environments that build strength in teachers and staff and that develop their skills. This supports a positive learning environment for students. Janet also discusses how this topic correlates with Principle 5, Focus on Employee Engagement, from the Nine Principles Framework. Listen now to find out why leaders should focus on employee engagement, how turnover has been impacted by the pandemic, how leaders can stay focused when boosting retention, and how to apply tactics that help foster an inspiring workplace environment.

Episode Transcript

[Intro music plays in the background.]

Janet Pilcher: Hello, everyone. Welcome to today’s Accelerate Your Performance podcast. I’m your host, Janet Pilcher. Thank you for tuning into our show today. This podcast is all about leadership. And I don’t mean leadership as a position. It’s about how we can all see great leadership in action so that we can all be leaders in our organizations and the focus of leadership connected to the Nine Principles Framework is highlighted in my new book, Hardwiring Excellence in Education.

Today, I’m going to continue to specifically focus on K12 school leadership and the challenge of educator retention. If you’re not a K12 school leader, please think about how this conversation connects to you and your leadership role. I know it will. We’re experiencing challenges with our people staying in our education profession, so think about how this transfers.

The other day I was talking with a group of senior leaders and K12 leaders and we’re talking about the way they build budgets and allocate their dollars, how they determine their priorities. Other than personnel expenses, there were dollars connected to what I call accelerators, curriculum program, software system, technology and so on. And then of course there were core expenses for instructional and operational expenses and- and professional learning, now mainly for teachers.

So, as we’re just looking at some of the budget pieces and talking through them, I asked if there was anything in the budget focused on professional learning for leaders, and they mentioned that professional learning and developing leaders was a nice-to-have rather than a must-have. I’ve heard that they’re not the only ones.

I’ve heard that in conversations that I’ve had with senior leaders, educational senior leaders, and that’s not unusual and not only thinking of senior leaders in education, but you know that’s sometimes across the board in multiple industries.

So, let’s just dig a little bit deeper into thinking of this concept of nice to have versus must-have development of our leaders. Professional learning and development for our leaders. In fact, I want to challenge this thinking a bit in this podcast episode.

So, I pull out some significant research statistics from a 2023 Rand research report authored by Deliberate and Schwartz. Districts Continue to Struggle with Staffing, Political Polarization, and Unfinished Instruction, is the name of the report.

After the pandemic surveys of educators continue to show this is what the report shows. That tells us it continues to show that many teachers and principals plan to push up their anticipated retirement date because of the pandemic and- and that morale among educators looks to be at an all-time low. That’s what we see and know and hear and witness.

To obtain a national picture of teacher and principal turnover at the end of the 202-22 school year and the district staffing shortages at the beginning of 2022-2023 school year, Rand researchers surveyed 300 district and charter network leaders in the American School District panel from October to December 22nd, and here were some key findings that they found from those interviews.

Teacher turnover increased 4 percentage points above pre-pandemic levels, reaching 10% nationally at the end of the 2021-2022 school year. And we all know the teacher shortage is right there in front of us.

They also found that principal turnover increased too, reaching 16% nationally going into the 2022-2023 school year.

Teacher turnover in 2021-22 was highest around 12 to 14% in urban districts, high poverty districts, and districts serving predominantly students of color.

Meanwhile, principal turnover was highest around 21 to 23% in high poverty districts and enrolled districts.

District leaders generally perceive staffing shortages to be less acute in 2022-2023 than they were in 21/22. However, in fall 2022, staffing shortages continued to be most acute for substitute teachers, special education teachers, and bus drivers, and high poverty districts in particular had considerable shortages in several teaching categories.

Then they also found 90% of districts experienced one or more policy changes, either they or their state enacted to boost teacher ranks in response to the shortages. Chief among these changes were increased pay or benefits and expansion of Grow Your Own teacher preparation program.

So, we’ve been getting. See some of those policy changes in action as we’re entering 23-24 We’re seeing some of those same scenarios play out. Things are either getting a little bit worse or surely not better receded on the news and nightly news and in the media on a daily basis right now.

So, Rand also made some recommendations and when they said give principals the same kind of policy attention as teachers, so they’re basically saying we need to pay attention to our principals too. Researchers, philanthropies, professional associations, school principals. You know, should seek to understand how the school leader job is changing.

These individuals and organizations should also develop policies to attract and retain principals as well. That needs to be state and national work that’s needed there.

So, in other words, really begin to pay attention to what we need to focus on with principals and stay focused, obviously, on boosting the pipeline of teachers coming in. And almost all the districts and states have enacted changes to boot- boost the ranks of teachers. The overarching goal is to provide qualified teachers, which is what the Rand Corporation is recommending who want to remain in the profession, not just lower qualification requirements to be. Applicants and fill positions.

And so, you know, we have a situation where we have teachers who are coming in who don’t have the training and skills. So that’s the reality of what we face. And so, in this report there are helpful recommendations reducing turnover for both principals and teachers. But as we look at those stats, I want to go one step deeper and make an assertion.

I believe that teacher- the teacher turnover problem is weighing heavy on the minds and hearts of principals and affects the decision of school leaders to stay in that role or go, you know, so why they’ve not been developed well on how to create a workplace culture that can withstand this type of continuous change.

School leaders are key. To help teachers navigate through the changing landscape in our schools.

As we look at teachers who are coming in, unskilled. It’s up to that leader to really help manage through that particular issue at hand. And that is a challenge that is in front of school leaders that has to be faced other challenges or we know, or the external environment factors will always be in front of us to face and their particular ones right now that are tough.

It’s the school leader that has to help the teachers navigate through these unpredictable changes.

Our school leaders are having a difficult time themselves managing through the external environment factors we all would. They need help and support to manage what they can’t control, yet they are managing and leading people. Who are affected by these external environment changes?

Equally or more important, they also need- our school leaders need guidance and development on what they can control, and that’s the internal environment or the school that has become more challenging after the pandemic. Certain things, such as applying effective teaching practices, stay the same. That doesn’t change.

Yet the changing environment of lack of teacher entry skills and tougher situations with students and families seem overwhelming to teachers. Rightfully so. They are doubly overwhelming for leaders when they’re the ones who are having to help their teachers and that they’re the people that the teachers are depending on for help.

And at the end of the day, we all know what’s important is positioning teachers to support students to achieve success. That’s not in question. The demands of the school environment continuously changes. That’s not in question.

That- We’re seeing that in front of our eyes more than ever. Those two things are given in today’s world. Our job is not to change these factors, because we can’t. We focus on what we can control, applying specific tactics that support building and inspiring workplace environment by building strength in our teachers and staff. That moves us closer and closer to achieving positive results for students, their families, and our teachers.

This is intentional leadership work. That doesn’t just happen without focus and development and conversation about leadership. And Principle 5 is a great place to start. It’s all about gathering input from our teachers and staff, engaging in meaningful conversations around that input, prioritizing work related to what’s most significant that we can take on right now, developing improvement actions and following up on those actions by determining areas working well and those areas that need to be improved and continuing to have those conversations with each other.

When we start here, we take one step and we put it in front of the other. And when we do, we start seeing a process that engages our teams and begins to build a culture where we can solve most challenges together.

The leader is the coach and the guide, but not the master of all answers. The leader engages in conversations with teachers and staff that brings forward the most important things to work on. That becomes the leader’s job.

Leaders need to know how to do that well, and school leaders see that one of their most important jobs is to coach teachers to gain the skills needed to be successful, especially those with little or no skills entering the workplace. That’s what’s in front of us and the brutal facts in front of us and not going to change anytime soon.

Our leaders can’t do this alone. They need for senior leaders. To shift developing their leaders’ leadership development mindset from a nice-to-have to a must-have.

I think you can see that school leaders are more important than ever they have more teachers than ever coming into their schools who are passionate to teach, yet just don’t have the training and skills from the preparation teaching opportunities. They are depending on their school leaders to help them learn, grow, and develop, to be the teacher they want to be, to live with in many cases, or what they’ve dreamed of becoming.

And when they’re doing that, they’re helping students achieve their dreams. And to give students their rightful opportunities. We all have to be committed to developing strong educational leaders. They deserve to be supported and continuously developed and coached to be their best. For teachers and staff, students, and their families, I’ve found that school leaders want to be at their best so that they can be the best.

For others. They choose to leave. That choice means choosing to be high-performing leaders. As school leaders, they know that they are successful when their teachers and staff are successful.

Let’s change the conversation about leadership. As the Rand research report tells us, school principal turnover during the pandemic has received far less attention in the media than teacher turnover. Yet it is among principals that we see the largest turnover. This statistic deserves our highest attention in education.

[Outro music plays in the background.]

Let’s make developing our school leaders a must-have rather than a nice-to-have. We can’t afford not to.

Every other Monday, I’m facilitating a virtual book study for what are the nine principles in my new book, Hardwiring Excellence in Education. The book club today, August 21st, is focused on Principle 5, Focus on Employee Engagement. Is that the centerpiece where we start and can start with developing school leaders to bring purpose back to their work as they lead with specific tactics and behaviors to bring purpose to their teachers and staff.

And join us if you would, registering at

As an executive leader today, I continue to learn and develop my skills. Now, knowing more than ever that my number one job is to apply specific tactics and behaviors that help our employees be at their best. Why? Because all of our jobs are to provide the best service to those that entrust us to serve them.

That’s what being an educator is all about, serving each other so that we can be of great service to others.

Thank you for tuning in to this episode of Accelerate Your Performance. Please share this episode with a friend or colleague you think today’s topic will resonate with, and I look forward to connecting with you next time as we continue to focus on the Nine Principles Framework so that we can be our best at work.

Have a great week everyone.

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