Should you ever get rid of a teacher?
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You're listening to the School Leadership Reimagined Podcast, episode number twentyseven.
Welcome to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast...
where we rethink what's possible to transform your school. If you're tired of settling for small wins and incremental improvement, then stay tuned to discover powerful and practical strategies for getting every teacher in your school moving towards excellence. Now, here's your host, Robyn Jackson.
Welcome to another episode of School Leadership Reimagined. I’m your host Robyn Jackson and today we’re talking about something pretty controversial: What do you do about a teacher who just needs to go?
I get this question all the time. I do a lot of workshops showing school leaders how to achieve their goals with the people they have only for someone to inevitably raise their hand and ask, “What if a teacher can’t improve?”
I know it can be frustrating to feel as if the work that you know you need to do for your school and the goals you know you need to accomplish seem to be held hostage by that one teacher who is resisting your efforts to the point of ruining your culture or that one teacher who is so ineffective in the classroom that it’s feels impossible that she can ever improve.
Full disclosure here. I believe that ANY teacher can become a master teacher with the right kind of support and practice. But is that REALLY true? Can ANY teacher become a master teacher? Or, are there some teachers that just need to be fired.
Well, we’re going to dive into the controversy today and talk about how you can improve your school and reach your school goals with the people you currently have (even the resistant or ineffective ones) and you’re going to learn how to do it, #likeabuilder.
But before we dive in,
Have you gotten your Builder’s Lab 2019 tickets yet? The reason I ask is because what we’re talking about today is exactly what you’re going to learn how to do at Builder’s Lab 2019.
If you’re frustrated because you’re working with a teacher or group of teachers who seem to be getting in the way of your achieving your goals THIS school year, then you need to come to Builder’s Lab and here’s why.
If you are going to move your school, you have to move the people in it. Period. And there are really only four ways you can successfully move people forward and that’s through either feedback, support, accountability, or culture. I call these the 4 disciplines of Buildership.
Well, at Builder’s Lab 2019 we’re going to spend the first 2 days learning how to apply these 4 disciplines to get everyone in your school moving consistently and willingly toward your school goals -- even that teacher who usually fights you every step of the way or that teacher who struggles so badly in the classroom that you’ve already given up.
At Builder’s Lab 2019, you’re going to learn how to leverage feedback, support, accountability, and culture to get EVERYONE moving. Then, on day 3 of Builder’s Lab, you’re going to develop a 90-day plan to take everything that you’ve learned and put it into action so that you can get your people moving THIS YEAR.
So here’s what you need to do. Go to www.mindstepsinc.com/Builders-lab and get your tickets today, right now, and then get ready to discover how to get everyone who works in your school or district on board and working together towards your school goals. That’s mindstepsinc.com/Builders-lab and I’ll also put a link in the show notes.
Okay, so recently I posted something on facebook that started a pretty big controversy.
So here’s the question I posted:
Do you believe that any teacher can become a master teacher with the right support and practice?
I’ll pause right now for you to consider your own answer to the question.
Well, I was amazed at the passionate debate that took place in the comments.
Some people said, absolutely not. There are some people who are just not cut out to be teachers.
Others were a little more hopeful. Sure, they said. A teacher could technically become a master teacher over time IF, and that’s a big “if” they had the passion for teaching, were open to feedback, worked really, really hard, and weren’t jerks or sociopaths.
Then there were those who make mastery akin to sainthood. They said that not every teacher would ever achieve mastery no matter how hard they worked. They could become competent but mastery is something few achieve in teaching.
What I couldn’t find was anyone who agreed with me and said, yeah, with the right support and practice, a teacher, ANY teacher can become a master teacher.
Why is that?
Why is it that we believe that all children can learn, but we don’t extend that same optimism to the adults who teach them?
Why is it that we keep mastery behind some glass wall and make it so RARE all the while touting how important it is for all teachers to be seeking mastery.
I mean if mastery is only obtainable by a few sacred chosen ones, then why are you telling me to chase it?
Why is it that we are so quick to dismiss a struggling teacher or even a resistant teacher and justify firing them instead of taking the time to try to reach them and help them be successful?
We would never allow a teacher to treat students the way that we often treat teachers.
I mean think about it. What if a teacher came into your office and said, “That kid just doesn’t have it. I’ve tried everything I know to help him but he’s just stupid. I think that we need to just get him out of my class.”
Or what if a teacher said to you, “That kid is just too difficult.He resists me at every turn. He needs to go!”
And yet, that’s what we say about teachers all the time.
I know I know. But they are adults. They are supposed to be professionals. We owe every kid an education but we don’t owe every adult a job. Besides, what about the kids? Am I just supposed to let the students suffer while I try to save some adult who refuses to do his job?
I get it. I know how frustrating it can be when you are trying to move your school forward and there’s a teacher who is resisting your efforts to help him or maybe that teacher is welcoming your efforts but they are not getting any better.
I know your sense of urgency. I’ve felt your frustration.
I know what it’s like to feel, this person just needs to go.
But I want to warn you against giving into that frustration today. Because when you go after a teacher, when you give into the impulse to get rid of someone because they are frustrating, when you give into the idea that you could move your school forward if only that teacher were gone, well you are falling into a dangerous trap.
Here’s what happens. You start going after a teacher. You accumulate documentation. You start showing up in their classroom and ramping up your observations. You meet with the teacher and put her on a performance plan. You provide support which the teacher may or may not take advantage of, and all the while you’re documenting. In fact, you spend so much time documenting, you neglect some of your other teachers who could really use your support and feedback and who are hungry for it.
Meanwhile the teacher you are targeting starts digging in her heals. Maybe she calls the union on you. Maybe she starts gossiping about you in the staff lounge and spreading discontent and fear among the staff. Maybe she starts to step up her game in the classroom a bit and actually complies with the performance plan -- at least for the 90 days it’s in effect.
At the end of the year, you move for dismissal and maybe you get it. The teacher is removed. But, your culture has been so damaged by the process and you’ve been so exhausted by the process that you have little energy or support to finally get to the work you really want to do.
Or maybe you lose your bid for dismissal and the teacher is back the following year even more emboldened because she won.
Either way, you go through all of that and what do you have to show for it? How much further are you towards reaching the goals you’ve set for your school?
Where did you spend the majority of your time and energy?
Moving your school forward or going after someone?
And yet, we this is how most of us were taught to deal with an underperforming teacher.
When you do it this way, nobody wins.
But, there is a better way to deal with underperforming teachers -- a way that actually solves your problem and builds your culture in the process.
I need to warn you, it ain’t easy and it’s not for wimps. In fact, sometimes you’ll want to give up, you’ll think it isn’t working, and others will urge you to just go ahead and fire the person already.
But, if you do it the way that Builder’s do it, you will no longer have your goals and plans for your school held hostage by an underperforming or resistant teacher. In fact, you’ll be able to move your school forward and focus on the right work even if the teacher chooses not to change.
And that teacher? Well you won’t have to get rid of the teacher because if you do things the way that Builder’s do it, either the teacher will improve, or the teacher will leave on his or her own.
And if they leave, they won’t be able to tear down your culture on their way out. Because when you do things the Builder’s way, you will be building up your culture, fortifying your school and making it impervious to attempts to dismantle it.
But like I said.
This way isn’t for wimps. You’ll have to do things differently.
For one, you’ll have to give up the temporary satisfaction of “going after” a teacher. Instead, you will need to commit to the belief that any teacher can become a master teacher with the right kind of support and practice.
Even the teacher who is a disaster in the classroom. Even the teacher who is a mean-spirited person talking about you behind your back and killing your culture. Even if the teacher makes excuses instead of improving. Even if the teacher seems clueless even though you’ve given him a ton of feedback. Even if…
If you don’t believe that the teacher CAN get better, then the teacher will pick up on your unbelief and they won’t trust you. If they do not trust you, they will not improve. Period. In fact, I think that’s why so many relationships deteriorate with teachers. The moment we give up on them, they sense it and then every observation, every feedback conversation, every interaction is tinged with distrust and defensiveness because deep down they know you don’t believe in them.
And can you blame them really. If you go into an observation and you already think that the teacher is hopeless, why are you giving feedback? I mean, isn’t the point of feedback to help someone improve? So if you don’t believe that the teacher CAN improve, then your feedback is disingenuous.
Okay, but what if you really DON’T believe in the teacher anymore? Are you just supposed to fake it?
No. I’m not asking you to fake it.
But what Builder’s do is that they shift their focus from “this teacher is hopeless” to “Under what conditions could this teacher be successful?”
It’s a simple but powerful shift. You see, when we’re frustrated with a teacher, all we can see is how they are struggling, how they are destroying students’ lives, and how they are killing their culture. But when you keep your focus on your school vision, mission, and core values, then become more open to seeing how you can achieve your goals even with a teacher who is struggling.
It’s a matter of focus.
When you’re focused on getting rid of a teacher, life is pretty miserable. You get caught up in trying to collect the right paperwork, enduring horrible lesson after horrible lesson just so that you can document how horrible it was. Going through the motions of giving feedback so that you can prove that you tried to help the teacher. Writing pointless improvement plans just so that you can check off that box in the dismissal process. Complaining about the teacher behind closed doors or engaging in a head on battle royale with the teacher in open warfare.
What you’re not focused on is moving your school forward. What you’re not focused on is supporting the teacher who ARE doing their jobs. What you’re not focused on is building a positive school culture.
So what do you do? And what about the students who are suffering through a really bad teacher?
Here’s how builders handle it. They stay focused on their school core values, vision, and mission. They hold everyone accountable to the bigger vision of their school.
And that teacher who is resisting and struggling? Builders pinpoint the root cause for why they are not succeeding (and no, the root cause is not that the teacher is an incompetent jerk), and they relentlessly give the teacher feedback, and support around that ONE thing, and are uncompromising about holding the teacher accountable for improving that one thing and then the next one thing and the next one thing. Builders build a culture that is singularly focused on every teacher becoming a master teacher so they leverage that culture to influence the resistant teacher. That way, it’s not just the Builder pushing. EVERYONE is pushing towards mastery.
When you do this, when you leverage the four disciplines of Buildership -- feedback, support, accountability, and culture to help a struggling, resistant teacher improve one of two things will happen.
Either the teacher will improve, or the teacher will leave on his or her own.
If the teacher improves, then hallelujah! But if the teacher decides to leave, then that’s okay too.
Either way, your culture stays in tact because you weren’t focused on getting rid of someone, you were focused on building your culture.
My father once told me of an episode of the Twilight Zone he remembers seeing as a kid.
The episode opens with a man getting hit by a car and dying. He woke up in what appeared to be a waiting room with a row of chairs, a folding table, and a locked door. There was no one else in the room except an elderly couple playing a game of checkers at the folding table.
He sat waiting to find out if he was going to Heaven or to hell.
Hours passed and as he waited, he overhead the couple playing checkers. Their conversation was completely inane. It started driving him crazy the way there were talking. He couldn’t relate at all and yet they were engrossed in their game and having a ball.
Finally, he just couldn’t take it anymore. So he jumped up, ran to the door and started knocking and yelling “Let me out of here!!”
No one answered. So he kept yelling and pleading, “Please let me out of here! Please somebody!”
No answer. And then slowly it dawned on him. He wasn’t waiting to find out if he was going to Heaven or Hell. He was already in hell doomed for the rest of his life to watch this elderly couple play checkers and listen to their stupid conversation.
And that couple? Well they were in Heaven, enjoying game and after game of checkers and pleasant conversation.
Well that’s what happens when you treat teachers who you really want to get rid of like Builders do. Instead of trying to get rid of someone and going through the stress that entails and wrecking your culture in the process, Builder’s focus on building their culture. They focus on creating a school where every teacher is moving towards mastery.
And those teachers who are not invested in mastery? Well, soon that culture starts to feel like the guy watching the elderly couple playing checkers. And either they will go over to the table and join the game, or they will bang on the door and beg to be let go.
The choice is theirs.
I know this sounds almost too simple but let me tell you from my own experience, it works.
I was trained on how to get rid of teachers. I am a very good documenter. I know how to build a file. I also know how to do little things to make the teacher uncomfortable in hopes that the teacher will leave on his or her own. Plus, I’m a fighter. I get indignant when people don’t do the job they were hired to do and children suffer as a result.
But every single time I’ve gone after someone who wasn’t doing their job even if I am successful and they leave or get dismissed, it’s hurt my culture. Even if my staff believes that they deserved to go, once they are gone, my staff started to wonder, “Am I next?”
What’s more going after folks takes a personal toll. All the stress, all the extra work, and then sometimes you aren’t successful. Sometimes after all of that, they still don’t get fired and you’re stuck with someone who is still underperforming but who is not emboldened not to listen to you.
Is that why you became an educator? Is that what you really want to be spending your time doing?
I would much rather be spending my time building my school. I would much rather spend my time helping every teacher in my school become a master teacher. I would much rather spend my time co-creating a vision, mission, and a set of core values and then finding ways every day to live out those core values, do work that is ON mission, and reach our vision for our students and our school.
So that’s what I choose to focus on. It doesn’t mean that I let a teacher who is underperforming and resistant off the hook. To the contrary, this way actually holds them MORE accountable.
And every single time I focus on building my school rather than get distracted with tryign to get rid of someone here’s what happens. They either get better or they leave on their own.
Their choice. But what they can’t choose is to stay the way that they are. When you focus on building a strong culture, giving high quality feedback and support, and helping everyone stay accountable to your school vision, mission, and core values, poor performance, bad attitudes, and even mediocrity are no longer even an option.
Now my goal is for everyone to choose mastery. But if they don’t, that’s okay too. They can leave with my best wishes. Either way, I am still building my school and making a bigger and bigger difference in the lives of my students and the adults I serve.
I don’t know about you, but that’s why I became an educator.
It’s time that we shift our focus. For too long we’ve been trained in a deficit model where we are always paying attention to what’s not working and trying to fix that instead of building something new, better, and that will best serve our students.
For too long, we’ve thought that there wasn’t any better way to deal with an underperforming teacher than to get rid of him.
Well, I’m here today to tell you that there is something better. Your job is not to get rid of anyone. Your job is to BUILD. Build the kind of school where it’s hard to stay complacent. Build the kind of school where it’s hard not to grow. Build the kind of school where staying entrenched in negativity and mediocrity is no longer an option. Build the kind of the school where being excellent is impossible to resist.
Do that and you won’t have to get rid of teachers. Instead, your school will be a place where everyone flourishes, grows, and thrives.
That’s how you get rid of a bad teacher #LikeABuilder
Now, before we go,
don’t forget to get your ticket to Builder’s Lab 2019. If you want to find out how to get your people on board and moving so that you can still reach your goals THIS year, even the resistant nay-sayers or the people who are just plain stuck, then you need to come to Builder’s Lab 2019. Just go to www.mindstepsinc.com/builders-lab and get your ticket now.
Next time we’re going to deal with another obstacle many Builders face. It’s something that for many of us is a dirty little secret. And yet, it’s something that impacts EVERYTHING that we do in our school.
It’s our master schedules.
Now before you roll your eyes and groan, hear me out. Your master schedule is one of THE most important things you will do this year. And if yours is a mess, or if your process is a disaster then I’ve got good news for you. There is a better way. In fact, if you do it right, your master schedule process can be one of the most rewarding and meaningful things you do this year.
So make sure to join me next time where you’re going to discover how to build a better master schedule #likeabuilder.
Bye for now. See you next time.
Thank you for listening to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast for show notes and free downloads visit https://schoolleadershipreimagined.com/
School Leadership Reimagined is brought to you by Mindsteps Inc, where we build a master teachers.