Leadership Theory Against Teacher Turnover


People’s intentions to remain employed in a given school are critical to ensuring a stable education system. Turnover refers to the plan of renouncing a given job. The plan may be voluntary or involuntary. According to Ghamrawi and Jamma (2013), voluntary turnover is detrimental to any organization. In the education sector, it causes schools to lose the most talented and skilled teachers. Involuntary turnover serves functional purposes. It ensures that schools get rid of underperforming teachers (Ghamrawi & Jamma, 2013). Research documents evidence on the applicability of leadership in influencing followers’ turnover intentions. Practical examples and research can aid in setting additional insights on the conditions under which leadership can mitigate or induce people’s decision to leave schools that have employed them. In this paper, it is hypothesized that leadership styles and characteristics influence the manner in which teachers (followers) arrive at decisions to work without considering leaving educational institutions with the aim of achieving common organizational goals and objectives as set out by their leaders.

This paper reviews literature on the role of leadership in reducing teachers’ turnover. While educational theories document many leadership theories that are applicable in both primary and secondary schools, it only uses peer-reviewed scholarly articles to investigate the contribution of transformational, transactional, and contingency leadership theories in reducing teacher turnover. In the discussion section, the appropriate criticism of the three educational theories is offered with the objective of making recommendations on the most effective leadership theory for reducing teacher turnover to facilitate high teacher retention in schools.

Literature Review

Research on government employee turnover emphasizes the utilization of public management theoretical paradigms. For instance, Lee and Hong (2011) study the impacts of various family-friendly policies that address turnover reduction among federal agencies. They find that incorporating child-care subsidies plays a significant role in its reduction. Effective turnover management proves particularly important in the education sector, especially for primary and secondary schools akin to their labor intensiveness, which leads to burnout (Ghamrawi & Jamma, 2013). The prevailing turnover impairs the functioning of a school in comparison with the retirement of teachers or enrollment of students. Ryu and Lee (2013) report that in the US, among the 3,380,300 teachers who worked in public schools in 2007 and 2008, 84.5 percent were retained in their schools, 7.6 percent shifted to other schools, while 8 percent left the teaching profession. How can this high prevalence of teacher turnover reduce? An appropriate leadership style can help in resolving organizational problems such as worker turnover.

Leadership involves influencing other people to facilitate the achievement of a given goal. Leaders plan, control, direct, and guide other people towards the attainment of common mutual objectives and goals. Leadership occurs through the interaction of three main contexts, namely leaders, followers, and situations that prompt the deployment of leadership skills (Ryu & Lee, 2013). In the education industry settings, and consistently with the objective of this research, leaders may include district education chiefs, principals, and headteachers. The followers include teachers while the leadership situation is the teacher turnover.

Ryu and Lee (2013) suggest that contingency leadership theory can help in the effective management of turnover in both primary and secondary schools. Cruz, Nunes, and Pinheiro (2011) assert that the contingency theory proposes that the performance and efficiency of work teams are a function of leadership styles that are deployed while interacting with followers. They also determine the extent of control and influence of leaders in leadership situations. This situation implies that the functioning of schools may be enhanced when situations such as turnover are controlled through the influence of leaders. Therefore, consistent with contingency theory, leadership plays a key role in turnover management through leadership orientation in building relationships and enhancing performance. Ryu and Lee (2013) support these roles by claiming that the contingency leadership approach can help in inducing the desired organizational outcomes such as decreasing turnover and/or maximizing performance. Ghamrawi and Jamma (2013) add that a reduction of teacher turnover depends on the manner in which the principal, as the leader, handles teachers’ issues based on various situations and personal traits.

Three situational issues affect leaders’ control and influence. Cruz et al. (2011) identify them as headship and membership associations, official abilities, and task configuration. Leaders influence these aspects via the authority that is bestowed on them such as determining salary and wage increments, firing, taking disciplinary actions, and promotions among others. Where low salaries form the main situation that leads to high turnover, increasing salaries may constitute an integral approach for increasing retention. However, this plan requires the increment of salaries to all teachers in the same job groups since the national government regulates teachers’ remuneration schemes.

Although contingency theory as proposed by Ryu and Lee (2013) and Cruz et al. (2011) may find applications in educational settings, it has some weaknesses. For effective use of contingency or situational theory in reducing turnover, schools that suffer from high prevalence levels of the problem need to recruit leaders who are well experienced in dealing with turnover. However, situations that lead to turnover vary. Therefore, developing an appropriate leadership style to match a particular situation that leads to high turnover is a key step in addressing the issue of teacher turnover. This strategy only reduces turnover management as a reactive approach, as opposed to a proactive approach to school leadership. Contingency theory does not explain how leaders can use the leadership theory to prevent the occurrence of situations that correlate negatively with organizational performance or efficiency of work teams.

Leaders in educational institutions also deploy transactional and transformational theories to influence their leadership. The distinction between transformational and transactional leadership is based on the central concerns of each style. These concerns are based on operational leadership and the processes or situational leadership changes and the relationship between leadership objectives (Ghamrawi & Jamma, 2013). Transformational leadership encourages trust. It builds confidence in a leader. Basri, Rusdi, and Sulaeman (2014) observe that the leadership theory aims at changing internal work values and structures to build faith with the objective of eliciting increased work proficiencies. To this extent, it may find application in teacher turnover management by addressing the possible causes of the situation. Ghamrawi and Jamma (2013) observe a high prevalence of labor turnover in educational institutions due to burnout. Deployment of transformational leadership theory to change the internal structures of an education system may foster the fair distribution of tasks. The move may reduce issues such as work strain and stress, which lead to burnout.

Educational leaders demonstrate transformational leadership through the possession of the capacity to set visions and inspirations that are necessary for the followers. Leaders who demonstrate transformational leadership skills assess situations of their educational institutions to facilitate the formulation of strategies for increasing growth and/or overcoming operational challenges (Sakiru & D’silva, 2013). The skills also enable leaders to ensure adequate and effective communication of success strategies and visions to all teachers. Communication is critical in building good relationships within educational institutions. Indeed, resolving operational challenges such as high teacher turnover requires good vertical and horizontal communication (Basri et al., 2014). This plan enables teachers to address their conflicts, which lead to their voluntary turnover.

Transactional leadership calls for the deployment of incentives to induce higher performance. It aims at exchanging relationships among leaders and their followers. It depends on the employee cognitions and profiles of a given motivational model (Veysel, 2014). Teachers are aware of the circumstances that lead to making turnover decisions. Consequently, they are also cognizant of their desired changes in an institution to ensure their continued motivation in executing their tasks. Transactional leaders possess the capability to identify the circumstances and develop the appropriate motivational models that can ensure that teachers reverse their turnover intentions.

Transactional leaders approach followers with the objective of making tradeoffs. An effective mechanism for dealing with teacher turnover entails the identification of its causes and developing the appropriate institutional willingness to resolve problems that lead to high prevalence levels. From the context of causes of teacher turnover, this situation requires the making of certain tradeoffs. Chawla and Sondhi (2011) investigate organizational and personal factors that lead to teacher turnover. They identify the fairness of reward systems and organizational commitment as reliable predictors of turnover intentions. Among female teachers, work-family conflicts emerge as important predictors of their turnover. This research suggests the necessity of making tradeoffs such as reducing working hours or providing flexible working hours to allow female teachers to attend to familial responsibilities at the expense of retaining them. However, it fails to address the problem of turnover. Ensuring fairness in reward systems requires a commitment of more financial resources to induce teacher motivation. Nevertheless, this case introduces a tradeoff between the allocation of more resources to keep talented and experienced teachers in the school at the expense of low allocation of national resources to other sectors of development. Arriving at the appropriate tradeoff decision requires the input of transactional leaders in the education sector (Veysel, 2014).

Grissom, Crotty, and Keiser’s (2012) study evidences the importance of having educational leaders who are capable of making tradeoffs in an attempt to increase teacher retention rates. The researchers investigate the relationship between principals’ gender and teacher satisfaction as a key determinant of teacher turnover intentions. Upon testing the impacts of gender congruence of educational leaders and teachers on work satisfaction, they find a statistical congruence coefficient of one (Grissom et al., 2012). The implication is a direct relationship between leaders’ gender and teacher satisfaction. Thus, teachers who depict gender congruence with principals are more satisfied.

The practical applicability of the above finding suffers some weaknesses. Schools have both female and male teachers. Thus, the researchers also study the impacts of principals’ gender on teacher satisfaction without incorporating the aspect of gender congruence. The results indicate less satisfaction of male teachers under the leadership of a female principal compared to women teachers under male school heads (Grissom et al., 2012). Using both gender congruence and gender coefficients in predicting job satisfaction, the researchers confirm the overall satisfaction of both female and male teachers with a male principal. This observation suggests the need for establishing a trade-off between ensuring equality in career progression, which may cause poor job satisfaction that is associated with turnover of only a few teachers (women who are fit for upgrading), maintaining the dominance of the male gender in leadership positions of a principal, and enhancing the retention of many subordinate teachers.

A gap in the literature on the role of leadership in teacher turnover management exists. Which hypothesis among transactional, transformational, and contingency theories or any other theory of leadership makes educational leaders best suited to address the problem of teacher turnover? This interrogative is addressed in the next section.


It is crucial to note that the afore-discussed theories or models of leadership in educational settings are partial. They offer unique and valuable insights into specific characteristics of leadership in schools. In the context of turnover reduction, each theory provides a theoretical pedagogy on the role of leaders in influencing teachers to make turnover decisions. However, none of the theories provides a complete toolkit of the role of leadership in reducing teacher turnover. The contingency theory emphasizes the need to recognize diverse traits of schools and circumstances that lead to differences in turnover rates in different educational institutions. Ven, Ganco, and Hinings (2013) concur with this assertion by claiming that the contingency theory recognizes the need for evaluating contexts and situations that influence teachers in the process of developing the appropriate leadership style that adapts to their needs. However, this situation creates a one-size-fits-all role of leadership in the management of turnover. It assumes that educational leaders respond to different unique circumstances. Thus, turnover may be contributed by different circumstances where each requires a variety of leadership styles for its effective management. This plan assumes that educational leaders can master a repertoire of different leadership practices. This situation is not the case upon considering that different people have limited capabilities.

Transformational leadership builds on the theoretical paradigms of the role of emotional intelligence (EI) in enhancing leadership. For instance, Mitrabinda, Hii, and Goo (2012) suggest that EI can predispose leaders to deploy behaviors that are transformational in their work environments. In educational settings, it implies that only leaders who possess a high degree of emotional intelligence can accurately perceive and evaluate the extent to which various anticipations of subordinates can be attained. This goal is achieved through the leadership sub-component of transformational motivation. Achieving the success that is enumerated in the missions and visions of transformational leaders requires help from detail-oriented organizational leadership teams. This claim implies that the incorporation of transactional aspects of leadership is critical in ensuring that the vision that is developed by transactional leaders moves in an appropriate direction. Little oversights have the capability of derailing the vision by taking a long time to develop and implement. Overreliance on elements such as passion and emotions introduces the demerit of transformational leadership since they (elements) make it overlook the reality and truthiness of a given situation such as the circumstances that lead to high teacher turnover. One of the major challenges of addressing turnover in any industry is how to enhance performance through motivation and commitment of work team members to the industry’s goals and objectives. Possession of transactional leadership skills helps to resolve these challenges. Such leaders motivate their followers by engaging them in exchange relationships to encourage employees who have turnover intentions to continue working in an educational institution.

Transactional leaders deploy motivation approaches to increase their intentions to accomplish tasks by emphasizing specific performance goals with reference to jobs that are allocated to them. Where turnover intents are attributed to complaints of low rewards, transactional leadership theory uses reward systems as a teacher retention mechanism. Transactional educational leaders are smart enough to manage turnover by deploying leadership behaviors such as leadership through exemption and/or conditional rewards (Veysel, 2014). The conditional rewards encompass attempts to motivate organizational followers through clear and well-defined job tasks, which are then rewarded accordingly upon their successful completion to meet the set expectations. This claim implies that teachers work hard in the quest to gain monetary rewards without considering leaving an institution or moving to a different industry.


In the education industry, different theories or styles of leadership apply to different extents, depending on the situation that requires leadership. Transformational leadership theory facilitates the framing of various teachers’ tasks in a manner that motivates them. This plan helps followers to articulate their professional work with their personal values. To achieve this goal, transformational education leaders exhibit behaviors such as motivation and intellectual stimulation. To this extent, transformational leadership helps in realigning an educational institution to ensure that it achieves a higher performance through people. It lacks a specific focus on a situation.

Contingency leadership theory focuses on the adoption of appropriate leadership styles, depending on specific situations. For example, idealized influence capacitates leaders to act as role models who can portray exceptional capabilities with reference to convicting their followers to institutional vision and the behaviors that leaders want the followers to depict. For instance, in managing teacher turnover, it is desirable for teachers to visualize and analyze their decisions in a broad manner to arrive at well-informed decisions before quitting their profession or moving to different institutions. When schools’ leadership does not address some issues, teachers will ultimately leave. Hence, when bargaining for such issues, school heads need to possess emotional intelligence and a high degree of reasonableness. This requirement underlines the importance of motivation in enabling followers to develop compelling visions to handle workplace challenges. There is a need for teachers to provide a clear meaning and the desired goals of specific tasks that are allocated to them.

Similarly, an appropriate contingency leadership approach can be adopted to curb teacher turnover. What happens when several situations lead to turnover that has to be addressed? In the case of transformational leadership, contingency theory is incomplete by itself in managing teacher turnover. An alternative entails the use of transactional leadership in influencing teachers who have turnover intentions through appropriate incentives and/or making tradeoffs. This theory is recommended as a leadership style in managing teacher turnover. However, further research is required to ascertain its effectiveness either alone or when blended with other educational leadership theories.


Turnover has direct and indirect costs in any organization. In the education industry, turnover comprises one of the major challenges that lower school performance. It results in increased costs of recruitment and training of new teachers to fill the gaps left by the outgoing teachers. Labor turnover is controllable and unavoidable in some situations. However, the adoption of appropriate leadership theories can help in its management. The paper has discussed three of such theories, namely transactional, contingency, and transformational leadership presumptions. Although contingency theory is recommended as a hypothetically effective theory of managing teacher turnover, research is necessary to determine its effectiveness when used alone or in conjunction with other theories.


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