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In a school setting, high performers share the school values, know how to problem solve, and serve as good mentors for other teachers. In conversations with high performers, a leader should ask the teacher what kind of support she/he needs from the leader.

Solid performers are the backbone of the organization and usually determine a school’s success or failure. Solid performer conversations should flow in the following way: Tell the teacher that she/he is important to the school. Then, share ONE area for the teacher to work on to improve.

School leaders must enumerate very specific expectations for their low performing teachers, support them with additional training, continuously monitor their performance, and encourage them to shift from being a low performing teacher to a middle performing one. By allowing low performing leaders and teachers to stay on board, schools are neglecting students, their parents, and teachers; that is, high and solid performing colleagues and students deserve to be in a better work environment (Studer, 2008):

We must [move forward] in dealing with low performers. Our high and middle performers deserve to be in a better work environment. They shouldn’t have to work with low performers, and as I mentioned before, many of them won’t.

This was echoed as a take-away by one of the leaders attending the Leader Development Institute in Bay County School District (FL) last week: “If [I] do not have a plan to deal with low performers, the high performers will move on.” My colleagues, Drs. Janet Pilcher and Robin Largue presented the LDI titled Professional Conversations to Improve Performance. Attendees included principals and assistant principals in the school district and shared what they thought was the most important information from the day (selected):

Examples of how to have conversations with teachers about evaluations… Specific guides for conversations with teachers; the handouts… are great. Appropriate conversation framed for each of the four categories of teachers.

The entire session was very informative—what really resonated with me was how important it is to craft the conversation depending on who [I] am talking to. How important it is to have the conversation with the highly effective teacher to make sure you keep them. Recruit the [teachers] that matter and be ready to cut loose those that do not contribute.

How to have very candid and very difficult conversations to improve teaching and student achievement. It is OK to confront issues—regardless of feelings the issues have to be addressed. It is okay to be direct and specific in giving feedback to “needs improvement” and “unsatisfactory” teachers.

The tips affirmed areas of my strengths and gave me ideas for areas of weaknesses. Also gave me a map for conversations. I like the tips for “new” principals – they are tips for life. I cannot be successful unless those I lead are successful.

The key for our presentation to leaders is to make the experience worthwhile for them. These were their rating for the session [Items 1-2: Strongly Agree (5); Agree (4); Item 3: Excellent (5); Very good (4)]:

Some leaders also provided feedback about their ratings:

This is one of the few workshops that I say, “It is over already?”

Please come back. This is the best feedback I have received as a leader.

Even though time is precious, this could have been longer.

This would be great for leadership preparation programs.

Allow for more time as a follow up so we can address the will and be able to share experiences and continue to learn and grow from others.

Within any organization—school, business, or otherwise—low performance is never a contained problem. In schools, when low performing teachers are not dealt with properly, high and solid performing teachers find it difficult to maintain or improve their own performance levels. They deserve better. School leaders have a responsibility to their students as well. Low performing teachers can cause students to lose as much as two years of learning.



Studer, Q. 2008. Results That Last: Hardwiring Behaviors That Will Take Your Company to the Top. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Pilcher, J., and Largue, R. 2010. How To Lead Teachers to Become Great. Gulf Breeze, FL: Fire Starter Publishing.

Our mission at Studer Education is to provide students with a great place to learn, teachers with a great place to teach, and parents with confidence that their children are getting a great education. To do this we teach teachers and leaders how to get the best student learning results and create results-oriented school cultures. Visit us online at http://studereducation.com to learn more about Studer Education Teacher Development Institutes (TDIs), Leader Development Institutes (LDIs), and Evidence-Based Leadership. Studer Education is a division of Studer Group, the recipient of a 2010 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.