Transformational Leadership Against Teacher Turnover


The previous question of the role of leadership in influencing teacher turnover presented a large scholarly body of knowledge on leadership theories or styles that are likely to produce positive results concerning turnover management. However, only the contingency, transactional, and transformational leadership theories were discussed. It concluded that their effectiveness in managing turnover depended on the existing leadership situation in schools. This paper builds on this school of thought by addressing how the transformational leadership theory, as discussed in the previous paper, has been applied. The current paper critically evaluates the appropriateness of the use to which the theory has been applied with the objective of determining how it can guide school leadership practice. The discussion section offers a critique of the application of transformational theory in managing teacher turnover. The research will also be conducted to examine the role of transformational leadership in managing turnover in the education sector.

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Literature Review

The stability of the education systems requires teachers to have intentions of remaining employed in the education industry. The effectiveness and productivity of the system require motivation to enhance teachers’ commitment to their responsibilities. Turnover refers to the intention to quit any profession or industry voluntarily or involuntarily. Such intentions correlate negatively with the productivity of any industry (Ghamrawi & Jamma, 2013). In the education industry, involuntary turnover has the implication of losing the most talented professionals. Involuntary turnover ensures that a school ends all services that are offered by underperforming staff (Ronfeldt, Loeb & Wyckoff, 2013). Thus, involuntary turnover serves functional purposes. However, where involuntary turnover arises due to underperformance, but not lack of professional expertise, leadership needs to play the role of inducing motivation to work and manage human resource issues, which leads to voluntary turnover, by adopting the transformational leadership style. This practical application paper discusses the role of transformational leadership in influencing teacher turnover.

Leadership refers to directing, controlling, planning, monitoring, and influencing followers. Scholarly research documents evidence on the capacity of leadership to influence followers in making turnover intentions. Practice and research play critical roles in adding insights on the appropriate conditions under which leadership may help in mitigating or inducing teachers’ decisions to abandon the teaching profession (Ronfeldt et al., 2013). This claim suggests that leadership styles influence the manner in which teachers arrive at decisions for abandoning the profession.

Research on government employee turnover underlines the obligation of using the concept of public management in managing it. Lee and Hong (2011) support this approach by asserting that family-friendly policies can help in reducing turnover in federal agencies. The researchers claim that the incorporation of child-care subsidies can play an immense role in reducing turnover. In the education sector, increasing retention rates is highly important upon considering the high turnover rate in primary and secondary education due to labor intensiveness, which translates into burnout among teachers (Ronfeldt et al., 2013). Thus, transforming schools into institutions that can deliver value to not only the students by developing skills and knowledge, but also to teachers by ensuring good-work life fit is crucial in reducing teacher turnover. Ronfeldt et al. (2013) assert that proper teacher-job match constitutes an influential factor for teachers’ migration to other schools where they become more productive.

Using the case study of Boulder College in Australia, Keamy (2014) studied the role of transformational leadership in ensuring ardent student and teacher engagement. Boulder College brought a new principal. In 2006, the principal inherited an organization that was straining to accommodate various external and internal demands. In the course of his first-year tenure, the principal developed seven integrated programs. Keamy (2014) claims that the programs “heralded inevitable changes for the students in the middle years of schooling and for the overall school structure” (p. 53). Through the programs, the principal challenged the manner in which teachers’ and students’ issues were being handled.

Boulder College introduced various learning communities and mentorship programs in 2010 to further support teacher engagement. The college’s teaching staff was also involved in decision-making processes to ensure that their issues were well articulated. Although the main objective of these programs was to increase teacher productivity, but not their turnover, the college reported a high retention rate. The principal acknowledged the need to involve teachers in decision-making, especially where such decisions influence their work. Keamy (2014) asserts that the transformation of the decision-making process at the college provided a platform for teachers to address their concerns about power imbalances that hindered them from taking control of their issues. From this context, the new principal acted as a professional in terms of controlling and managing human resources.

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Hom and Kinicki (2012) identify several factors, which may influence turnover in the public sector agencies and institutions. They include institutional socialization processes, the procedure that is deployed during employee recruitment and development, and the style that leaders and managers deploy to direct and control employees (Hom & Kinicki 2012). Other factors include burnout, organizational stress, and labor shortages. Boulder College’s new principal transformed the structure of the institution to ensure that teachers acquired platforms for airing their issues such as turnover matters as identified by Hom and Kinicki (2012). The outcome was better engagement and productive institutional relationships between the leadership and followers.

The creation of effective networks avails forums for mitigating possible issues, which may develop into discontents and poor job satisfaction among teachers, thus leading to a turnover. Moolenaar, Daly, and Sleegers (2013) conducted a study to investigate the relationship between the position of school principals in social networks together with transformational leadership and its roles in the creation of innovative work climate in public schools in the Netherlands. The study’s sample included 702 teachers who were drawn from 51 elementary schools and 51 principals of the same schools. They deployed network and multi-level analyses to examine quantitative questionnaires “with social network questions on work-related and personal advice and Likert-type scales for transformational leadership and innovative climate” (Moolenaar et al., 2013, p.624). The study concluded that transformational leadership correlated directly with innovative climate in schools. Institutions that hinder innovation may have high voluntary turnover, especially for the highly experienced teachers who are denied a chance to take part in the organizational change process.

Moolenaar et al. (2013) support the above assertion by noting that higher levels of teacher-principal interaction for personal advice and/or professional instruction translate into higher rates of positive connections and likelihoods of investing in change and development of knowledge-based professional practices. This observation suggests that transformational leadership correlates with the adoption of best professional practices that teachers may want to seek elsewhere in the industry. Indeed, consistent with Moolenaar et al.’s (2013) findings, Veysel (2014) asserts that recruitment and subsequent retention of teachers are influenced by factors such as autonomy of work and the capacity to build good relationships. From the paradigms of the factors that may influence the decisions of a given teacher to stay in a given school, retention of teachers may be influenced by factors such as recognition and their inclusion in decision-making processes and building good social networks with leaders and other stakeholders to facilitate conflict resolution as Keamy (2014) suggests.

Ghamrawi and Jamma (2013) identify teacher turnover as a major problem that affects the functioning of the education sectors across the globe. The researchers claim that the problem is more severe than teacher retirement and/or student enrollment. The case of the US teacher turnover provides a more practical experience of the challenge. About 3,380,300 teachers in the US taught in the 2007/2008 academic year. Schools maintained, “84.5% of them, 7.6% made transfers to different schools, and 8% quitted the profession” (Ryu & Lee, 2013, p.136). The figures of those who had turnover intention are not captured in the statistics. The findings indicate higher turnover challenges in the US education sector. The situation raises the question of how the problems of higher turnover in the education sector can be reduced. Ghamrawi and Jamma (2013) suggest that adopting an appropriate leadership style or theory can help in resolving the problem.

Transformational leadership is appropriate in ensuring that schools change from institutions that are characterized by high turnover rates to institutions of high employee retention rates. Ghamrawi and Jamma (2013) found a negative relationship between transformational leadership and career stress and a positive relationship between stress and turnover. This finding suggests that transformational leadership produces positive effects on the management of teacher turnover that arises from high career stress and burnout. Therefore, according to Ghamrawi and Jamma (2013), principals possess a noble responsibility of ensuring high retention rates for teachers in schools. This goal can be achieved through developing and using transformational leadership skills in their work settings.

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In the Malaysian context, Long, Thean, Ismail, and Jusoh (2012) find a relationship between teacher turnover and transformational leadership that is similar to that of Ghamrawi and Jamma (2013). The scholars deployed diagnostic and evocative study techniques to examine the effect of headship styles on employment contentment. The research was designed as a quantitative survey. It measured leadership styles using the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ). The population encompassed 51 teaching staff members from Johor’s College in West Malaysia. After a successive regression breakdown of the measurement outcomes for headship approaches and turnover plans among the teaching staff in the college, the study found a regression coefficient of 0.13 (Long et al., 2012). Although this coefficient is weak, it indicates that transformational leadership influences positively teachers’ intentions to remain within an educational institution.


Leadership offers appropriate controls, guides, plans, and strategic directions for achieving certain goals and objectives in any organization, including educational institutions. It occurs upon the interaction of leaders, situations, and followers (Sakiru & D’silva, 2013). In the education sector, leaders comprise school principals, district education officers, and national and regional education heads among other people who are involved in the development of education sector policies. Under the leader-situation-follower model of leadership, in schools, teachers are the followers. The situation encompasses turnover, while the leaders are the school principals or the headteachers. Emanating from the literature review section, a major concern is how transformational leadership theory influences the three elements of the model and how the theory has practically been applied to reduce the followers’ turnover.

Transformational leaders can develop visions and necessary inspirations to influence their followers. They assess different situations that influence negatively educational institutions to ensure the formulation of the appropriate success strategies by dealing with a myriad of operational challenges (Sakiru & D’silva, 2013). Scholarship in Human Resource Management contends that people quit their jobs in case they are not satisfied to look for other jobs within the same industry (Hom & Kinicki, 2012). Retaining people within an industry calls for its transformation to ensure that it becomes more attractive than other industries that the people who intend to leave may want to join. Such transformations are possible by incorporating transformational leaders in school management and/or in the management of the education sector at the national level.

Although the reviewed articles support the above assertion, they have methodological weaknesses and strengths. Keamy (2014) uses case studies. The methodology has the strength of availing a mechanism for understanding how leadership influences turnover in practical settings. Case studies are a precise reflection of what happens in the real world. It permits the collection of large amounts of details of specific situations understudy than it can be possible in any other research methodology. However, case studies have a limitation of the capacity to derive solutions to problems understudy to adapt to a general population, as they are limited to only one case under study. Case studies may also be unreliable because of partiality due to only one person who collects data. However, analysis of the role of transformational leadership in Boulder College is supported by research on the position of leadership in general organizations.

In the service sector, the impacts of labor turnover are categorized as indirect and/or direct costs. The sphere of direct costs influences all financial challenges that an organization encounters from increased incidents of turnover such as training and recruitment costs. Indirect impacts of turnover include low productivity that is associated with the unfamiliarity of new employees within an organization, dwindled quality of service due to overstretching of few remaining employees, low work morale, and compromising the standards set by organizations (Hom & Kinicki, 2012). Different organizations, even though working in the same industry, exhibit different levels of turnover. This situation suggests that differences in leadership styles may contribute to increased turnover within an organization. Thus, consistent with Keamy’s (2014) findings, amid the limitations of case studies as a research methodology, deploying effective leadership styles, teacher turnover can be managed effectively.

The work of Long et al. (2012) has a methodological and research design challenge of reliability and generalization of the findings in different colleges and educational institutions. Although the researchers find a positive correlation between transformational leadership and reduction of teacher turnover, the confinement of the research to only one community-funded college that is located within one geographical region raises the question of the applicability of the findings in other institutions in other levels of education such as primary and secondary education. However, the research receives backing from studies in other disciplines such as human capital management and human resource management.

Erskine (2012) asserts that motivation is a constituent of transformational leadership that lowers turnover intentions among employees in both private and public sector organizations. The conclusions by Ghamrawi and Jamma (2013) and Moolenaar et al. (2013) on the role of transformational leadership in addressing issues, which may lead to high teacher turnover levels in the education sector, support Erskine’s (2012) argument. Indeed, Sakiru and D’silva (2013) insist that for transformational leadership to yield results that can effectively be adopted to manage people turnover intents, its approaches should be classified in to different categories and then strategies developed to ensure that the best results are achieved in every practice. Through the provision of training and incentives for employees, transformational leaders alter institutions from focusing on authoritative leadership to a management plan that encourages employee performance and long-term retention.


Transformational leadership is important for educational institutions to enhance the framing of various teachers’ tasks in a manner that motivates them. This plan helps the followers to articulate their professional work with their personal values as a motivation to keep them working in a given educational institution. Since transformational leadership can deal with teacher turnover, it is recommended for all schools to consider employing their services. Such leaders reflect the professional know-how of dealing with the challenge of turnover. For instance, it is recommended for them to consider influencing teachers via inducement practices and programs for performance expectations. Inducements may include teacher motivation programs, treatment programs, flexible job designs, and fair wages and salaries.

Educational leaders can enact programs for employee treatment to ensure that teachers are treated with fairness without discrimination along with diversity differences (Loon, Lim, Lee, & Tam, 2012). The practice also sets mechanisms for rewarding the employees whose performance exceeds the preset standards. Fair pay is aimed at ensuring that employees are remunerated commensurately based on the efforts they put into work and consistent with the current market rates for an industry in which an institution operates. In the education sector, a fair pay policy may involve remunerating teachers according to the characteristics of their work. For instance, retaining teachers who face challenges of burnout due to work stress requires remuneration that is commensurate with the amount of physical and mental strain.

Job design is particularly recommended as a good practice for transformational leaders in reducing teacher turnover. It ensures that teachers are directed and controlled in such a manner that they become innovative and creative in their own work. It also entails the allocation of reasonable tasks, depending on the role that is played by a given teacher in an institution. This practice together with other transformational leadership practices can enhance teacher engagements to aid in fostering their goodwill for an education system. Subsequently, high retention levels can become feasible amid the evident stress that characterizes the education sector.


Leadership theories produce profound implications for employees in an organization. In the education sector, principals need to demonstrate and use transformational leadership skills in managing teacher turnover. To retain teachers in schools, they need to be considered valuable assets to the school through their involvement in decision-making processes. Principals need to create a collaborative working environment, empower teachers, and influence them to pursue common institutional objectives by ensuring a good work-life fit. This plan facilitates the transformation of educational institutions from organizations that have high turnover levels into institutions that are characterized by high workforce retention.


Erskine, M. (2012). Human Capital Management. Management Services, 1(1), 12-13.

Ghamrawi, N., & Jamma, K. (2013). Teachers Turnover: Impact of School Leadership and other Factors. International Journal of Education Research and Technology, 4(1), 68-78.

Hom, P., & Kinicki, A. (2012). Toward a Greater Understanding of The how Dissatisfaction Drives Employee Turnover. Academy of Management Journal, 44(5), 975-987.

Keamy, R. (2014). Student Advocacy, Whole-School Change and Transformation in Action: Case Study. Leading and Managing, 20(1), 48-62.

Lee, S., & Hong, J. (2011). Does family-friendly policy matter? Testing its impact on turnover and performance. Public Administration Review, 71(6), 870–879.

Long, C., Thean, L., Ismail, W., Jusoh, A. (2012). Leadership Styles and Employee’ Turnover Intention: Exploratory Study of Academic Staff in a Malaysian College. World Applied Sciences Journal, 19(4), 575-581.

Loon, M., Lim, M., Lee, H., & Tam, L. (2012). Transformational leadership and job-related learning. Management Research Review, 35(3/4), 192-205.

Moolenaar, N., Daly, A., & Sleegers, P. (2013). Occupying the Principal Position: Examining Relationships between Transformational Leadership, Social Network Position, and Schools’ Innovative Climate. Educational Administration Quarterly, 46(5), 623670.

Ronfeldt, M., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2013). How teacher turnover harms student achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 50(1), 4-6.

Ryu, S., & Lee, Y. (2013). Examining the Roles of Management in Turnover: A Contingency Approach. Public Performance and Management Review, 37(1), 143-153.

Sakiru, K., & D’silva, L. (2013). Leadership Styles and Job Satisfaction among Employees in Small and Medium Enterprises. International Journal of Business and Management, 8(13), 34-41.

Veysel, O. (2014). Relation between Secondary School Administrators’ Transformational and Transactional Leadership Styles and Skills to Diversity Management in Schools. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice, 14(6), 2162-2174.

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