How to support an under performing staff member.

One of the most difficult aspects of being a school leader is managing an under performing staff member.

This is one of the most important responsibilities of any principal, and its influence on the team and school is significant. So many school leaders avoid this responsibility, even though it is incredibly important. Many leadership development programs do not give the tools and training needed to effectively manage an under performing teacher.

There are things you can do (and should do). You can use these five steps as a set of tools to help you. These are not the only things you can do, but they can help you get started.

Step 1: Investigate

Under performance can happen in different ways. When you see that a teacher is not performing as they should be, the first thing you need to do is figure out why. Sometimes, the teacher doesn’t understand what you expect from them. There may be other unknown elements in their learning environment or in their personal lives that are preventing them from achieving optimal performance. The teacher can provide valuable information if you initiate a talk with him or her. Communicate your concerns while being interested in hearing what they have to say. In most cases, poor performance is overcome when both sides contribute to the conversation.

Step 2: Communicate

It is not good leadership to only communicate formally with staff on rare occasions. Work expectations should be repeated on a regular basis to avoid any room for misinterpretation. Leaders and teachers should think of communication as an agreement when stating expectations.

Further, it is essential that your communication with your team is continuous. For example, if you tell a staff member about an issue and possible resolution, be sure to follow up so they are aware the problem has been dealt with. If not, they might think all is well and be caught off guard come their annual review time.

Step 3: Rethink

I often have principal colleagues coming to me seeking key skills and strategies necessary for effective staff management. In my experience, as every teacher needs to be managed differently, there is no one size fits all approach. This can create a problem when an under performing teacher’s preferred method of management is different from their principal’s natural leadership style.

You simply need to rethink how you manage your staff. What does this teacher need to succeed? Which skills can be developed further to help them meet expectations? Are there any unique qualities that could be highlighted or nurtured more effectively to boost productivity? Considering your teacher in a new light may inspire both of you.

Step 4: Agree

If the teacher agrees to work on meeting the teaching expectations at your school, make a binding agreement for future improvement (this can come in the form of a professional learning plan). Be as specific as possible. This will help to hold both parties accountable and ensure that there is forward momentum.

The teacher will need to set time-bound goals for success. You and the teacher will identify what this teacher must do to accomplish the expectations of being a teacher at your school. You will need to check if the teacher’s performance has improved at each goal touchstone. If it has not, you will have to decide if the strategy needs to be adjusted, or if it is necessary to progress to step 5.

Step 5: Let go

A principal’s most important decision to make is whether or not to dismiss teachers who continuously does not meet expectations. Too many leaders, though, let these teachers stay in the same grade or stage instead of dismissing them. Sometimes teachers do better with a different grade than they initially thought–and that’s okay. However, what we’re talking about are the situations where instead of being terminated, teachers are simply given a new class because it’s easier for the school leader.

A teacher who has not done well recently knows that they are not doing a good job. They may be feeling stressed because they are not proud of their work. This can hurt the team and the school. It is better for everyone if the teacher is let go. (A useful analogy to reflect upon: “weeds must be removed from a garden to keep it healthy”.)

A Final Note

Every child deserves quality schooling; every lesson, every day, all year. Not addressing the poor performance of staff members can have a negative ripple effect throughout the school. It’s essential that leaders address staff performance issues as soon as they arise so that the teacher can get back on track and avoid any long-term damage to their career and to student learning. Additionally, it is unfair to other teachers if those who are not meeting expectations are not held accountable.

It can be difficult to let go of an under performing staff member, but it is important for the sake of the students, other staff and the school. Leaders need to be willing to terminate teachers who are not meeting expectations, in order to maintain a healthy and productive learning environment (and they need to be supported to do so)

Author: Dr Jake Madden

Jake Madden (Dip Teach; B.Ed; Grad Dip: Leadership; M. Ed: Leadership; EdD; FACEL; MACE) Dr. Jake Madden is currently the Principal, St Edward’s Primary School, Tamworth. He has enjoyed a successful teaching and principal leadership career over the last thirty years building teacher capacity through the development of learning in the contemporary world, the promotion of flexible learning spaces to meet the needs of the 21st century learner and curriculum for global mindedness. Jake is a leader in the notion of teacher-as-researcher and is widely published in this area, authoring and co-authoring books and a number of journal articles showcasing his experiences and research into leading educational change.

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