During my tenure as the Washington Principal Ambassador Fellow, I have found myself frequently reminded of a hard truth: teachers do not quit students or schools, they quit leaders. Teacher shortages are a national concern within the educational landscape. According to the Learning Policy Institute report, 40 states, as well as the District of Columbia, reported teacher shortages in mathematics, science and special education.  Another study suggests ”school leadership… [is] independently associated with corresponding reductions in teacher turnover.”

To solve this problem, we must be willing to ask hard questions that directly address leadership capacity and its impact on teacher turnover. What experience do leaders have in induction programs, building effective teams, and instructional supervision? Are principals being prepared to be managers or leaders? Do school leaders know how to build authentic collaboration with their staff members? These questions are important because the implications of ineffective school leadership mean more than a loss of teacher talent; it causes ripple effects that impact school climate, student achievement, and learning communities across the nation.

During the 2016-2017 school year, I met a first-year teacher who transformed from an energetic and ambitious burgeoning educational star to a “one-and-done” disengaged skeptic of the educational process. The cause: a school leader who overlooked innovation and ignored what was best for students and teachers. The effect: a first-year teacher who resigned and committed to not returning to PK-12 education. This is just one example of how quickly bad leadership can snuff out what could otherwise be a candle in the dark for many students and fellow educators.

Good leaders manage people and general operations.
Great leaders inspire and energize constituents.

Good leaders stand on the shoulders of competent personnel.
Great leaders build up others for leadership and support their success.

Good leaders accept things for what they are in the present.
Great leaders are visionaries who seek to inform the future with innovation, creativity and strategic planning.

Good leaders know that their actions will spark a reaction.
Great leaders know how to cause an effect that will inspire and motivate the hearts of staff, students and the community.

Thankfully, during my year as a Principal Ambassador Fellow, I have also had the opportunity to serve alongside great leaders from across the country, like my fellow Principal Ambassador Fellows. I witness great leaders in action during Teach to Lead summits, and I support great leaders through national engagement outreach at the Department of Education. Through these experiences, the leadership imperative has magnified into a moral imperative beyond teaching and school leadership roles. Through the efficient use of time, talent and other resources, states and local districts can champion research-based, leadership training. Even further, I suggest that we as school leaders take the time to reflect on the impact of their leadership by asking a simple question, “How can I successfully serve those in my school and reignite my imagination and passion for inspiring children?” Our nation’s children deserve the absolute best.

Jean-Paul Cadet is a 2016-17 Washington Principal Ambassador Fellow.

Photo at the top: Principal Ambassador Fellow Jean-Paul Cadet addresses a recent Principals at ED event.

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