It is every teacher's right to be developed professionally.
Supporting colleagues in their day-to-day teaching is a craft and a skill. No one likes to see anyone struggle but if they are then early doors support is essential.
Every teacher is an asset, and each has their own portfolio of strengths and improvement points. But when the weaknesses outweigh the strengths, deliberate and strategic intervention is needed.
To say a colleague is ‘weak’ is not something I’d encourage. Only a lousy manager would do that. This is a word loaded with deficiency and negativity. Someone might be under-performing and they might have fragilities but everyone can be ‘great’ with the right support.
You are great
Senior leaders who put relationships first get the most out of their staff. Empowering teachers and making them feel valued lies at the heart of effective management.
Staff need to feel valued. If they have messed up a lesson, lack motivation or have done something that raised a few eyebrows, the last thing they want is a barrage of criticism and disdain. But they don’t need the kid gloves approach and wrapping in cotton wool either.
Canny managers state the obvious. If someone’s behaviour management has gone pear-shaped then they won’t beat around the bush. They show understanding but they spell out what has happened and are explicit in their expectations so there are no grey areas. The goal is to develop self-aware teachers who know what they are good at and what they need to work on.
The support you give will depend on the issues, context and person but the number one objective is to get the best out of someone. You support a member of your team because they are part of your learning community where everyone matters. Your aim as a manager is to get every teacher to the top and feeling on top.
If someone tells you they can’t cut the mustard in the classroom then they might be suffering from impostor syndrome. Staff in this position are blighted by perfectionism and need to be told that good is good enough and that’s easier said than done.
But if someone is genuinely treading water in the classroom then you’ve got to throw in the lifebelt and it is imperative the person you are speaking with knows that you believe in them and you want them to improve. We always need to be direct, authentic and show our human side.
School leaders should not shy away from or avoid ‘awkward’ conversations. Sweeping issues under the carpet means someone will trip up sooner or later.
Giving clear, detailed and honest feedback can be ‘raw’ but delivering hard messages is never fluffy.
Here are 9 top tips:
1. Get the facts
You need the evidence so make sure you have all you need and you have rehearsed what to say. Monitor and evaluate their work and draw on examples.
Make a lot of noise and you won’t hear much so don’t jump in all guns blazing. Let your colleague speak and tune into what they are saying.
3. Get in there
Don’t go around the houses with a pile of pleasantries but get down to business and spell out what you need to say dispassionately and professionally. Be honest and keep it simple.
4. Be prompt
If you know what needs to be said then arrange a time sooner rather than later. Leaving things until ‘next week’ will only add to your own stress.
Be sure to separate the personal from the professional and stick to the business end. Everyone has to be treated the same.
6. Have an action plan
Address what needs to be addressed head-on and put support strategies in place straight away to –rewire, reboot and refresh. Say that you will have regular pit-stops and informal chats to keep the conversation going and fuel improvement.
7. Say thank you
Thank teachers for their good work and thank them for taking risks even if they fail. Recognise that everyone makes mistakes and every day is a school day.
Make sure that teachers know they are never alone and there is a support network to tap into that can help so they can be the best they can be.
9. Step back
We tend to assume that responsibility rests with the individual. They might lack the motivation, knowledge and skill but sometimes it is the system at fault. The fit between the job and the person might be poor, their strengths aren’t being allowed to shine or there is a training issue that the school needs to timetable asap.
Personal circumstances will always play a major role in how someone is managing or coping. The best teachers I know have all experienced personal problems that have impacted on their teaching.
Dealing with under-performance is a pre-requisite of improvement and regularly addressed as part of a reflective, accountable and professional community that wants everyone to do well. Your ‘weak’ teacher could, with support, turn out to be one of your strongest.
About the author
John is an ex-primary school teacher and Ofsted inspector who has spent the last 20 years working in the education industry as a teacher, writer and editor. John’s specialist area is primary maths but he also loves teaching science and English. John has written a number of educational and children’s books, and contributed over 1,000 articles and features to various educational bodies. John is Eteach’s school leadership and Ofsted advice guru, sharing insights on best practice for motivating and enriching a school team, as well as sharing savvy career steps for headteachers and SLT.