Teacher Retention in Rural Schools: The Impact of Principal Leadership Practices on Job Embeddedness and Teacher Decision-Making to Stay or Leave

Wright, James, Administration and Supervision - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Eddy Spicer, David, CU-Leadshp, Fndns & Pol Studies, University of Virginia

Teachers have a considerable effect on students' achievement (Darling-Hammond, 2000). Many school leaders, however, have a difficult time filling all positions within a school with effective teachers. Researchers point to turnover—about 14% of teachers move schools or leave the profession annually—as a primary cause of this phenomenon (Ingersoll, 2003). This problem is often even more rampant in rural schools (Ingersoll, Merrill, & Stuckey, 2018). Moreover, high turnover negatively affects student achievement throughout a school, not only in classes of new teachers (Ronfeldt, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2013). This study focuses on what principals can do to mitigate the loss of teachers.
While there is a small research base on teacher turnover in rural schools (e.g., Keiser, 2011; Maranto & Shuls, 2012; Ulferts, 2016), researchers have traditionally focused on why teachers leave schools. To address these gaps in the literature, the primary purpose of this study is to determine why teachers choose to stay in rural schools and to provide practical information for school principals on practices that increase teacher retention. The lens of job embeddedness, a construct from the organizational literature that focuses on why employees stay in jobs, provides the theoretical foundation for this study’s conceptual framework (Mitchell, Holtom, Lee, Sablynski, & Erez, 2001). This allowed an in-depth look at how both community and organizational factors impacted teachers’ decision-making to stay in or leave schools.
For this capstone project, I employed a mixed-methods study design, using quantitative methods to obtain a broad look at the influences on retention in 37 rural schools throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, and qualitative methods to gain deeper understanding. I surveyed teachers to determine which factors they felt affected their decision-making, and the relationship between their levels of job embeddedness and their intent to stay in or leave their jobs. Teacher and principal interviews provided a more nuanced look at the elements impacting teachers’ decision-making and how principals felt they could influence those factors.
Findings from this study provide insight into the ways both community and organizational dynamics impact teacher retention. Teachers who valued the rural lifestyle were more likely to intend to stay in a rural school for at least five years. Organizationally, teachers were more likely to stay if they perceived themselves as being effective and felt that they could meet their professional goals in their job. The same was true for those who received regular encouragement and support from school leaders.
Based upon the findings from this study, I identify six key recommendations that address community and organizational themes. To improve teacher retention, rural school principals should: prioritize organizational fit when hiring, consider community fit when hiring, provide high-quality professional development, provide sustained support and encouragement, provide classroom autonomy, and provide leadership opportunities.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
teacher retention, teacher turnover, rural schools, leadership, principal practices, job embeddedness, fit, induction, mentoring, working conditions, administrative support, leadership support
Issued Date: