What can school leaders do to reduce the number of special education teachers who leave each year?
Page 6: Principal Support
The degree of support offered by a principal can influence teacher retention. Special educators who view school leaders’ behavior as supportive and encouraging are more likely to remain in their positions. In addition, special educators who experience high levels of principal support:
- Report fewer role problems (e.g., job ambiguity, overload, interpersonal conflict)
- Report less job stress
- Express greater job satisfaction
- Feel greater commitment to their schools
Welcome All Students, Teachers, and Parents
Principals need to create a welcoming environment for all teachers and other school personnel, students, and parents. Some special education teachers and families with children receiving special education services feel marginalized, so principals need to ensure that they are included in the school community. Segregating special education teachers and students in one area of the school isolates not only the students but also the teachers.
Be Available and Provide Emotional Support
Emotional support is particularly important and includes behaviors such as showing respect, listening, encouraging, taking an interest in others, and considering their ideas. Principals who engage in these behaviors will likely be viewed as supportive. Likewise, taking the time to express appreciation for what special education teachers contribute to the school is an important aspect of support and costs little.
Develop Knowledge About Special Education
Principals should have basic knowledge about students with disabilities, inclusive environments, special education law, and special education services. Knowledgeable principals understand special education teachers’ work and are better able to create conditions favorable to collaboration and effective instruction.
Focus on Getting To Know New Teachers
Principals who are aware of the issues new teachers face and take a proactive approach to supporting these teachers are more likely to retain them. Special education teachers may have unique needs, and principals who routinely check in with them are more likely to have a sense of the supports they require.
Lee Kirkpatrick talks about the importance of validating teachers (time: 0:48).
Student Support Services Supervisor, Franklin Special School District
Former Elementary Principal
Transcript: Lee Kirkpatrick
Validate their individual experiences by spending time in their classroom; giving them feedback on their teaching, whether it be formally through the evaluation process or just informally; going to those team meetings; making sure that that special ed team knows that their administrative team is right there with them and supporting them every step of the way. There are things the administrator can do to provide resources, or it might even just be listening because sometimes they’re going to need to vent and know that somebody cares. And it’s the principal and assistant principal that care. I think that is a critical factor for a teacher to feel validated by their school administration.
Imagine you are Principal Kamei and you want to reduce your special education teacher turnover rate. You have learned that becoming a more supportive principal might help you retain your teachers.
- Choose two of the methods discussed on this page and describe how you would implement them.
- Explain why you think this change will help you retain your special educators.