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What happens when a teacher is a low performer? These are the instances where teacher-leaders, coaches, or the school’s administrative team have observed the teacher and provided suggestions and feedback, supported through model instruction, problem solving, and/or resources, among other assistance and the teacher continues to deliver content in the same ineffective way (per formative assessments). Such (low performing) teachers lack either the will or the skill to change.

Conversations with low performers are tough conversations for leaders. However, they are conversations that must happen because research shows the detrimental effect a low performing teacher can have on student learning (Marzano, Marzano, and Pickering, 2003). Low performing teachers can cause students to lose as much as two years of learning. Schools cannot afford to have low performing teachers in the classroom and students cannot afford it either. So, what about these conversations? There are two important keys to ensuring that low performer conversations lead to success:

First, before beginning these conversations coaches and leaders should lay the groundwork with their administrative colleagues so that everyone in the administration is on the same page.

Second, after the initial low performer conversation with a teacher, the coach and leader must follow up relentlessly.

Low performer conversations can be difficult. That’s why Studer (2004) created the DESK approach which provides leaders with a guide to get them through these difficult conversations and helps them cut right to the chase. The conversation should never start on a positive note or with casual conversation. Instead, leaders should:

Describe what has been observed.

Evaluate how they feel.

Show what needs to be done.

Know and share the consequences of continued low performance.

As an administrator, these are the toughest conversations I had and in hindsight I never implemented all parts of the DESK approach, especially the “E” part. What I know now is that the “E” part, in addition to evaluating how the low performer feels, means to encourage the individual to shift from low performance to middle performance. This includes enumerating very specific expectations to the low performer, supporting him/her with additional training, and continuously monitoring his/her performance.

Only about 8 percent of employees in an organization are low performers, and most of them will improve or change negative behaviors to positive ones after they are addressed by a leader. By simply taking the proper steps to address low performers and encouraging them to change their behavior through a structured approach, leaders can turn these colleagues into solid and high performers. And though it’s hard work, the improved learning environment will be better for all.

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Marzano, R., Marzano, J., and Pickering, D. (2003). Classroom Management That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Every Teacher. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Studer, Q. (2004). Hardwiring Excellence: Purpose, Worthwhile Work, Making a Difference. Gulf Breeze, FL: Fire Starter Publishing.

Content from How to Lead Teachers to Become Great by Drs. Janet Pilcher and Robin Largue.

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. Visit us online at http://studereducation.com. Studer Education is a division of Studer Group, ranked for the fifth straight year on the Best Small and Medium Workplaces by Great Place to Work® and a recipient of the 2010 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.