Teacher Turnover: The Role of Leadership

Subject: Education
Pages: 10
Words: 2761
Reading time:
11 min
Study level: PhD


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 theories discussed in the previous paper can be applied into practice. Further, the paper will narrow down to one of the theories, namely transformational theory, to review how it has actually been applied into practice. The goal is to critically evaluate the appropriateness of the use to which the theories have been applied with the objective of determining how they can guide school leadership practice. The discussion section offers a critique of the application of the theories in managing teacher turnover.

Literature Review

The relationship between theory and practice is apparent. While theories are vital tools for establishing standard frameworks for practice, the process of turning the theory into practice is highly controversial. With each theory, numerous suggestions have been established on how it can be used to guide or inform practice. However, one thing is clear, especially in the teaching profession. Teachers must be ready to improvise and adapt their teaching practices to ensure that they reflect the best practices that are geared towards maximum learning outcomes for their learners. The application of theory covers many aspects of the teaching practice, including not only the actual teaching exercise, but also the teachers’ wellbeing, which consequently touches on their turnover rate. 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 this case, a theory provides important guidelines and frameworks that ensure that teachers’ welfare is put into consideration. It helps to reduce dissatisfaction, thus improving teacher retention capacity (Ronfeldt, Loeb & Wyckoff, 2013). Theories of leadership are very critical in terms of informing the decisions that teachers make in their teaching profession with reference to whether they are going to continue or quit teaching altogether.

Theories of leadership are very important in determining the approaches that can be applied in directing, controlling, planning, monitoring, and influencing followers, in this case, teachers. 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 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. To mitigate such issues, the application of theories of leadership allows a school to provide the best environment where teachers feel valued and motivated to perform to their level best. Such an excellent performance reduces the turnover rates.

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 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. Such an application shows how theories of leadership, when used well, inform the various ways and approaches that can guide a school or an education institution towards achieving high teacher retention. For instance, the decision by the principal to involve teachers in decision-making is definitely a key tenet of transformational leadership theory, which requires leaders to give their subordinates more say in their practice by involving them in decision-making.

Translating a theory into practice is definitely not an easy process. It requires the consideration of many issues, which are geared towards the success of the application of the tenets of the theory into practice and eliminating the challenges or hindrances that may arise in the process (Veysel, 2014). If such issues are not well handled, it becomes difficult to achieve the results that would be expected when the theories were well applied. One of the main issues in translating a theory into practice is the problem of interpretation or the scope of elucidation. In other words, theories are subject to varied interpretations, some of which may be wrong while others are correct. In this case, some leaders in an education or teaching setting may not interpret the tenets of leadership theories, as they ought to be. Consequently, this gap leads to wrong or unsatisfactory outcomes on the teachers whom the theory is expected to benefit. Such an issue can be well addressed through proper training of teaching leadership, as well as putting in place competency frameworks for the leaders to ensure that they follow the agreed upon guidelines to warrant that the expected benefits of applying the theory can be accrued by the teachers.

The second dispute that faces the process of translating a theory into practice is the issue of the scope of application of the theories. In this case, where does a leader draw the line between the level of his or her control over the teaching practice and the independence of teachers to practice? Sometimes, in their quest to achieve best outcomes for the teachers, leaders may unknowingly become very overbearing, or on the downside, too detached from the reality, hence leading to negative outcomes for the school and the teachers (Erskine, 2012). For instance, involving teachers in decision-making is an important tenet of transformational leadership. However, if a leader gives much leeway for teachers to make decisions, it may often lead to making wrong decisions that lead the teachers on a down spiral path to demotivation and consequently increasing their turnover. To address the issue, it is important to ensure that leaders recognize these issues to ensure that they can easily translate the respective theory into practice with maximum benefits to the school and teachers.


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 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 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.

In a study by Moynihan, Pandey, and Wright (2012), the researchers investigate how transformational leadership fosters performance information use. According to the research, the transformational leadership theory, among other theories of leadership, plays an important role in the implementation of management reforms. At the end of the research, the research finds that the use of transformational leadership approaches is a key determinant of the success of various reforms that are geared towards improved performance and satisfaction of teachers in their roles. The approaches lead to better retention.

In another study by Sagnak (2010) on the link between transformational school headship and moral climate, the author investigates the association between transformational governance and virtuous environment in a school setting. The study, which includes 764 teacher participants in 50 elementary schools, finds a direct correlation between the tenets of transformational leadership to adherence with caring, law, and code and ethics guidelines. The results imply that the use of transformational leadership skills fosters a good work environment with ethical guidelines. The strategy translates into better employee satisfaction and hence less turnover for teachers.

In their study titled Transformational Leadership and Human Capital Benefits: The Role of Knowledge Management, Brisnav, Rangnekar and Dalpati (2010) recognize the importance of leadership in aiding human capital development in an organization. The research reveals that more and more organizations are focusing on developing transformational leaders who can help employees to have better working conditions and motivation for better productivity. According to the research, the application of transformational leadership approaches directly correlates with higher employee positive perceptions of the benefits they gain from their workplace. When employees have positive perceptions, they are likely to feel motivated. Hence, they are less likely to quit working. The situation translates into higher employee retention.

Lastly, a research by Runhaar, Sanders, and Yang (2010) investigates important aspects of transformational leadership, including reflection and feedback. Transformational leadership provides a good working environment where teachers can give important feedback, which can ensure that their issues are addressed when they arise. In the study, data from 456 teachers is collected. The analysis reveals that transformational leadership is directly correlated with positive feedback and reflection, which also indicates higher occupational self-efficacy and learning goals orientation among teachers. Teachers may be given a platform to offer feedback. When the feedback is acted upon as guided by transformational leadership, it is likely to lead to higher job satisfaction, which then leads to low employee turnover.

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.

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 the stress and turnover. This finding suggests that transformational leadership produces positive effects on 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.

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 technique 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.


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 knowhow 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. Inducement 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 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 good will for an education system. Subsequently, high retention levels can become feasible amid the evident stress that characterizes the education sector.


The critical role that leadership plays in different settings has led to the establishment of presumptions that address the key components and/or models that leaders can adopt to lead successfully. 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. A lot of research has been carried out to show that the leadership theories, such as the transformational leadership theory, are highly correlated with teacher performance, job satisfaction and consequently higher retention. 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 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.

Reference List

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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.

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Moynihan, D. P., Pandey, S. K., & Wright, B. E. (2012). Setting the table: How transformational leadership fosters performance information use. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 22(1), 143-164.

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

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Sagnak, M. (2010). The Relationship between Transformational School Leadership and Ethical Climate. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice, 10(2), 1135-1152.

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.