When collaborating with school leaders nationally, I’ve often heard—especially in small-to-medium urban school districts—the issues with teacher recruitment and retention. The thought is typically: (1) We don’t have enough teachers, and (2) The teachers we do have, we can’t keep because a neighboring school district offers better pay and more opportunities than our district.

This article is not aimed at employee recruitment. I’ve written about that before. Here I want to suggest what school leaders can do to keep their workforce intact.

As a Harvard Business Review article explains, one reason employees leave their place of employment is not because of the need for a higher salary, but because the leadership didn’t make them feel valued and appreciated. Another article from Engagement Strategies Media supports the idea of prioritizing your employees’ needs to boost retention. It describes how Jack Taylor, the owner of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, had a saying that contradicted the typical business philosophy that the customer is always right, and if you take care of your customers first, you’ll always succeed. His idea was different. He said that if you take care of your employees and customers, profits will follow.

The key to a successful school or organization is similar: ensuring that employees are treated like gold. Just like profits will not follow without employees, high academic achievement will not follow without educators. I say this because everything we do in our schools needs to be aimed at understanding student achievement. It is imperative that we have a culture that celebrates and supports our teachers and staff. The following strategies can ensure that school leaders keep them.

1. Build relationships with academic achievement in mind. Most school leaders have a healthy working knowledge of the importance of relationship building with staff and students. We are taught, and it has been drilled into us, that the key to a successful school is having a foundation in strong relationships. We often fall short in the importance we place on creating a culture built on strong relationships to drive good instruction and student achievement. One way to lose staff is to take a rollercoaster approach to the rationale of the relationship: One day we are a team, the next day we are family, and the next day—if things aren’t working—I am writing you up with your union rep present.

When building relationships with our staff, it is important that everyone is clear about the expectations of those relationships. As school leaders, we are friendly, we are motivating, we are encouraging, and we have an open door, but we do all of that for the sake of student achievement—not for the sake of creating new lifelong friendships outside of work. We are all getting paid to do a job. The job at
hand is to increase student performance while maintaining healthy boundaries.

I coached a school leader once who was so concerned with everyone liking him that he failed to hold anyone accountable. He was great at building relationships but horrible at leveraging those relationships when he needed to move the needle academically for his school. As a result, the staff loved him, but they did not respect him. Relationship building for teachers and students is all about academic achievement. Furthermore, relationship building, when done right, gives rockstar teachers their clarity of purpose within the school. The relationship is not about favoritism or who the principal likes; it’s all about the work and productivity, which leads to my next point: structure and order.

2. Create clear systems. One of the biggest concerns of great teachers who work in schools facing myriad challenges is poor systems and dysfunction within the building. To keep successful teachers, I suggest avoiding the following:

  1. Unclear bell schedules.
  2. Unbalanced classes and disregard for prep time.
  3. Unclear routines and schedules. (Announce fire drills, lock-down drills, pep rallies, etc. well ahead of time.)
  4. Ambiguous discipline procedures for students and a lack of follow up on office referrals.
  5. Lack of feedback during walkthroughs and the observation process.
  6. Lack of administrative follow through regarding concerns, no matter how minor.
  7. Not protecting instructional time. (Teaching is important and should not be constantly interrupted for several overhead calls on the PA system.)

These are just a few examples but, essentially, to keep rock-solid teachers, we must run a tight ship and create a culture of excellence from the top down. Excellence begets excellence, which begets high-performing teaching, high-performing students, and high academic achievement. Our attention to detail shows our community that the work we are doing matters, and it should be done with a high level of professionalism. What happens when we create an excellent culture? We create opportunities to celebrate our success.

3. Create a culture of celebration and recognition. In America, we thrive on celebrating the victors. We love our Super Bowl parades, we love our championship rings and trophies; we simply love winning. No matter how modest an individual may be, in these United States, we are a country that prides itself on being the best at what we do. This idea of loving to celebrate success extends to education. For many reasons, unlike other professions, we in education cannot monetarily reward our staff when they succeed. Despite this fact, as school leaders we can reward them with recognition, which often goes way further.

Marck Abraham, left, with Willie Worley, the principal of F. Healy Middle School in East Orange, NJ. Abraham coached Worley, who was previously principal of East Orange Campus High School and led the school in achieving one of the highest graduation rates in school history. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARCK ABRAHAM

To keep rockstar teachers, we must create an environment where everyone is looking for the best in others, where we encourage one another, and we praise one another, and we show the community, in different ways, that we care about high-performing staff, and their efforts don’t go unnoticed. I often coach principals to provide a certificate of achievement, signed by the principal, if by the end of the month their teachers have achieved 95% attendance. I also suggest that principals create a teacher-of-the-month program by allowing staff and students to vote. This honor could come with a parking space closer to the door, a social media shout-out, and a free lunch. Leaders can also create a shout-out Thursday where everyone has an opportunity to write something exceptional that they have seen a teacher do when no one was looking. Teachers want to be valued and appreciated year-round, not just on teacher appreciation day. We need to create a teacher appreciation year culture, where we celebrate staff every day.

4. Support teacher voice. It is imperative that as school leaders we create opportunities for teachers to have their voices heard, their concerns addressed, and their ideas considered. To keep teachers, we must give them space to have the opportunity for growth and to be a part of the bigger school environment. One of the most frustrating things for a high-performing individual is to feel like their ideas, talents, and skills are not being used effectively in their school.

I have a friend who is an internationally published author, a national speaker, and a pure gift to the educational community. This gentleman is highly sought after. To give back and to get closer to students, he decided to work at a school that enrolled mostly students from low-income families in his hometown. The school principal had been eager to hire him, and my friend was also thrilled, but the school leader never engaged him in anything other than hallway duty and class coverages. This phenomenal educator became frustrated and eventually left. He felt he was not being heard or valued within the school. To retain rockstar teachers, school leaders must create a space for shared leadership where teachers have an opportunity to help guide the decisions that are being made within their school.

5. Invest in continuous learning. Professional development, knowing the latest trends, enabling visits to other schools, having conversations with consultants about instructional strategies all produce a higher level of confidence in your teachers, which is key for retention. When teachers know they work in a school that will invest in their craft and in their skills, they know they are in a place that supports them.


Lastly, to retain high-performing teachers, school leaders must create a positive school culture. Staff must know that your school is thriving, and they must feel supported to find joy in the work. Your school must be the “it” school; it must be articulated, it must be felt, and it must be memorialized. What I am talking about is school spirit, which leads to retention.

School is a microcosm of society. We know that everything is not perfect with America, but we still love her. There are many countries we can freely move to, but we stay. Why? Because whatever it is that we are going through, we take pride in being Americans. At your school, to retain your teachers—make them feel like their school is the greatest school on earth.

Marck Abraham, EdD, is the president of MEA Consulting Services LLC, a motivational speaker, and the author of What Success Looks Like: Increasing High School Graduation Rates Among Males of Color.


Abraham, M. (2022, December). How to increase representation of school leaders of color. Principal Leadership. 20–21.

Kazanjian, K. (2023). People over profits: How enterprise drives success. Engagement Strategies Media.

Klotz, A.C., & Bolino, M.C. (2019, July 31). Do you really know why employees leave your company? Harvard Business Review.