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Combatting Principal Churn: More Important Now than Ever

August 26, 2020

By Mary Pat Fralick

Leadership matters and nowhere does consistent leadership matter more than within our schools.  Numerous studies have definitively concluded:  school leaders drive youth outcomes.  Without effective principals, school culture is lost, teachers become disenfranchised with changing priorities, and student achievement suffers.  When principals are prepared, feel supported, and have the skills necessary to establish and maintain highly effective school settings, students prosper.

Building a principal pipeline is critically important but without a plan and a budget to keep and support that talent, efforts and money spent to ‘build the leadership bench’ will be insufficient. Funding principal retention efforts is therefore critical, especially with so many schools being shuttered and the uncertainty around reopening.  The expectation for principals to maintain a positive school climate is difficult enough with everyone in the building, but with the increased tensions among school stakeholders and being at home, this challenge is even more acute.  This added pressure on school leaders cascades to the emotional well-being of teachers and ultimately impacts student achievement. 

A 2004 report by School Leaders Network reported that 25% of principals resign each year.  A NASSP report from earlier in 2020, reported that 20% of principals turn over each year.  Job complexity, isolation, lack of ongoing support and development to maintain and foster sustained commitment were cited as the primary reasons principals leave their schools. While those numbers are staggering, consider this: a recent NAASP survey found that 45% of principals said that pandemic conditions are prompting them to leave their jobs sooner than originally planned.

Fortunately, the School Leaders Network has identified specific ways to reverse the tide of leadership out the door:  “continuing to invest in leadership development beyond building the pipeline and engaging principals in authentic peer-to-peer networks where principals can learn from others the art and practice of leading schools.” 

SchoolSims is uniquely positioned to enable both solutions.  Our extensive simulation library provides professional development opportunities to not only gain confidence through simulated experiences but to interact and discuss decisions with colleagues along the way.  Each of our simulations addresses a different challenging, school-related situation.  When circumstances within the simulation reach a decision point, participants consider the choices available, make decisions, and endure the consequences – all in a risk-free environment. Practicing judgment like this builds confidence so that when faced with similar situations in real-life, principals feel prepared and make the best choice. 

When simulations are facilitated with groups of school leaders, peer-to-peer learning can happen at every decision point.  Simulations can be done in one large group or in smaller breakout groups – both in-person or via web conferencing.  Each time the simulation comes to an inflection point and a decision must be made, provides an opportunity for shared discourse and learning.   In life and in our simulations, there is often no perfect choice.  Leaders are frequently faced with choosing the least worst option available.  Having to make those kinds of no-win decisions in a safe setting, gives principals the self-confidence to do so in real life. 

SchoolSims should be a part of every principal/leader professional development/retention program in the country.  No other modality can deliver what our simulations can from the perspective of collaboration and scalability, when it comes to providing sitting leaders an opportunity to practice judgment, gain confidence, and establish authentic connections with their peers.  

Do not ignore your current principals at a time when they need support the most; rather, invest in them.  It is not too late to stop the churn.