Faculty Attrition: The Good and The Bad

Each year school leaders face the challenge of managing faculty attrition at their schools. Each year, faculty may leave for a variety of reasons. Each year, schools face changes based on that unique challenge and the often overlooked number of faculty leaving and the reality of new faces joining the community over the summer. Each year, schools must decide how they view attrition and what, if anything, they may do as a result of it. Generally speaking, attrition is something schools want to minimize in both the student and faculty realm. It is, however, faculty attrition that presents a unique challenge for a school to manage and one that schools seem to view as wholly negative.

When a large number of faculty leave, the rumor mill gets in full force and questions are raised by the school community as a whole. As the school year draws to a close, departing faculty struggle to find the balance of continuing to perform their job duties while making plans for the upcoming move. As well, these faculty must decide how best to let advisees and families know that they will not be returning. For some, this is easy; avoid it. For others, years of connection make this a challenging dialog and one that can be highly emotional. On the other side, students and families have strong reactions to the loss of the irreplaceable Ms. Smith or Mr. Jones. "How can the school let them go?" "What is wrong with this school if they are losing such great faculty members?" These types of questions are valid, yet are mainly asked without all of the information needed to develop a true answer. Maybe these teachers are leaving due to family needs, marriage, graduate school, the desire to get closer to home or a particular city. Maybe they are leaving because they feel like they are stuck and not growing professionally. Maybe they are leaving because they don't feel there is any room for them to advance. Families, students, and even faculty peers don't always have the answers and thus people begin to draw conclusions based on speculation and assumption.

From the standpoint of the school, large numbers of faculty departing can be viewed as an absolute negative since it means greater pressure on highering and completing the staffing matrix. As well, the school needs to address family and students concerns about why so many faculty are departing. This view is valid, but the narrative does not need to be negative. It may simply be the cycle of highering in the school. In other words, it may be that a large number of faculty arrived around the same time and thus several are leaving at the same time. It may be the result of a change in leadership at the school and a shift in culture.

Attrition can be viewed as a renewal if the school chooses to celebrate the work completed by departing faculty alongside the arrival of a strong new faculty pool. Is a departing faculty member being replaced by an outstanding new hire with great ideas and experiences? Are the new hires being announced to the community prior to the end of the year so people can "get to:know" them before the new year? Are the expertise and backgrounds of the new hires being communicated to the community so as to get people excited about the opportunities for the coming year?

Change is always challenging, as it is often about loss. However, faculty attrition can be a positive event in the renewal of a school and its long-term growth. It is up to school leaders to decide how it plays out, but the narrative is important and the transition one that sets the tone for the community in both the short and long term.