While reflecting on the overwhelming and increasing statistics of teacher attrition, it is most disheartening to note that 40-50% of teachers leave the teaching profession within their first five years. Unfortunately, that number increases to 70% of teachers leaving who teach in schools where more than half of the students are students of color. With one out of every five teachers leaving teaching after their first year, this results in beginning teachers having the highest rate of teacher attrition. These high attrition rates lead to a revolving door through which nearly a million teachers move in and out of schools each year. This mass exodus calls for effective measures to retain teachers. 

It is useful for school leaders, particularly board of education members, to understand what factors can contribute to improving teacher retention. 

This article examines the research from three distinguished university professors on the topic. Dr. Michael H. Salvatore, senior vice president of administration at Kean University, discusses the concept of principal leadership through professional learning communities; Dr. William O. George III, interim superintendent and chief executive officer of Monmouth Ocean Educational Services  and an associate professor and director of the Ed.D. program at Monmouth University, addresses the roles of family and community engagement in the success of all students; and Dr. John E. Henning, professor emeritus at Monmouth University, emphasizes the importance of the preparation and development of relationships that occur through mentoring. 

Principal leadership, family and community engagement and mentoring all contribute to teacher retention and student success in the 21st century. Let’s take a look at the light this research shines on teacher retention. 

Principal Leadership: Communication, Instructional Leadership, and Integrity Salvatore suggests that to attract, prepare and retain effective teachers, sustainable high-quality leaders, specifically principals, need to be in position. A positive school climate is nurtured where principals celebrate successes, collaborate with staff members and have a strong commitment to staff learning through professional development. Ongoing professional development for school principals results in high-quality leadership and cultivates a positive school climate. One way principals experience professional development is demonstrated through professional learning communities . PLCs prepare committed and engaged principals to demonstrate strong communication skills, instructional leadership and integrity. The distinctive characteristics of PLCs are described as complex multilayered constructs. These constructs prepare the principal for high-quality leadership beginning with teacher and leader effectiveness. PLCs increase collective efficacy among faculty and become the catalyst to improvement in staff performance and student learning outcomes. Improving school leadership influences teacher performance — and schools with systemic processes to build leadership capacity outperform their peers.

PLCs directly influence teacher performance and student learning, which ultimately impacts teacher efficacy and their decision to remain in the classroom. It is necessary to improve the quality of relationships to build a positive school climate and school culture. Relationships are influenced by the school principal. Student learning is also indirectly influenced by the principal and has an impact on the school climate. The leadership of the principal shapes both climate and culture through relationships with families and community members, and relationships among other teachers. 

Family and Community Engagement: Collective Efficacy and Collaboration George explains it is critical to create a culture of safety, trust, collegiality and a shared sense of purpose to retain teachers. Shared purpose and relationships between faculty and school leadership are key factors that produce collective efficacy. Shared vision is the broader perspective lending itself to interdependence and the necessary communication skills to compete in the 21st century . Research continues to support that having more people involved in the educational process of the student produces a greater rate of success, personally and collectively. About one-fifth of teachers voluntarily depart each year from buildings where they had little input into decision-making. However, schools ​where ​teachers had a higher scale of decision-making input reported less than 5% voluntary departure. Through this shared decision making, teachers experienced the empowering factor of collective efficacy. 

Collective teacher efficacy results in teachers feeling empowered to meet student needs. This impacts student achievement and is identified as one of the most powerful predictors along with collaboration. Collaboration is also a strength where teachers learn to utilize, value and respect the expertise of each other. Families are teachers’ best resources for their students; intentional planning for family involvement is necessary. We must create a synergy among all of these resources to foster a community of learners, so that our children will be successful in the 21st century.  

Mentoring Teachers Henning highlights mentoring as a developmental approach and a key factor in the teacher preparation process. Mentoring supports teachers as they grow from their beginning as teacher candidates to early career teachers to ultimately become teacher leaders. Mentoring changes as teacher candidates and teachers develop. When conditions are created to foster and accelerate an unbroken continuum from pre-service to in-service, they build mentoring capacity. Building mentoring capacity in teacher education equips new teachers with multiple professional opportunities and develops them into effective teacher leaders through sustainable structures. Mentoring improves teacher preparation and teacher practices. This happens through three stages of the mentoring process . The first stage is practical skills and information, including classroom organization and instructional resources. The second stage is the art and science of teaching and polishing classroom management skills. 

The third stage is a deeper understanding of instructional strategies and ongoing professional development that is based on the students’ needs. As the mentees move through these stages, a mentoring culture is established, and they become better teachers. 

As we keep teacher retention in mind, it is important for us to remember, just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, “a school cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.” Therefore, in response to  challenges that new teachers face, a synergy of principal leadership, family and cmmunity engagement and mentoring must be intentional and simultaneously employed for public education to prosper.

Dr. Maria Paradiso-Testa is a Monmouth University Alumna, a former school principal/superintendent and currently a conference presenter and adjunct professor at Brookdale Community College’s Alternate route teaching program.