HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

Differentiating Teachers’ Performance: Tips from the Corporate World

by Rebecca Cole Lurie Issue: Teacher Retention & Development

Talented people are what differentiate great companies from weak ones. The same is true for schools. When parents are choosing among various schools for their children’s education, they assess the talent of the teachers as well as the environment the teachers and administration create for the students. As a result, managing teachers’ performance needs to be a top priority. It is essential both to reward and recognize exceptional teachers as well as to address performance problems of those teachers who are not meeting expectations. Below are some helpful tips on doing both.

It is not fair for your best teachers to feel as if they are getting the same praise and opportunity as those teachers who are barely getting by.

The first step you must take in managing different types of performance is to differentiate your people. You need to know which teachers fall into the following categories:

  • 1 Star: Performance expectations have not been met. Significant performance problems exist.
  • 2 Stars: Expected level of performance is demonstrated. Consistently meets expectations.
  • 3 Stars: Performance consistently meets all expectations. Many expectations are exceeded.
  • 4 Stars: Performance is exemplary. Consistently exceeds all expectations by a wide margin.

Many companies fall short in one crucial area: letting 4 star employees know that they are the top talent. While this may seem obvious, many companies choose to be vague in discussions with the most valuable team members, out of concern that the rest of the group will feel slighted. The worst case scenario is that your best teachers leave because they didn’t know how valued they were. If you want to create an environment that truly values great performers, all of the non-4 star teachers should know against whom they should model themselves to become the best.

Letting your best teachers know that they are your most valuable players is only the first step in engaging and retaining your top talent. You need to create opportunities to recognize their performance. While an easy way to do this is to differentiate their compensation, most schools do not have the funds available (although it is worth considering whether you should funnel the majority of your dollars for annual raises to your 4 star performers and create a sliding scale for the remaining teachers). The smallest gestures of appreciation and recognition go extremely far. Consider acknowledging innovative teaching ideas publicly at staff meetings. Every time a parent praises a teacher, write that teacher a note expressing your pride that he or she is a part of the school community. Schedule individual meetings with your top teachers to hear their suggestions for improvements and to understand their long term career goals. Hopefully you will be able to create a path for them to advance their careers within your school.

A crucial group of people who often get overlooked are the 2 and 3 star players. If you are successful at creating an open environment where teachers know where they stand, you should make it clear what is keeping certain teachers from being 4 star. Provide concrete feedback that they can work on and offer resources to assist them. The goal for this group of teachers is to help them move from 2 and 3 star players to 4 star. And if teachers in this group leave your school for whatever reason, you should look to replace them with 4 star teachers.

Just as it is essential to recognize your top talent, it is equally important to deal with underperforming teachers. It is not fair for your best teachers to feel as if they are getting the same praise and opportunity as those teachers who are barely getting by. It is your responsibility to clearly communicate job standards and expectations to your teachers and provide ongoing constructive feedback. When necessary, you must identify and discuss performance deficiencies. Below is a sample process you can consider following to address underperformance. It is recommended to follow this process only for teachers who have been employed by the school for 90 days. Any earlier is too soon to assess underperformance.

First counseling: This is your first conversation letting a teacher know that her or she is not meeting expectations. This can either come as a result of a specific situation about which you are concerned or a general, persistent performance problem. This should be a private conversation between you and the teacher, and you should articulate the feedback very specifically and constructively. You should spend time brainstorming how you can work together to improve performance. The teacher should be told that if the performance problem continues, a second counseling session with written backup will need to take place. You should end the conversation by agreeing to regroup in a given timeframe to see how things are progressing.

Second counseling: If the performance problem persists, you should conduct a second counseling session. It is recommended that you document the issues and review them at this meeting. The documentation should include the following information:

  • Explanation/illustration of the performance problem, citing examples, dates and times, and attaching documentation, if applicable
  • Clear performance expectations, including a time frame in which improvement must occur
  • Support you will provide to assist the teacher in meeting the performance standards (such as regular touch-base meetings to discuss how things are going)
  • Consequences if performance expectations are not met or performance problem continues

If you see improvement after the second counseling step, then you should conclude the performance counseling process. However, if the teacher’s performance dips below expectations at a later date, you can go right to the final counseling (no need to repeat steps 1 & 2).

Final counseling: At this meeting, you should provide the teacher with a document which does the following:

  • Refers to previous counseling sessions, including the 1st and 2nd counseling notices, if applicable
  • Clearly states that failure to meet and maintain acceptable standards may result in termination
  • Establishes a specified time frame in which improvement is required

Termination: If the teacher’s performance does not improve to the desired level, you should consider termination. Termination is usually appropriate if a teacher has received notice of performance problems and has failed to make acceptable progress toward correcting them.

The expectation for stellar performance has to come from the head of the school. If a school values high performing teachers and wants to do everything possible to help the staff become 4 star players, then you will create a school not only where parents want to send their children but where teachers want to work. ♦

Rebecca Cole Lurie works in Human Resources for Staples, Inc. These comments represent her own views and not those of Staples. Rebecca can be reached at Rebecca.Lurie@Staples.com.

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Teacher Retention & Development

Teachers are the most precious resource of any school. The measure of a great school is its ability to recruit and retain great teachers who know their subject and craft, care deeply about all their students, and are passionately committed to their own development and the school as a community. Here, find guidance for finding, preparing and evaluating teachers, and keeping them happy and productive stakeholders.

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