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As teacher-leaders, coaches, or school leaders one of our roles may be to observe teachers and provide suggestions and feedback, including model instruction, problem solving, and resources and support. As we coach teachers and provide opportunities for professional development, if a teacher continues to deliver content in the same ineffective way (per formative assessments), then we must assess whether the teacher lacks the will or the skill to change. Often this is accomplished through professional conversations.

Conversations with low performing teachers 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; low performing teachers can cause students to lose as much as two years of learning (Marzano, Marzano, and Pickering, 2003). 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.

Tip for Leaders: Low performance conversations can be difficult. The D.E.S.K. approach provides leaders with a guide to get them through these difficult conversations and helps them cut right to the chase (Studer, 2004). 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.

Reflect: Encourage the individual to shift from low performance to solid performance. This includes enumerating very specific expectations to the individual, supporting him/her with additional training, and continuously monitoring his/her performance.

Only about 8 percent of employees in an organization are low performing in their roles, 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 performance and encouraging low performing individuals to change their behavior through a structured approach, leaders can turn these colleagues into solid and high performing individuals. 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.

Studer Education partners with education systems to achieve measurable results that produce positive outcomes in student achievement and success, employee engagement, support services, financial efficiencies and productivity. We coach and support leaders to create great place to work, learn, and achieve. teach, students with a great place to learn, and parents with confidence that their children are getting a great education. Follow us on Twitter at @StuderEducation and visit us online at http://studereducation.com.