Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities (VESID)
Special Education and Vocational Rehabilitation Services


Keeping Quality Teachers

The Art of Retaining General and Special Education Teachers


Building a Framework:

The Role of the Administrator in Teacher Retention


Working conditions cannot improve without a commitment from district and building level leadership. Superintendents, principals and special education administrators are key personnel in retaining teachers. In addition, the role of administration in retention and support for special educators is particularly crucial given a history of exclusion and isolation from general education that many special educators have experienced. Section One in this document summarizes the critical importance of administration in teacher retention.

School leaders at all levels of education can use the resources and strategies in this document to strengthen their efforts to ensure that students learn with high quality teachers. It should be noted that the term “school leader” extends beyond the role of superintendent or principal. Often, assistant superintendents, vice principals, or others are responsible for certain areas and this needs to be acknowledged when reading the strategies that are recommended.  Further, some issues discussed here are building level, while others are district level. The categories described in Section Two touch on most aspects of effective school leadership. Therefore, this section will describe administrative strategies specific to those categories. A more in-depth and complete description of those strategies can be found in Appendix 3-1. Following is a compilation of strategies and recommendations that can be useful in retaining quality staff.

Because so much is being asked of those in leadership positions, it should be acknowledged that they also need support in order to do their jobs more effectively. They also need professional development designed to help them be better leaders.

Leadership/Decision Making

The decisions that school leaders make and how they make them have a direct impact on working conditions. Teachers often complain that decisions affecting them are usually made without their knowledge. Leaders need to involve teachers in making decisions. For example, leaders can involve staff in departmental scheduling, student scheduling and duty assignments (Price, 2003).

          Every school should have a mission statement and a vision based on shared values and beliefs. Leaders can engage all stakeholders in the process of developing the mission statement and vision for the school that provides focus and direction for all involved. (DiPaola, Walther-Thomas, 2003). If the school already has a mission and vision, revisit them occasionally with the stakeholders involved. Good leaders encourage others to be leaders and help bring out those qualities. Therefore, if teachers attend a conference or workshop, have them share their knowledge with the rest of the staff when they return. Leaders can have experienced teachers work together to solve an instructional problem (Spitz, 2003).

Administrators must be familiar with available resources to support the diverse needs of students, families and staff and must know how to access additional support in order to ensure appropriate education for all students and support for teachers. For example, leaders can make sure English as a Second Language and bilingual programs are effectively supported (DiPaola, Walther-Thomas, 2003). They can make special education concerns integral when planning for professional development, distribution of materials, books, classroom space and equipment. They can ensure that special education is not put at the end of the line as an afterthought (CEC, 2000).

Compensation plays a major role in retaining teachers. School leaders should develop teacher compensation packages that demonstrate that they are valued (Gareis, Strong, et al., 2003). Leaders can use salaries and bonuses as incentives to retain teachers (Billingsley, 2002). They also can put together a team of administrators and teachers to develop an incentive pay program (Morice and Murray, 2003).

School Climate

Teachers and students will do their best work in a healthy, pleasant environment. School leaders need to ensure a positive school climate and make the school a place where people want to be. Leaders can start by examining what Price (2003) calls the “fun and caring factors” in the school. Is there laughter in the school? Are people smiling? Do teachers want to be here? Is the school staff united or are there cliques? Are new staff members welcomed? Does the school have celebrations? Does the school treat mistakes as learning experiences, or opportunities to criticize? Does the school encourage risk-taking?

Every school has a history and a culture. If teachers are connected to their school and are part of it, they may be more likely to identify with it and stay, even in the tough times. The school leader needs to become the “developer and nurturer of the school’s culture” and share it with new teachers so they can gain a sense of membership and participation. Leaders can communicate the school’s history, traditions, legends and myths and share stories of the school’s heroes and heroines (Colley, 2002).

The school will not be the kind of place where teachers want to be if they don’t trust the administration. To develop trust among teachers and all stakeholders — parents, students, community members, central office staff and school board members — leaders must be honest and up-front with them. Leaders can be visible to staff, students and parents in classrooms, in the corridors, at lunch, at bus duty, and at extracurricular activities (Hopkins, 2000).

Concerns over safety and discipline are two of the major reasons teachers leave their jobs. By developing consistent student behavior policies (Johnson and Birkeland, 2003) and addressing safety and discipline issues, much can be accomplished. Leaders can work to stop bullying and harassment. They can expand access to counseling, anger management and peer mediation. They can provide ways for students to communicate with adults about rumors and threats. Leaders can teach respect and responsibility and expand opportunities for students to work with adult role models in after-school education and recreation programs (NEA, 2003).

While working hard to develop a school climate where people are comfortable, leaders should remember to pay attention to the little things. Sometimes the principal or special education administrator is the person to make sure the copiers are working, schedule fewer interruptions during instructional time, turn on the air conditioning when needed, and provide food at faculty meetings (Scherer, 2003).



         If schools are to succeed in retaining teachers, a proper infrastructure should be in place that allows teachers to focus most of their time and energy on teaching. With this mind, school leaders should give new teachers less of a workload, fewer responsibilities and duties so they can concentrate on their classrooms and students (Sargent, 2003). Because excessive paperwork is a major issue among special education teachers, leaders should reduce this burden by such strategies as turning the task over to assistant principals, or by hiring paraprofessional special education clerks (Fielding and Simpson, 2003).


Leaders also must ensure that teachers have adequate resources and materials to do their jobs. (Darling-Hammond, 2003; Ingersoll and Smith, 2003). Sufficient common planning time should be built into the schedules of classroom teachers and specialists so they can address instructional needs and classroom concerns (DiPaola and Walther-Thomas, 2003). In addition, maintaining consistent procedures and schedules is important. Clearly explaining changes beforehand will avoid chaos and stress on everyone, especially new teachers (Public Education Network, 2003).



         The research is clear that students learn best from high quality teachers who know the subject matter and how to deliver it. Ensuring that teachers are competent and have opportunities to improve their skills is critical. The school leader needs to be an instructional leader and communicate views on what is considered good teaching, as well as expectations for instructional practices, grading and student achievement. Administrators should share, model and encourage best-practice experimentation. Giving immediate feedback through comments or notes and being available for short, spontaneous counseling sessions are seen by teachers as being very supportive (Colley 2002). For special educators, school leaders should have a working knowledge of IDEA and NCLB so they can communicate with staff, families and the community regarding special education issues (DiPaola, Walther-Thomas, 2003).


Teachers have expressed the need for support in the form of performance assessments and evaluations. Leaders should structure formal evaluations around the needs of the teachers. Rather than covering every item on an evaluation checklist, a leader can schedule observations to focus on only a few skills at a time (Colley, 2002). Leaders can encourage teachers to choose an area of improvement and, with the principal, decide how to show evidence of growth in this area (Spitz 2003). Leaders can make sure they respect the learning curve for new teachers, and they can put the teacher’s manual and standards documents into understandable language that is relevant to the way teachers are going to teach (Feiman-Nemser, 2003).


Finally, school leaders must be proactive in developing and implementing a plan to ensure that all staff develops culturally responsive practices needed to work with diverse students and their families (Kozleski, Sobel, and Taylor, 2003). School leaders also should establish an expectation that all staff will learn how to work with students with disabilities and provide opportunities for them to do so (Scherer 2003).

Community Involvement and Support


         Involving parents, families and the community in meaningful ways is critical to the success of students and influences a teacher’s decision about continuing in a particular school or leaving it to go somewhere else. School leaders need to look for ways to involve the community. Leaders can start by involving families when creating a mission statement and vision for the school (DiPaola and Walther-Thomas, 2003). They can involve families and the community when addressing safety and discipline issues including the establishment of a school safety committee that includes community representatives to gather and analyze data, put together and implement a plan, and monitor its results (NEA, 2003). Leaders can include parents on the school’s interviewing and hiring committee to illustrate parent involvement in important activities (Johnson and Birkeland 2003). They also can learn what it is that parents want to know and provide them the information frequently and briefly (Wherry, 2003).


School leaders should go beyond simply involving the community and create relationships among the school, families and the community. Leaders can visit families at home when possible. They can become familiar with business people and community organizations and ask them if they could help create learning experiences for students. Leaders can seek to make available health, social, mental health, counseling and other family services in the school and increase the number of adults in the building to provide care and guidance for students. Leaders can generate a broad set of activities in which family and community members can participate and contribute their talents to the school (Ferguson 2003).

Most educators and parents have had no training on how to work with one another, and many fear and avoid one another. School leaders should consider providing staff and parents with ongoing, research-based training on how to work together and create non-threatening social activities to bring them together (Wherry, 2003).

School Leaders Also Need Support


         Much is being asked of school leaders, especially principals, in the quest to raise standards and student achievement. Expectations for school leaders include the following: provide teachers with the necessary resources and professional development they need to be successful; create supportive, comfortable environments conducive to doing good work; involve parents and the community at-large in meaningful ways; and be cheerful through it all.


To be successful, administrators need practical training to help them do their jobs more effectively from the start. They need ongoing professional development to keep them on top of innovations in education. Administrators also need continuous support from other school leaders, school staff and the community.


Appendix 3-1 provides an expanded list of suggested strategies that support teacher retention.


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Wherry, J.H. (2003). Did you know 10 things any school can do to build parent involvement…plus 5 great ways to fail! The Parent Institute


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