The Role of Leadership in Teacher Turnover


During the last decade, the rate at which teachers are leaving schools in the United States is devastating (Szczesiul & Huizenga, 2014). When the opportunity presents, many teachers opt to leave schools for better working conditions or other professions. This phenomenon is referred to as teacher turnover and is segmented into three: (1) teacher who chooses to remain in the same school, (2) teachers who choose to migrate to other schools, (3) teachers who abandon the teaching career altogether. Even though voluminous research has been documented to explain this trend, little research has sought to understand the factors of working conditions that lead to this ever-growing turnover rate. Ever growing teacher turnover has many negative effects on a country’s economy and planning. For instance, uncontrolled turnover can be expensive and adverse to instructional progress in schools. Consequently, new policies aimed at ameliorating this situation have emerged, such as bonuses, mentoring workshops, and long service awards. However, these strategies have only reduced the tempo. This aspect means that without a congruent understanding of the reasons that influence teachers’ attrition, new policies will pose a short-term impact (Kukla-Acevedo, 2009).

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Therefore, this research seeks to unearth some light regarding teacher turnover by evaluating the connection between school-based factors and teacher attrition. These school-based factors include the school leadership or administration. School leadership influences teacher relations, students’ reactions, safety, and stakeholder behavior. Researchers have established many factors that influence a teacher’s decision to leave his or her school or the profession in general. Stockard (2004) identified these factors to include lack of job satisfaction, inappropriate work conditions, emotional exhaustion, and ineffective leadership associated with the organization and management of schools. However, more recent research has focused on school

leadership as one of the key factors that influence teacher decisions regarding leaving a school or the profession (Szczesiul & Huizenga, 2014). By conducting an intensive literature review, this study establishes that school leadership plays a significant part in teachers’ contract decisions. This study relies on peer-reviewed and current literature to support this study, define the methodology, analyze the data, and make conclusions.

Statement of the Problem

In modern’s state of accountability, school leaders cannot keep on losing quality staff. Based on the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 mandating schools to ensure quality staff, school administration has to find ways to retain their proficient staff. Unfortunately, research by Loeb, Darling-Hammond, and Luczak, (2005) indicate that by 2005, the United States had experienced a teacher turnover of about half a million annually. These scholars further indicate that only 15% of this teacher turnover is linked to retirement. The other 85% of this teacher attrition is attributed to teachers leaving the career completely or changing schools. Current research has sought to establish reasons behind teacher attrition, for instance determining the reasons behind the permanent and temporary termination of teaching career and shifting from school to school.

Even though there are many factors that lead to teacher turnover in the U.S, Loeb et al. (2005) established teachers’ perception of school leadership as the most predictive factor of teachers’ intend to stick in the school or seek an alternative career. While school leadership has been singled as the major factor leading to teacher turnover, currently there is little known regarding the specific factors that school leaders influence to exacerbate teacher turnover. Thus, a study to examine how school leaders’ behavior influence perceptions of teachers who have shifted from one school to another or terminated their careers is inevitable. This breakthrough can help school leaders in addressing the teacher turnover problem in an age when experienced and effective teachers are dearly needed in learning institutions.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this qualitative inquiry study is to identify aspects of school leadership and leadership styles that influence teachers’ career decisions. These teachers’ career decisions include the decision to leave the teaching profession, decision to leave a certain school and join another school, or the decision to stay in a certain school (Stockard, 2004). In a bid to achieve this objective, this study will target the role of school administration in teacher attrition. The focus will be on school leadership because, in most schools in the United States, principles act the core role in recruiting, evaluation, retention, and firing of staff. This study builds upon available data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics, as well as other peer-reviewed literature on teachers’ turnover decisions.

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Undoubtedly, much of the information available in this field focuses on teachers’ demand for positive and favorable leadership. Currently, there is no consistent research to elaborate on leader’s behavior, and attributes and how they adversely affect teacher turnover. This paper acknowledges that the challenge of teacher turnover cannot be leveraged until more details are unearthed regarding the particular leader attributes that influence teacher perceptions to migrate or stay in a school. Therefore, this paper will support, and build on the available literature about the connection between teacher movement and school leadership.

Significance of the study

Current literature suggests that there is an underlying relationship between teacher retention and school leadership (Szczesiul & Huizenga, 2014). In a meta-analytic study, Loeb et al. (2005) found that about 2.2 million teachers would be required in the U.S education system over the next five years. However, a large number of schools with teaching vacancies continue to encounter challenges in retaining teachers, particularly the experienced and effective ones. Retaining effective teachers has become inevitable with the growing need for quality education in the U.S. To ensure teacher retention, perhaps there needs must be addressed (Kukla-Acevedo, 2009). The teachers may be independent, responsible, and tolerant, but it is necessary for them to experience care, trust, and nurturing from the administration. Leaders should learn to accommodate the needs of teachers to ease their mental and emotional burdens. By doing so, this paper holds the assumption that schools will be in a better position to retain teachers.

This study is vital since it contributes to the knowledge about the issue of teacher turnover. While evaluating the issue of leadership in establishing certain administrative behaviors facilitate teacher turnover, this study may assist school principals to acquire the knowledge to detect if they have the requisite qualities for teacher retention. This knowledge may also influence future school leaders in realizing their administrative qualities as well as how they influence teachers’ career decisions.

Research Questions

The following research questions will direct the study.

  • Q1. What aspects of leadership influence teachers’ perceptions to shift to another school or abandon their teaching profession?
  • Q2. What are the perceptions of shifting teachers concerning their past leader’s character, abilities, and retention skills?
  • Q3. How do the indicated perceptions affect teacher’s decision to shift to another school or terminate one’s career?
  • Q4. Are there any retention skills that a leader can apply to prevent a migrating teacher from leaving?


This study incorporated the following hypotheses regarding teacher migration.

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  • H1, The basic hypotheses that guided the study was that teacher turnover is substantially connected with commitment and job satisfaction. This hypothesis suggests that teachers who remain in a certain school or the teaching career are greatly motivated. On the other hand, a teacher who shifts to another school is likely to report negative perceptions about the working conditions.
  • H2, The second hypotheses suggests that the contributing aspects of leader behavior (s) that promote teacher turnover could be established via a research involving teachers who have either shifted from one school to another or has abandoned the teaching profession.

Definitions of Key Terms

  • Leadership style: In this study, leadership style is a specific combination of techniques, approaches, attributes, and behaviors manifested by a principal in managing a school (Kukla-Acevedo, 2009). In this paper, leadership style is also referred to as administrative behavior.
  • Teacher turnover: Teacher turnover refers to the process by which teacher exit the teaching field.
  • Teacher retention: Teacher retention is the process of ensuring that teachers stay in the same school.
  • Teacher migration: Teacher migration is the process by which teacher shift to other schools.
  • Attrition: Attrition is a term used to describe the act of a teacher leaving the teaching career.
  • Leader: A leader is an individual who takes a position of responsibility in controlling and organizing the actions of the members of a group to achieve a shared goal.
  • Commitment: Commitment is the state of a teacher’s dedication to teaching or a certain responsibility.
  • Administrative support: Administrative support is assistance offered to teachers by the leader i.e. the principal of a school. This assistance can be accorded via many different ways such as staff motivation programs, training opportunities, and new recruits induction time and inclusive decision-making (Ismail, Ibrahim, Ali, Dawi, & Ariff, 2015).
  • Transformational leadership: This term refers to a leadership strategy that induces a change in people and social entities (Ismail et al., 2015).

Theoretical framework

In support of the current research problem, this study will use the transformational leadership theory to explain how administrators can ensure efficiency as well as retain teachers. Transformational leadership increases devotion, interest, and efficiency of followers via verified means. These mechanisms include acting as a role model, integrating the teacher’s sense of purpose to the objective of the school. Leaders who are capable of understanding the strengths and weaknesses of their staff stand a better chance in identifying roles that maximize their performance (Ismail et al., 2015).

Transformational leadership advocates four elements that are consistent with the previous research on administrative behavior that influence teacher turnover; (1) individualized consideration, (2) Inspirational motivation, (3) Intellectual stimulation and, (4) Idealized influence. Ismail et al. (2015) defined individualized consideration as the level at which the administrator meets each teacher’s demands, serves as a role model, instructor, and helps the teacher solve issues. The administrator shows concern and maintains communication flexible to increase approachability. Consequently, the teachers develop intrinsic devotion for their work and are less likely to migrate.

Inspirational motivation is the state at which the administrator develops a goal that is attractive and encouraging to teachers. Administrators gifted with inspirational motivation provokes teachers to perform, inspire hope, and offer a sense for the set goals (Guarino, Santibanez, & Daley, 2006). A teacher needs to develop a firm sense of purpose if they are to remain in a certain school. When teacher are encouraged to work and acknowledged for their achievements, they are more likely to remain in their current schools (Kukla-Acevedo, 2009). Intellectual stimulation the level to which the administrator encourages inclusivism in decision-making, solicits teacher’s suggestions, and takes risks by implementing their ideas. Such leaders encourage creativity and innovation of effective means of teaching. Idealized influence is the level of which administrators serve as role model for good morals, advocates honesty, and trust (Ismail et al., 2015).

Brief review of literature

This section seeks to offer a brief review of available literature that gives a baseline for understanding administrative behaviors that may lead to teacher turnover.

Leadership style/administrative behaviors

Even though the state or local government may initiate induction of new teachers, stress alleviation, and mentoring forums, all these processes demand the effort and backing of the school leadership. Kukla-Acevedo (2009) suggested that administrative support is a predictor that teachers would or would not be motivated to stay in a certain school. In other words, supportive administration determines teacher retention. Loeb et al. (2005) established that principals’ leadership styles could pose a significant effect on teachers’ career decision. In a qualitative inquiry study, Stockard (2004) identified that more than a quarter of the respondents reported leadership style as the most vital element determining job satisfaction and in deciding if to remain in a school or in the teaching profession. Similarly, a research work done by Szczesiul and Huizenga (2014), teachers cited three key aspects linked to their decision to transfer schools. The most consistent response affecting their decision was administrative behaviors and attributes. Other factors included opportunities for career advancement, followed by student performance, and school facilities among other issues. The same study listed leadership issues as the top factor leading to teachers’ decision to abandon their teaching career.

Ismail et al. (2015) echoed the above sentiments by discovering that decision to remain in the teaching profession and the same school was shared by teachers who cited higher levels of principals’ support compared to the teachers who cited less or no administrative support. During this study, teachers mentioned various administrative approaches that adversely affected their desire to remain at a school. These administrative behaviors included poor communication, lack of inclusivism in decision-making, dictatorship, and lack of accessibility.

In his study about teacher commitment, Kukla-Acevedo (2009) sought to find out the influence of administrative support for both joining and experienced teachers. This study discovered that new entrant teachers reported induction support, participation in decision-making, and principal’s concern among the aspects influencing their devotion to teaching and stay in that profession. In the same research, administrative research was viewed as most meaningful when properly availed to teachers based on their skill level. Szczesiul and Huizenga (2014) called for school administrators to nurture and protect teachers. Nurturing was defined as caring for and motivating the development of teachers by protecting them from both internal and external affecting central responsibilities.

The studies reviewed suggest that proficient leaders have distinguished leadership styles. According to Szczesiul and Huizenga (2014), leadership styles are defined by an individual’s prominent style of actions and attitudes when in a position of power. Thus, various leadership styles may influence teacher’s decision to exit teaching profession, remain in a certain school, or migrate. These styles include authoritative, coercive, democratic, inclusive, and pacesetters. Authoritative administrator motivates teachers towards a shared vision. The coercive leader commands conformity and obedience from the teachers. Democratic leader calls for cooperation and consensus in decision-making. An inclusive leader builds peace and creates emotional bonds across all departments. Pacesetter and coercive leaders adversely influence teachers’ job satisfaction and performance. On the other hand, the other styles have a positive influence on job satisfaction and performance. Since heading a school is a challenging responsibility, factors of good leadership styles must be understood and applied diligently to meet different needs (Stockard, 2004).

Based on Stockard’s findings, the employment stability of teachers is associated in a way with the approaches used by principals to manage schools. The researchers are inclined to discuss the organizational problem and the aspects of administration as the causes of teacher turnover. Stockard (2004) further indicated that the organizational culture is an even more influential factor to affect the job satisfaction and then, the desire to leave the position at a school. In contrast to the focus on organization and administration as affecting turnover, it is also necessary to focus on the individual position of a leader in influencing turnover at schools.

Specific factors that compel teacher to migrate

During the literature review, the following factors emerged as the prominent administrative behaviors that compel teachers to transfer: (1) poor understanding regarding the operations of the school; (2) Lack of management skills; and (3) Poor personal morals and attributes. Most of the reviewed literature manifested consistency about the administrator’s failure to comprehend the business of the school. Many respondents questioned about their perceptions concerning their past administrators reported a lack of supportive skills, networking skills, and lack of skills to transform the organizational culture.

Nearly all respondents in the reviewed studies cited a need for support and that their leader’s inability to offer support as the major factor influencing their career decisions. For example, Kukla-Acevedo (2009) noted that novice teachers reported that the principals are at first concerned and supportive, but as time passes the principal becomes less accessible and non-cooperative. The findings by the above scholar suggest that the principal’s presence and support would have assisted with complex decision-making presented by the student fraternity. Many of the respondents reported the need for networking and creating good interpersonal relationships. However, most of the administrators are not accessible nor are they willing to spearhead or nurture a culture of interdependence. Consequently, teachers chose to migrate and find other schools where they could establish cohesiveness.

Lack of management skills is a common aspect reported by all respondents in the reviewed studies. This factor can also be referred to as administrator’s lack of professionalism. The key issues that were consistent in the reviewed articles include administrator’s lack of integrity, transparency, honesty, trust, and respect. According to Guarino et al. (2006), these are the main attributes that influence a principal’s capacity to support teachers, ensure connections, and make school a desirable community. If teachers feel that they are not trusted, respected, or acknowledged, they chose to migrate or exit teaching profession.

Poor personal morals and professional ethics manifested by school administrator were reported as a major factor that influenced teachers to migrate (Szczesiul & Huizenga, 2014). Many participants cited that their principals acted selfishly concerning resource allocation. Many principals were viewed to allocate huge budgets on their offices while leaving teacher to work under poor circumstances. Many principals were viewed as intimidating since they issued threats of contract termination to teachers without evidence.

Strategies to improve administrative behavior

There are vital recommendations from this review concerning particular administrative behaviors as well as how to increase teacher retention. This review has emphasized that if administrators need to decrease the rate of teacher turnover, they should attempt to integrate specific behaviors into their leadership style. Since one of the most reported issues in the review was a lack of administrative knowledge, there is a need for professional development. The education system in the U.S. needs to provide updated professional programs to ensure that leaders, as well as teachers, are offered a platform to realize the best practices as leaders.

Since most studies cited the lack of support from administrators, instructional leadership is essential (Ismail et al., 2015). School administrators should have the ability to help teachers to develop collaborative skills. Administrators should embrace teamwork to ensure that skills of the experienced teachers benefit the novice teachers. Principals should be available and organize staff meetings for networking and educational instruction purposes. Principals should also provide individual-based guidance and assistance particularly to novice teachers to enable them to facilitate instruction and student performance.

For a teacher to feel supported and avoid migration, it is necessary to ensure that they have access to the necessary resources they require to create effective instruction. Principals should try to issue clear and achievable expectations to staff. Principals should also assist teachers when handling complex decisions involving a colleague or student discipline (Kukla-Acevedo, 2009). Many of the respondents in the review indicated a desire to feel that their leader was accessible and encouraged interpersonal relationships. Since this sense of accessibility was missing, teachers decided to change schools.


Researchers investigating teacher turnover have found that attrition in some schools is substantially higher than attrition in other schools despite their being relatively equal working conditions (Szczesiul & Huizenga, 2014). The attrition has spiked enough to interfere with instructional progress and student performance. Current research has suggested that this increased attrition is likely to affect huge populations of poorly performing and historically disadvantaged students. Unfortunately, this group of students is in high need of an effective and consistent teaching staff. However, as the quest for accountability and student success remain eminent, an intensive exploration of how to prevent teacher turnover is important. The purpose of this review was to develop an understanding of the leadership behaviors, as highlighted by respondents, and influence the ever-growing trend of teacher turnover.

Research Method and design

The choice of research method for this study was informed by the type of research methodology employed in previous research linked to teacher turnover. Since the teaching profession is composed of individual traits and differences, many scholars claim that research on teacher turnover would incorporate qualitative research well. Guarino et al. (2006) defined qualitative study as inquiry targeting to explore and understand issues based in the view of the respondents. Due to the freedom to which qualitative strategies provide researchers to explore the individual aspects connected to attitudes, judgments, and personal beliefs, this paper seeks to employ the qualitative model to add to build on the prior research. Thus, the advantages of the qualitative research are in possibilities to use the narratives reflecting the persons’ visions to research a certain phenomenon in detail. From this point, the qualitative research approach is important for determining the teachers’ opinions regarding their principals’ leadership effectiveness and their ability to cause or prevent the teacher turnover.

The project design seeks to administer a survey to the selected teachers. The qualitative data will be collected with the help of face-to-face interviews and a focus group meeting. Based on a constant comparative approach to data evaluation, this study will build from a certain scenario from an interview and compare it with data from a varying scenario. This approach is aimed at revealing common themes across different scenarios. These themes are predictors of administrative behaviors that cause teacher turnover. The following steps will be used to ensure that the sample population is rich in the intended information. First, this research intends to identify both private and public schools across the U.S, particularly with high retention rates. Fifteen participants will be selected from all the three levels including elementary, middle, and high schools.

The second phase will involve administering a survey to the selected teachers. This phase is intended to establish common characteristics and strategies. During the third phase, this study will conduct focus group discussions based on the main issues obtained in the survey results. This move is intended to create a deeper understanding of the common themes that influence teacher turnover. The last phase will entail combining the information and present the major findings associated with teacher turnover.


The qualitative data will be collected from the interviews with 15 participants selected public schools in the U.S. The participants will be included after indicating that they have remained in their current schools or transferred due to their perception of the principals’ leadership approach. Reliable teachers to participate in the interview will be reached via a snowball sampling strategy. However, the final sample population will be attained through criterion sampling. Snowball sampling entails approaching people who can offer referrals of people who have information regarding the subject under study (Guarino et al., 2006). Criterion sampling targets participants who meet certain qualifications. The current case requires teachers who migrated to other schools or abandoned the teaching profession due to their perceptions concerning the leadership style.

The questionnaire to conduct the interview will be designed depending on the existing questionnaires on the topic, and it will include ten open-ended questions. The questions in the questionnaire will ask about the information on the leadership styles of the teachers’ former leaders at school, on the teachers’ perceptions of the relationship between their decision to leave and the principals’ leadership styles, and on the areas for the improvement of the principals’ leadership approach. The collected data will be analyzed with the help of coding and identification of specific thematic patterns in the participants’ answers to the interview questions because of the reliability of this data analysis method used in qualitative research. The identified themes representing the teachers’ vision of the relationship will be used to conclude about the correlation between leadership and teacher turnover.

Data collection will involve hand-recorded field notes providing data of all teachers interviewed. With the consent of the respondents, this study will also include audiotape for more clarity. Open-ended questions will be used to offer the respondent freedom to explain and follow their lead in formulating other questions not covered in the questionnaire.


Following the increase in teacher turnover, and the quest for efficiency in schools, retention of experienced teachers remains vital. New policies in the education system have emerged to ameliorate this situation and keep effective teachers in the schools. Due to the increased diversity in the U.S, teachers have been vested with the higher responsibility to establish means to minimize the achievement gap. When school administrators fail to keep proficient and experienced teachers, students are disadvantaged. Since there is a lack of information about the specific administrative behaviors that lead to teacher turnover, this paper will use the quantitative causal comparative technique to examine these factors.

Effective administrators who believe all teachers can perform exemplary, who have the interest and devotion to achieve growth are vital in ensuring teacher retention (Kukla-Acevedo, 2009). In a bid to ensure development and success in the U.S education system, it is important to identify selfless, supportive, and qualified people who share an inclusive mentality. In the same light, it is critical to offer adequate training and support to the administrators. Adequate skills and motivation can lead to success in developing a school environment that facilitates student performance, and a firm sense of connection. With the proper administrative behaviors, proper skills, and the self-drive to be an effective leader, school leaders can offer a setting where teachers build the same spirit and will want to stay and be helpful.


Guarino, C., Santibanez, L., & Daley, G. (2006). Teacher recruitment and retention: A review of the recent empirical literature. Review of Educational Research, 76(2), 173-208.

Ismail, K., Ibrahim, A., Ali, A., Dawi, A., & Ariff, M. (2015). Relationship between principal’s transformational leadership style and teacher’s job satisfaction. Advanced Science Letter, 21(7), 2459-2462.

Kukla-Acevedo, S. (2009). Leavers, movers, and stayers: The role of workplace conditions in teacher mobility decisions. The Journal of Educational Research, 102(6), 443-452.

Loeb, S., Darling-Hammond, L., & Luczak, J. (2005). How teaching conditions predict teacher turnover in California schools. Peabody Journal of Education, 80(3), 44-70.

Stockard, J. (2004). Influences on the satisfaction and retention of 1st-year teachers: The importance of effective school management. Educational Administration Quarterly, 40(5), 742-771.

Szczesiul, S., & Huizenga, J. (2014). The burden of leadership: Exploring the principal’s role in teacher collaboration. Improving Schools, 17(2), 176-191.

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