From principal cognitive complexity to teacher intent to leave. Exploring the mediating role of school absorptive capacity and teacher commitment

Published date02 December 2019
Date02 December 2019
AuthorRima’a Da’as,Chen Schechter,Mowafaq Qadach
From principal cognitive
complexity to teacher
intent to leave
Exploring the mediating role of school
absorptive capacity and teacher commitment
Department of Education, Al-Qasemi Academic College of Education,
Baqa-El-Gharbia, Israel
Chen Schechter
School of Education, Bar Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel, and
Mowafaq Qadach
Ono Academic College, Kiryat Ono, Israel
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to test an innovative model for exploring the direct and indirect
relationships between principalscognitive complexity (CC), schoolsabsorptive capacity (ACAP), a teachers
affective commitment and a teachers intent to leave.
Design/methodology/approach Data were collected from a survey of 1,664 teachers at 107 Arab
elementary schools, randomly selected from the database of the Israeli educational system. To test the
proposed model, multilevel structural equation modeling was conducted.
Findings The analysis confirmed that schoolsACAP and a teachers affective commitment are prominent
mediators between principalsCC and a teachers intent to leave.
Practical implications Understanding the factors that contribute to a teachers intent to leave could help
school principals and policy makers retain effective teachers in todays schools.
Originality/value This study adds to the body of research directed at identifying school principals
characteristics, as well as work-related factors, which may decrease a teachers intent to leave and are
amenable to leadership intervention.
Keywords Absorptive capacity, Principals cognitive complexity, Teachers affective commitment,
Teachers intent to leave
Paper type Research paper
Research has consistently shown that teachers leave their job because of dissatisfaction and
burnout (Fore et al., 2002; Hale-Jinks et al., 2006), which decrease their motivation and
organizational commitment (Conley and You, 2009). Teachersintention to leave is becoming
a primary target for school administrators because of its considerable cost to human
resource management (Harris et al., 2005). Furthermore, teachersintent to leave poses a
problem with unique organizational and pedagogical implications. In general, the teachers
who intend to leave are the more qualified ones, thereby jeopardizing the schools teaching
standards (Ingersoll, 2012). Intent to leave can damage a schools reputation and the
facultys cohesion, consequently impairing school effectiveness (Schaefer et al., 2012).
Studies have indicated a link between the way in which employees perceive their school
leaders and teachersintent to leave (Hughes et al., 2015; Qadach et al., 2019). Teachers who
were more likely to leave were less likely to have a principal who created an environment
that helped them exercise their potential as teachers (Markow and Pieteres, 2009). On the
other hand, highly rated principals succeeded in keeping high-performing teachers, and a
Journal of Educational
Vol. 58 No. 2, 2020
pp. 227-245
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/JEA-07-2019-0117
Received 11 July 2019
Revised 26 September 2019
5 November 2019
Accepted 5 November 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
School absorptive
capacity and
supportive principal was found to have an important influence on new teacher retention
(Grissom, 2011).
As schools operate in a complex and dynamic environment, in which interconnected
components need to work together to retain high-performing teachers (Ingersoll, 2012;
Schaefer et al., 2012), the principals role in affecting organizational attributes and processes,
as well as employeesperceptions and attitudes, is important to explore. Previous research
has found that leadership attributes and behavior affect teacherswork, organizational
processes and classroom practices (e.g. Louis et al., 2010). Sebastian and Allensworth (2012)
found that the impact of leadership on learning is achieved indirectly by shaping conditions
that contribute to effective teaching and learning. Louis et al. (2010) found that shared and
instructional leadership are indirectly related to student achievement. Both seem to gain
their influence through strong relationships to the way in which teachers organize
themselves into professional communities, characterized by strongly held norms and values,
reflective discussions about instruction, and a sense of collective responsibility for student
learning. In this sense, Berson et al. (2015) found that charismatic leadership affects a
schools climate of organizational learning (i.e. employeesperceptions of how work settings
either facilitate or hinder learning) and trust among the team, which in turn promote school
outcomes (according to superintendentsand parentsassessments).
To this end, principalscognitive complexity (CC) needs to be explored in the context of a
teachers intent to leave. Educational leaders with high CC are more effective at promoting
school processes, such as leading change, strategic processes and participation in decision
making, than leaders with low CC (Daas et al., 2018, 2019). In general, research has also
emphasized the effect of leadersCC on employeesperceptions and processes in the
organization (Hockerts, 2015; Wong et al., 2011; Yan-Hong and Jing, 2010). For example,
van der Burg (2014) found that transformational executives display a significantly greater
degree of cognitive, social and behavioral complexity than their transactional or passive/
avoidant counterparts. Moreover,all three forms of complexity were foundto be significantly
associated with constituent satisfaction and a tendency toward putting in the extra effort, as
well as with perceived leadership effectiveness.
How leadersCC affects organizational attributes, as well as employeesperceptions and
attitudes in schools, is less known. It is important to explore how principalsCC provides
direct and indirect support that influences a teachers decision to stay at or leave the school.
Thus, in the current research, the effect of principalsCC on a teachers intent to leave was
examined through schoolsabsorptive capacity (ACAP) and the teachers affective
commitment. ACAP is related to organizational learning (Lane et al., 2006), with researchers
arguing that it is similar to an organizations feed-forward (exploration of new ideas) and
feedback (exploitation of ideas that come from higher levels in the organization) learning
processes (Vera and Crossan, 2004). Hence, this research tested an innovative model for
exploring the direct and indirect relationships between principalsCC, schoolsACAP and a
teachers affective commitment and intent to leave (see Figure 1). Within the field of
educational leadership research, the proposed theoretical model might identify potentially
School Principals’
Teacher’s Intent
to Leave
Group level
Individual level
Figure 1.
The proposed
hypothesized model

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