Principal Vietch greeting first grader, Cash Freeze, with a hug and a smile.

By Amanda Barbour, Leadership Development Strategist, Capturing Kids’ Hearts

Today’s educational landscape holds a multitude of challenges and opportunities. Think of it as a melting pot of standards and requirements, student needs and desired outcomes, pressurized by expectations and endless potential. We know many teachers today are stressed and overwhelmed, leading to one of education’s most significant challenges: staff retention. Although numerous factors contribute to teachers leaving the field, many of which aren’t controllable, let’s focus on what we can control. As leaders, we can take several steps to establish and reinforce a positive school culture. Teachers stay when a campus becomes a place teachers and students WANT to be. When teachers stay, students receive more consistent instruction, ultimately accomplishing our number one goal, student success! 

According to a longitudinal study, two top factors that cause students to drop out of school are: 

  • the absence of belonging and connection 
  • feelings of incompetence or the perceived inability to succeed 


Interestingly enough, the same is valid for adults.

Let’s examine the work of Shawn Veitch, a Principal of Dutton Elementary (Caledonia Community Schools), who, along with his team, has retained 99% of his teaching staff over nine years. Shawn knows that the school leadership’s actions and behaviors significantly influence the culture and climate on campus. 

Veitch stated, “A Principal’s task of creating high-performing teams gets lost in daily functions. Administrators look for a program, or a curriculum, etc., but we often miss that our job is to create culture within communities inside our own buildings.” Veitch said, “Too often, we solely focus on how our teachers can grow students in a positive climate, but as administrators, we forget that our teaching staff is a student body to our instruction. As leaders of the building, we need to make sure we are growing our staff. We do this by engaging them personally and professionally while creating a sense of family, yet it doesn’t stop there. Principals need to be intentional to help all staff engage with one another.”  

Veitch includes his staff, students, and families in the process. He intentionally includes fun and engaging activities at staff meetings to build connections among his faculty. Veitch’s leadership behaviors are modeled and replicated, which has had an effect on building relational capacity and deeper connectedness between staff-staff, staff-student, and student-students. Shawn’s focus on climate and culture has made a significant impact at Dutton Elementary. 

Dr. Martin, Mr. Vietch, Mrs. Kuppler and Mrs. Erb accepting Dutton Elementary’s National Blue Ribbon plaque. Mr. Vietch stated this award is due to the culture of family and hard work at Dutton Elementary.

It takes time and intentionality to foster a positive school climate. By honing a culture based on relationships and positivity, students end up as the greatest beneficiaries. Research shows that a positive school climate increases attendance rates and academic achievement. It also promotes the mental and physical well-being of students and teachers. This improves staff retention and reduces violence. (Council for Children’s Rights)

Another Michigan principal, Matt Marriott of Eaton Rapids Middle School (Eaton Rapids Public Schools), is committed to improving his school’s culture. Here is a snapshot of results from a 2022-2023 campus survey of teachers and staff: 

  • 94% of staff agreed, “I feel like I belong at this campus.” 
  • 94% of staff agreed, “Campus staff treats each other with respect during personal interactions.” 
  • 94% of staff agreed, “I feel comfortable on my campus.” 
  • 92% of staff agreed, “I feel the principal encourages an atmosphere of collaboration amongst campus staff.” 
  • 92% of staff agreed, “I enjoy working at this campus.”   

Second grade teacher, Renee Rosenberg. Mr. Veitch went to every classroom and had the students help him make a bubble map describing their teacher. He took the picture and framed it for every teacher for Christmas.

Though there are many options for finding outside support, Principal Marriott stated, “Capturing Kids Hearts® (CKH) has been the nucleus of improving our school culture. The ownership of the learning environment becomes contagious through the empowerment of staff and students. As a result, CKH has become rooted within our school community. It helped restore the “why” for so many and brought back a purpose and passion to our everyday job.” 

As we respond to the melting pot of challenges education faces today, leaders like Matt and Shawn are finding success by ensuring students and teachers feel connected, equipped, and excited to engage. We know that a positive campus culture creates a strong foundation for learning. As Flip Flippen famously says. “If you have a child’s heart, you have a child’s mind.” 


About Amanda

Amanda Barbour is a Leadership Development Strategist for Capturing Kids’ Hearts. Over the past 18 years, she has championed roles as an educator, district coordinator, and various other leadership positions. Amanda’s background is strengthened from her roots in the Kentwood Public School System, where she earned several awards, including successful state finalist recognition for the Michigan Presidential Award.