How to Invest In and Retain Effective Principals

In this era of the Great Resignation, when 40% of principals anticipate leaving their roles, district leaders need to develop resilient leaders who can meet the challenges ahead. Here’s how.
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Our hearts are with Uvalde, Texas. This is the 27th school shooting this school year. We stand with education leaders across the nation who are committed to keeping schools safe places for students, staff, and families. 

We know principals aren’t superheroes. They can’t leap over tall buildings in a single bound. And they can't prevent tragedies either. Yet these times require resilient leadership—and systems of support so principals can build resilience in themselves and their school communities. The past two years have made resilience an integral component of effective school leadership—and retention.

So what does resilient leadership look like? Simple: Resilient principals persist in adversity. They have the ability to sustain their energy under pressure and adapt to changes quickly. They see setbacks as temporary and challenges as an opportunity to learn—and they motivate others to do the same. It’s not simply bouncing back when times are hard. Resilient leaders are actively transforming their school communities for the better.

At New Leaders, we’ve found three key ways that district leaders can invest in and keep resilient leaders:

  1. Provide principal coaching
  2. Focus on strategies that allow principals to evaluate what is working and remove what is not
  3. Support professional learning on how to distribute leadership and build effective teams 

This is particularly important right now as more education leaders anticipate leaving the field. A resilient principal is the key to a resilient school: empowering teachers, students, and families to adapt and thrive as well. By doing so, resilient school leaders create the conditions that have been found to motivate teachers to stay in the profession and to grow professionally. The same is true for district leaders.

Here’s what resilient leaders have to say about why these three approaches work.

Principal coaching

"Coaching time is valuable to improving my practice, and I cannot imagine working without it.”
Principal and New Leaders alum

"Having that trusted safe space where you can present a problem of practice and get immediate feedback from someone who is invested in your growth as a leader, that is the biggest benefit of coaching.” 
Courtney Torres, former principal and New Leaders coach

“The bar for success is high. My New Leaders coach never let me settle.”
Principal and New Leaders participant

Evaluate what is working and remove what is not

“​​There is so much pressure on leaders currently. This insight helped me to focus on the important aspects of the work … I want to lead my school well amidst great uncertainty.”
Principal and New Leaders participant

“It’s often easier for people to bond over the bad or what is not working. We have to help people reconnect over things that are really positive and special.”
Daniela Anello, Head of School and New Leaders Alum

Distribute leadership and build effective teams 

“The principalship is more than a solo experience. The principalship is about building a team, distributing leadership, and empowering others to embrace their own leadership journey.” 
Paul Barnhardt, Principal and New Leaders Alum

“As a principal, teachers came to me and said, ‘We want more say, to be more involved, but how do we do all of this?’ We are continuously grappling with how to balance the need for more leadership training with the reality that many of our teachers are also still working on strengthening their instruction.” 
Laura Robell, System Leader and New Leaders Alum

“I’m not a top-down leader. I’m a collective leader. Our teachers have the expertise, and it’s my job to ignite their passion and to provide them with the support and conditions they need to come up with solutions to meet our students’ needs. When I do things right, they are really leading a lot of the decisions we make as a school.”
Dr. Hugo Saucedo, Principal and New Leaders Alum

School leadership can be a lonely and overwhelming place, but it doesn’t have to be. District leaders can offer support and foster effective leadership in meaningful ways.

We know resilient leaders have a lasting impact. They also stay in their roles longer. Investing in the development of resilient leadership is one of the best ways to drive sustainable outcomes.

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Read our complete guide for developing resilient leaders.

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