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When teachers let district leaders know that they are not receiving feedback from their principal concerning areas to improve their performance, the next step for district leaders and principals is two-fold:

(a) to develop the skills to communicate feedback, and coach and support teachers to become great; and

(b) to introduce teachers to practical and research-based resources for the purpose of helping them become highly effective and engage students to achieve and learn.

Today’s post focuses on Part A of the solution – the tactics that school leaders must implement in order to retain, coach, and support effective teaching in their schools. Teachers and staff rank lowest “My principal/administrative team/supervisor provides feedback concerning areas for improving my performance on a 15-item Employee Engagement Survey (N > 39,750) with nearly one-third marking the item “neutral,” “disagree,” or “strongly disagree.” How does a leader create conditions that foster and nourish schools full of great teachers and where students are inspired to achieve?

School leaders [must] first recognize that the teacher is the most important variable affecting student learning.

This means district and school leaders must draw their focus back to supporting their teachers. Principals must help teachers reach their highest performance potential because as school leaders we are only as good as the teachers we lead every day. In How to Lead Teachers to Become Great Pilcher and Largue describe principles and tactics that school leaders must apply to coach and support teachers to continuously improve:

  1. Hold 30 and 90 day conversations with new teachers to reduce their anxiety and support them in their new jobs.
  2. Reward and recognize teachers who perform at high levels and continuously improve their performance.
  3. Address low performing teachers for non-compliant behaviors and/or poor skills.
  4. Engage in 5 to 7 minute conversations by “rounding” on teachers to improve processes and harvest wins.

Hold 30 and 90 Day Conversations with New Teachers. Too often schools successfully recruit and hire teachers but do not retain them for the long haul. Some don’t even make it through their first 90 days – the most difficult time in a new teacher’s professional life. In fact, of those teachers who leave in their first three years of teaching, about one-third leave within the first 90 days. This is one reason to hold 30 and 90 day conversations; school leaders should make it clear to new hires that these meetings are part of “business as usual” at the school. The first meeting is held at the 30-day mark, the second at the 90-day mark. In order for the meetings to be successful, there are four key questions leaders should ask at the meetings:

Question 1: How do we compare to what we said we would be like?

Question 2: Tell me what you like. What is going well?

Question 3: I noticed you came to us from ____________. Are there things you did there that might be helpful to us?

Question 4: Is there anything here that you are uncomfortable with?

Reward and Recognize High Performing Teachers. In a school setting, high performers share the school values, know how to problem solve, and serve as good mentors for other teachers. Conversations with high performing teachers represent one of the core elements for providing a support-focused environment where they can continuously learn, apply, and achieve so that student s in their classrooms are learning. Without appropriate and meaningful professional development and training, these top performers become frustrated as they want to learn but have little support from school leaders. High and middle performing teachers deserve leaders who have time to address their needs. School leader conversations with high performers:

Cover where the organization is going.

Thank the teacher for his/her work.

Outline why the teacher is important to the school.

Ask the teacher what kind of support she/he needs.

Address Low Performing Teachers. One important lesson we’ve taken from Studer Group’s research of healthcare organizations is that moving low performers up or out of an organization heavily influences whether it can move from bad to good, good to great, or sustain greatness. Schools cannot afford to have low performing teachers in classrooms; by allowing low performers to stay on board, schools are neglecting students, their parents, and teachers. So, how exactly should low performers be dealt with? School leaders must:

Not hire more low performers into the organization.

Enumerate very specific expectations for 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.

Document performance and terminate low performing teachers who fail to improve.

Engage in Rounding. Teachers often complain that school leaders do not spend enough time in their classrooms, and as a result are unaware of what they do and what their most pressing needs are. When leaders recruit great teachers, they want to keep them. Rounding, based on a technique doctors have practiced for years with patients, can help them do just that. School leaders should hardwire rounding and round with teachers at least once a month. Here’s why:

Rounding is one way for leaders to gather information so that they can handle issues or needs in a proactive rather than reactive way.

Rounding is one way to establish genuine relationships with teachers.

Leaders who round on teachers and teachers who round on students produce more efficient systems, increasing student achievement and increasing satisfaction among all groups.

Developing excellence in our teaching practices is not a choice, but a responsibility! Leaders must train and support teachers to get student learning results that last. Start by communicating expectations to teachers. Just as we communicate expectations for student learning to students in our classrooms, leaders must communicate their expectations to teachers. Embedded within Pilcher and Largue’s tactics in How to Lead are the following elements adapted from Studer’s Results That Last:

  1. Communicate that you care about and value your teachers.
  2. Provide teachers the tools and equipment needed to practice effective teaching strategies (the student engagement framework).
  3. Provide teachers opportunities to learn and/or re-learn effective teaching strategies (the student engagement framework).
  4. Recognize and reward teachers for their good work.
  5. Deal with low performing teachers and stop hiring more of them.

When these elements are implemented by leaders, they begin to create a school culture where low performing (least effective) teachers simply will either improve, quit, or be removed from classrooms. The importance of this for our students is evidenced in Marzano’s findings that the teacher is the most important variable affecting student learning (2003; see summary here); the importance of communicating expectations to our teachers is evidenced in Pilcher and Largue and Studer’s work (above): Over 90 percent of employees perform when they know what their leader expects from them and when the leader practices actions outlined in How to Lead and Results That Last.

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Gates, Bill. (May 2013). Teachers need real feedback. Posted as an Education TED Talk and available at http://www.ted.com/talks/bill_gates_teachers_need_real_feedback.html.

Marzano, R. (2003). What works in schools: Translating research into action. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Pilcher, Janet, and Largue, Robin. (2009). How to Lead Teachers to Become Great. Gulf Breeze, FL: Fire Starter Publishing. Read the Introduction and Chapter 1.

Studer, Quint. (2008). Results that Last: Hardwiring Behaviors that Will Take Your Company to the Top. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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.