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Dealing with difficult staff

Discussion in 'Heads of department' started by MonalisaVito, Oct 10, 2017.

  1. MonalisaVito

    MonalisaVito New commenter

    Hi everyone,

    I am a newly appointed HOD and was hoping for some words of wisdom and advice on dealing with difficult staff?

  2. dts

    dts Occasional commenter

    I'm not sure there is enough detail here to be able to give you advice - what do you perceive as difficult about these staff? I am assuming that you are managing them - are they new, very experienced, resistant to change, argumentative, lazy?
  3. MonalisaVito

    MonalisaVito New commenter

    Some context would have helped...been a long week already! They have been in the school for between 4-6 years and are very comfortable. When asked to anything outwith their comfort zone it is proving to be a battle. I have offers support in as far as team teaching etc to set them on their way but they don't seem keen on that either! I'm the youngest in the department and I don't think it's gone down well that I am now their line manager. They are also quite lazy with little or no initiative.
  4. tb9605

    tb9605 Established commenter

    I also find myself the youngest (and least experienced) in the department despite being head of it. Fortunately, my colleagues aren't lazy, but some are somewhat old fashioned. It's only been 6 weeks, but I've tried to start tackling this in three ways:

    1. I've done the bulk of the planning. That means that the teachers are mostly using my lessons, so I can feel confident about the content and quality of lessons. As you can imagine, this has not been unpopular with the staff.

    2. I've sacrificed a department meeting every fortnight for a 20 minute Teach Meet. I bring cake, and we all bring our best practice on topics such as AFL, differentiation, marking short cuts, etc. Early days, but it seems to have been a useful prompt to get colleagues thinking about these areas and I know a couple have adopted some of the strategies suggested. It also feels (I hope!) less dictatorial than me just telling them they need to do something.

    3. Trying to create a buzz around my own teaching. I've been using everything in my bag of tricks to create entertaining lessons and get students enthusiastic about my subject. I know this is working as several colleagues from different subject areas have come to ask me about things that students have told them about my lessons. I am hoping that this might lead to colleagues being more open to getting advice or suggestions from me - it may even mean that they come to me, rather than I have to go to them (if you see what I mean).

    Hope that helps.
    Curae, wassurfbabe, Pomza and 3 others like this.
  5. ScienceGuy

    ScienceGuy Established commenter

    This is where you could use the performance management / appraisal process to help develop the department. Look at setting targets which are designed to develop the practice / career of your colleagues e.g. teach a unit on this topic, develop a series of lessons focusing on this skill etc. If they are disappointed that you got the job over them (a possibility based on what you have said) then you can help them develop their skills so they are ready to become a HoD / take on promoted roles in the future
    Curae likes this.
  6. meggyd

    meggyd Lead commenter

    Is being old fashioned necessarily a bad thing? I'm a bit surprised that you have gone into a new department and seemingly changed everything so early. Was there nothing there worth keeping? Was it a failing department?
  7. ThereAreBunniesInMyHead

    ThereAreBunniesInMyHead Occasional commenter

    Well I suppose it depends on what it is they are doing that you don't like or want to change. You don't explain that really apart from that they don't like your suggestions of team teaching. To be honest if I'd been teaching 6 years and someone new walked in and suggested that I needed to team teach to learn something new I'd be a bit reluctant too. Sometimes new HODS want to walk in and reinvent the wheel, without giving staff the chance to show why their way works too.

    However if there are genuine concerns about the quality of teaching or accuracy of marking etc, then I can understand that as I have been in a similar position. I tried the nicey nicey approach. I brought cake to meetings. I made jokes to lighten the mood. I offered to help with their work load to give them more time to focus on what I wanted them to change. When that didn't work, I talked to them frankly about my concerns and showed them written proof that my marking was accurate and theirs was wildly inaccurate. I held moderation meetings where other members of staff pointed out the inaccurate marking (without me prompting them) so this staff member could see it wasn't just me with a vendetta. When THAT didn't work, I had to escalate to my line manager, keep a record of all the advice and interventions I had done, all the emails I had sent, all the support I had given. When THAT didn't work we escalated to the head teacher. She still refused to cooperate and eventually she left. I know I was doing the right thing for the students. It made me feel **** at the time but she was a nightmare.

    Also when I came in as a HOD in an established department there were a lot of things I wanted to change, but I made it clear that I would give it a year of trying things 'their way' to see what it was like. It made them feel like I was respecting their established ways of working, but making it clear I was thinking of changing things so they had a year to prepare mentally. I made the changes after a year and was able to clearly justify it then. But that was simply was exam board and topics we would teach. If it was something I thought was having an existing negative effect on students I might be more tempted to change things quicker.
  8. meggyd

    meggyd Lead commenter

    Exactly. Are they seriously all inadequate teachers? I would focus on what the department does well too. Surely there is something. Whenever I have trained people I have always found things I could learn from the lowliest learner teacher. If you go in suggesting they need to change everything immediately, well yes they will be difficult.
  9. Skeoch

    Skeoch Star commenter

    Leadership, command and management are different things and need different approaches.
  10. meggyd

    meggyd Lead commenter

  11. Skeoch

    Skeoch Star commenter

    That seems to be the approach most complained about on this forum!
  12. tb9605

    tb9605 Established commenter

    You're right, there's nothing wrong with being old fashioned in of itself - I was just trying to establish context, so that the original poster could judge whether or not my suggestions were relevant to their setting.

    Mine is a new department - that is to say it has never existed before in the school I'm in. Plus, three (out of 5) staff are new to the school, and two are not specialists in this subject area. So there were no existing departmental systems in place, nor were the staff who were already there used to sharing plans or best practise.
  13. MonalisaVito

    MonalisaVito New commenter

    Think my thread was lost in translation. The offer of team teaching was the member of staff had never been timetabled to teach at that level and was digging in their heels not to do it. The offer of team teaching was only for the first term as a means of helping them setttle-no other reason. With regards to the others....
  14. dts

    dts Occasional commenter

    Ok - what is still not entirely clear is whether you are talking about several members of staff, or only one, using "they" to avoid giving their gender.

    It's quite possible that a single member of staff is being difficult and unreasonably refusing to carry out tasks, etc. There are some good ideas above but if they are really digging in their heels and you have tried the supportive approach, you may need to become more directive - this might well involve asking for support from SLT.

    If you are actually talking about your whole department, then it is still possible that they are all being unreasonable, but much more likely is that as a new HoD you have allowed yourself to get a bit carried away and are asking for more than is reasonable.
  15. MonalisaVito

    MonalisaVito New commenter

    It is only one member of staff that is being like this, the rest are all great. SLT tried to get this same member of staff to teach at said level before I came to the school and had severe resistance and as a result allowed them not to teach it. It feels a bit like that im being used as a scape goat since getting the job as there was no success with the approach SLT used. Should have mentioned that they applied for the job and didn’t get it, so can understand them being standoffish and upset.
  16. muso2

    muso2 Occasional commenter Community helper

    Post 5 seems like a useful strategy, as it presents it as a win win situation, that they gain something from as well. Presumably, if they applied for your job, they have ambition, and will need the skills to be able to teach the new thing they have been timetabled to teach (if it's something that exists at other schools). If they are not keen on the idea of team teaching, and I've got to say that I'm not a fan (roles too unclear, risk of treading on others' toes with their class, unless it's really well organised), then could you ask them what they feel they need in order to be able to teach it? Could they observe another colleague teaching it or plan together with you or another person who teaches it initially? Or visit another school where it is taught, and come back and share good practice with the dept. If there is someone in addition to you and this person, that may help 'dilute' the atmosphere and make it less personal.
  17. Mrs Grumpy

    Mrs Grumpy New commenter

    You are in a tough situation, but it's happened to many of us that we've had to work "with" - i.e. direct, a teacher who has lost out to us at a job interview. Take a bit of time to think from their point of view. A new broom comes sweeping in, and wants to change everything?? Examine what structures etc there are in place, and with your department, evaluate and see how you can all move on. Use this other member of staff's expertise if you can, and admit it if you think you might have jumped in a bit too soon. I agree, post 5 has it about right. Good luck.
    Flere-Imsaho likes this.
  18. jago123

    jago123 Established commenter

    It is a tough situation you are in and you will get resilience from colleagues that have worked in the same workplace for years. You are their line manager, you’ve got to ensure that they have confidence in you leading them, and if they have that confidence then they won’t show that ‘resilience’.
  19. rehaank

    rehaank Occasional commenter

    Being firm, occasionally harsh but fair. It is my responsibility to guide my teachers and equally it is their duty to respect my decisions and work with me! Stick with what you believe and move this forward - obviously appreciate what they are saying and create a constant dialogue between all of you but it is your say in the end.

    Having been HOD for over 12 long, hard years i've gone through many difficult staff members. When i joined i was the youngest and not really taken seriously but they soon realised i was committed and determined. I put forward my new and 'bizarre' teaching practises (which seem to be the norm now!), research on mindest, metacognitive practises (this was ahead of its time back then) etc etc but i enforced my vision and those that didn't seem to take to it were challenged against it, but again i stood my ground and made this work.

    And it has, and i am really proud of my department!
  20. Snoop_dogg

    Snoop_dogg New commenter


    I can totally relate to this post. I too was in a very similar situation 18months ago and I’m amazed that I stuck it out. This forum and others like it will provide you with a sounding board for you to ask questions and learn from their experiences. It’s unfortunate that the individual that went for the job is being difficult but I can understand that they are upset but they still need to remain professional and if he/she cannot do that then you do have a problem on your hands. I had one member of staff who was very obstructive to anything that I suggested and tried to implement. Fortunately I had the backing of the rest of the department which made things bearable. I think using performance reviews (performance manage)as a way of motivating and giving some responsibility to the individuals within the department whilst making them accountable would be a good starting point.
    Hang on in there. It does get easier but I don’t envy you!
    wassurfbabe likes this.

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