What can you as a school leader do to support a struggling teacher?

Posted on 18th February 2017 by Chester

This guest blog post is written by Chester, a lay officer for a major teaching union. This means he is a classroom teacher who has been elected to serve as a representative for the area covered by his Local Authority. To fulfil this role he put classroom teaching on pause in September 2015.

In my last blog post, I wrote about what it’s like to be a teacher going through capability proceedings.  Here I’ll give some tips to school leaders on how you can support a teacher who is starting to struggle with the job or is already on formal capability proceedings.

Offer genuine support

Be genuinely supportive if there are problems. One lesson that goes wrong does not make a bad teacher. Sit down with them and really try to help them. Don’t do it just for the sake of accountability, but because they are part of your school and you want to help them.

Don’t mention Ofsted!

As a school leader, a lot of what you do may be (wrongly) dictated by Ofsted. However, classroom teachers shouldn’t have to feel that way. They go into their classrooms every day and try and do the best for the children in front of them, and this should be enough. If you have a good suggestion for how to improve things for these children, then explain it in these terms.

Ask them for feedback

Ask them if they see any problems with doing what you are asking them to do. The biggest problem is usually workload. If they can’t plan good lessons because they are marking sixty books a night (often the case in primaries) then look at your marking policy and make some changes.

Help with marking

If the quality of marking is a problem, talk to them about when they do it, how they do it, and how long they are spending on it. If they aren’t using AFL tricks to cut their workload, give them training on it. There should be only two concerns for a marking policy: (1) Every single mark a teacher makes should directly help students learn, (2) The time spent marking should allow the teacher to have a life outside teaching during term time.

Be considerate in lesson observation feedback

Listen to their reasons why a lesson observation didn’t go as well as they hoped. Accept them as genuine and valid. Receiving feedback for a bad lesson is already horrible, but it’s even worse if the critical points are irrelevant or show a poor sense of priority. For example, telling a teacher that “The child may have hit another child, but, you still have to show all children making progress, regardless of anything that occurs,” hugely undermines confidence and will start any supportive process off badly.

Let them see you teach

You ought to be able to do what you are expecting them to do. If you don’t feel that you can pull an outstanding lesson out on demand, is it reasonable for you to expect them to? I stress that I am not saying this to insult school leaders. It’s an excellent way of ensuring you set achievable expectations for staff, and they will appreciate how you are trying to see things from their perspective.

Understand that change doesn’t occur instantly

If you lead a failing school, you understandably want to improve before your next inspection. However, large amounts of pressure on your staff is not only bad for its own sake, it also means they will probably (a) resign or (b) go off sick then resign. This is expensive for schools as you pay two lots of salary. With current budgets, their replacements are likely to be inexperienced and need lots of support, which would usually have come from more experienced staff. This creates a really toxic environment in a school and makes your job much harder.

But the most important piece of advice of all is…

Keep them informed

They need to know what’s happening. If you have concerns, the first step shouldn’t be a formal observation, or an invitation to a meeting to discuss a written support plan. It should be asking them if everything is okay and gently addressing specific areas of concern. Offer training on those areas. Tell their line manager to focus on it in their appraisal. Look for ways to make all teaching staff’s job easier in those respects.

Let’s support our colleagues, improve together, and make schools better places with more Happy Teachers.

Chester is a pseudonym. The views in this post are not necessarily shared by Happy Teacher.