We’ve written before about how school culture influences teacher satisfaction more than student demographics do. More than any other factor, satisfaction with school leadership impacts teachers’ overall satisfaction with their jobs, as well as their decisions to stay in — or leave — the profession.

So if district and state leaders are serious about supporting teachers — especially those in high-need schools — they should be just as serious about supporting school leaders who foster a culture that allows staff to develop and continually improve instruction for all students.

Leaders in districts and charter management organizations should — and can — encourage the strongest principals to work in schools where they’re needed most. For example, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools invited high-performing principals to the highest need schools and, in exchange, gave them priority access to district resources, latitude in assembling their instructional teams, and autonomy over almost all school-level decisions. And in the Fresno Unified School District, the Skillful Leader Project created cohorts of school administrators and their district supervisors who met for trainings on how to support and develop staff and also learned from one another’s experiences.

State policy can also play a role in developing excellent principals for high-need schools. Most fundamentally, through the regulation of principal preparation programs, states can mandate that candidates get experience in high-need schools. They can also offer funding for programs tailored to the needs of high-need schools, so principals start out feeling more prepared.

Beyond preparation, states can help high-need districts improve working conditions by setting and using clear leadership standards for evaluating and licensing principals, providing school climate survey data, sharing best practices, and offering funding for districts stepping up to tackle conditions that too often turn strong teachers away from high-need schools. And where districts aren’t supporting struggling schools’ principals to foster positive climates, states can monitor progress and push districts to act.

Great principals help keep strong teachers in the classrooms where they can make the biggest difference, and district and state policies can support and push principals in becoming strong leaders. Teachers deserve our thanks this Teacher Appreciation Week — and year-round. But they also deserve support from leadership — in school, the district office, and from the statehouse to educate the next generation to the highest standards and help young people reach their full potential.

Photo credit: Daymon J. Hartley