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HELP - I have an Interview with a member of staff who is underperforming - what do I do?

Discussion in 'Headteachers' started by januarygirl, Nov 16, 2008.

  1. I am a new head and have a member of staff who is underperforming. I am due to meet with her next week. I need some help with what to say etc. Any advice appreciated!

  2. I am a new head and have a member of staff who is underperforming. I am due to meet with her next week. I need some help with what to say etc. Any advice appreciated!

  3. Before we start, if you haven't talked to this teacher, how do you know they are failing/underperforming. Is a formal interview the corrrect approach? Have you exen talked to the person in question?

    Before you do anything, i'd suggest that you have a look at some of the bullying threads. Is this member of staff really underperforming or are/have you simply been lead to believe they are underperforming? Are they being set up? What about their previous history? What is happenning that might have caused underperformance? A lot should have been done prior to any formal interview. Most importantly, do not simply accept what you have been told assuming it to be true or wellmeaning - good trusting people who assume that they are good judges of character are the easiest to manipulate and decieve.
    Is the person / people who are making the claims have anything to gain if this person is destroyed. I am saying destroyed, due to your inexperience, it is probable that you might be being used by someone to damage the apparently failing teacher. Importantly, is anyone claiming to be under stress or something similar and blaming the apparently underperformer? This'looking for pity' aspect is a classic indicator of a bully at work grooming an inexperienced senior. You get the idea, you are flattered by them, they more or less tell you what you should do, it is explained to you the benefit that will be gained by 'sorting this person' and in the passing you might be told that carrying this person is affecting the tellers health.
    Obviously, there are variations.
    Other things to look for are patterns like
    High staff turnover at any level / department
    Being told that individuals or groups are carp
    People using flattery to gain favour / trust.
    Cliques / sectecy / isolated people / polarization of staff.

    Further, why did the outgoing head not 'deal' with this issue - have you been told they were incompetent too?
    It all sounds OTT i know, unfortunately all too often its not. To often nowadays, inexperienced people are promoted into positions of power over others whey they have neither the training nor life experience to do the job correctly. Often their inexperience combined with their own self belief that they are very good make them excellent henchmen for bullies to control. The 'good people' who are promoted to be used have no reason to look beyond the obvious and are easily manipulated.
    Take care - clearly all the above might not apply here, but for some reading - it might provide some insight.
    Alternate answers to the OP will obviously look at support that can be offered in the first instance. If you go that route, please make sure it is real support - actions not simply empty promises or words alone.

    <h3>Is there a point when the road has finally been reached for failing teachers?</h3>
    <h3>Are all HT's aware of their 'special responsibility'</h3>
    <h3>Workplace Bullying in Schools - Good teachers are most at risk - links</h3>
    <h3>Once upon
    a time there was this brilliant teacher who seems to have lost the
    plot. - The rumours that he wasn't coping must be true.
    </h3>Regardless of what turns out to be the reality in this case, all HT's should read, understand and communicate the content of these threads to their staff.

  4. littlerussell

    littlerussell New commenter

    What an unhelpful response a19pb.

    While I agree with your comments regarding the existence of bullying in schools, there is no reason to assume that januarygirl is being "set up" by the resident bully. There are many reasons why she might have decided that the teacher's performance is unacceptable.

    You clearly have very strong opinions regarding the promotion of staff well-being & the way in which staff are treated. So I'm guessing that you would be the ideal person to suggest some ways to deal with the situation which provide a way forward for the staff member concerned without her feeling bullied by the situation.

    That would be a lot more constructive than questioning her judgement on whether this teacher is unsatisfactory.
  5. From my experience of how bullies operate, a bully in mid management will create barriers in communication between a person they have chosen to target/manipulate (for whatever reason) and the senior managment. Its easily done - the bully simply tells the target that its not their place to talk to the big boss, that's his/her job. The target doesn't even realise they are a target and complies with the instruction not wanting to undermine / dissobey their boss and often are still trying to gain acknowledgment for achievment/ recognition of their worth. At the same time, the boss is told via innuendo that the bully is having some staff problems but doesn't require intervention from the boss. THe boss doesn't get involved and again might not even be aware the bully is actually not the efficient manager/leader they pretend to be. The boss will be further decieved when they hear that the bully is doing all they can to support the target to be. (I say 'target to be' as while they are being controlled and looking for recognition and not realising they are being bullied, they are useful to the bully as it is them who does all the work while the bully 'always creates the impression to all that they have so much to do and are exhausted/overworked (poor me - looks for pity) but actually does very little).
    Eventually, the target might challenge the bully which can lead to involvment of the boss either informally or formally but the impression / the boss has of the target is false. It can be the total opposite of reality. Excellent competent people can be regarded by the boss as incompetent even while they are doing excellent work for which the bully in the middle steals credit.
    For you to suggest my post is unhelpful, might seem reasonable if it weren't for the disordered individuals who do operate by stealth in many schools. The ignorance of how to identify them amongst otherwise intellegent and even streetwise people above as well as below them,allows them to get away with manipulating and damaging others while creating a hostile environment which would not otherwise exist over and over again.
    My reason for posting here is not to 'bash SMT' or to suggest that every case of apparent incompetence implies that a bully in the midst. Its all about raising awareness of what does happen and why people like the OP and with respect possibly yourself might not think look beyond the obvious or the account of events from someone they think is honest but actually is not.
    No offence or implied incompetence was / is intended - I don't do that, I need people like yourself to come onboard and to share what you learn with your staff.
    Re the more obvious advice requested, support, set targets / success criteria etc, i thought that others might be forthcoming.
    One obvious response might be to invoke capability proceedings - Clearly the OP will already understand that even the suggestion will itself be potentiallly very damaging to any teacher and would cause severe stress which in turn could destroy an individual and their family. Capability proceedings, are a bullies dream, they enjoy watching good people being destroyed while they themselves pretend to support or add fuel to the fire. The risk of injustice is high. Is it worth the risk, or is a strictly supportive restorative and caring approach more appropriate at least in the first instance.

  6. a19pb... I actually find the way you go into an "attack" mode to be a form of bullying. I believe you have had a bad experience and I fully understand what it feels like to be bullied. I have been there, done that and have the blood stained t-shirt to prove it.
    However, as a HT, I also have to deal with teachers who are underperforming and like any good HT, I make sure my judgements are based on my own evidence and not the hear say of other people.

    Now, for advice. Please make sure that you have the evidence to support the underperformance judgement. Consider the steps you will follow to support the teacher to help him/her reach the proper standard of teaching. Have another person in as a witness to the meeting who is taking notes so that there is no mistake to what is said for either person. Be supportive but firm. At the end of the day, if the children under the care of this teacher is not making proper amount of progress it is the children who are losing out on an education. You can't recoup those days. Once they are gone, they are gone.

    Good luck!

  7. Summert.. -- On the other hand, to describe what is my well intended and informed points of view as 'attack mode' suggests aggression on your part which to some might be distressing. For you to make assumptions that i have had a bad experience is at best unhelpful and adds nothing to the discussion. What was your intention? Was it invallidation? You say you have been bullied & have the T shirt. Is that the real situation? Was the bully dealt with effectively? Or are you simply suggesting that you have credentials as a previous target and therefore against bullying in all shapes and forms. It certainly dropped my guard (not). Have you done a workplace bullying awareness programme in your school? Is the Dignity at Work policy (or its equivelent) well read documents by all your staff? Or do you simply assume that your staff don't need to understand about how to recognise bullying behaviours? Remember, its actions that count and make a difference, not words.

    Re your advice, who would you suggest was the 'Other person' ? Another manager presumably? Fair and transparent or intimidating for an already vulnerable for whatever reason teacher. Is that the way you support teachers who you have been lead to believe are underperforming. Good managers can at least at the outset, provide real support without a formal meeting like you are proposing.

    While you say that your judgments are based on your own evidence,and not on hearsay, I'd suggest that many busy HT's assume that the people in the management chain below them are 100% trustworthy and accept their word that someone who works for them is underperforming - they may even as them to collect evidence. If someone is an acomplished bully, they will have falsly gained the trust of the HT. Thats all part of the game. To them, it is a game.
    Again, you might incorrectly describe this as 'attack' mode. It is not. It is simply a vehicle to highlight to some that what seems obvious often is not and to help them realise that there is lot to learn and great benefit for all if workplace bulling is properly addressed. The apparently underperformermight actually be being severely bullied and not even realise it. The underperformance might be real but might also have been engineered.

    Finally, you say that children suffer. To an extent that is true. To suggest that they will not catch up is missleading. I'd suggest that children are much more resilliant than you suggest and that the performance of the teacher has much less influence in the big picture than you suggest.
  8. a19pb. Will you stop highjacking threads to pontificate to us all from your morale high ground? You shouldn't be concerned about pyschological injuries caused from bullying, but physically hurting yourself should you fall from your soapbox.

    OP, Summertimedreams makes sense as usual, follow the advice. I would add 'treat people as you would have them treat you'. Here endeth the semon.
  9. SIP - What are your credentials that give you the right or reason to talk about 'Highjacking' of threads or to tell me and by implication others reading this that i/they shouldn't be concerned about psychological injuries caused by bullying. Summert suggests he has been through the mill and out the other side, surely your comment might be offensive to him?.

    Workplace bullying in schools could be described as psychological terrorism. It is a serious issue and the end game often involved bullies suggesting incompetence on their target and engineering proceedings. If they manipulate a colleague to make a complaint then have the boss go through the motions of expediting the target's demise then the bully at the centre of it all can remain squeaky clean.
    Once again, my interest is well intentioned and I am confident that to some of the decent HT's and senior management will provide some insight. That is not suggesting that that I am the only person who either knows or is willing to share this perspective but simply that some people who should know currently don't.
    Finally, as regards your reference to the moral high ground - that suggests that you would rather people did not understand about bullying in the workplace. That mindset is often encouraged by the worst offenders. THey suggest that staff should rely on them for their wellbeing - Not a wise move, it is much better if all staff are trained and work together to create a healthy environment.
    It would be nice to hear from the OP.

  10. I wonder if everyone would still feel like this if it was him/her who was about to have this meeting with the Head?

    Wouldn't you want the Head to be well informed and have done some of their own background research?
  11. My experience....

    1st time in my 1st job. HT would walk in and tell me that I was doing things wrong in front of my class. I was not supported by her when children went to her to complain that I was making them do too much and told me I HAD to do afterschool/weekend clubs or I would be breaking my contract. Thus, at this point I made myself well informed about my rights and responsibilities. End result was that she left and I stayed. She was moved to higher places.

    2nd time when I had been teaching for 16 years. This was by the HT and a lower member of the SLT (She was after my job.) I was at complete odds with regards to the ethos and how to treat children. I stuck out like a sore thumb. 1st I was pulled because I apparently couldn't teach. I requested an outside assessor to come in and observe me. Was given an Outstanding with accelerated progress proven by child assessments. Then I was told that my assessments must be incorrect. So, requested an outside moderator for assessments. They said my assessments were spot on. I knew my rights and I knew how things had to progress and I knew how to keep myself safe. End result, I moved on to a place where I was happier and it has made me a more compassionate HT.

    So, I DO know what I am talking about and I KNOW there are some bad HTs out there. However, that IS a minority!

    I keep myself well informed about my responsibilities and the responsibilities of others. I make decisions for myself about the capability of the teaching staff. I also always get outside sources to come into school to make sure my decision is fair. I DO NOT take a decision lightly. I also call people on who I feel are getting even close to bullying behaviour. (I have just done this in the last few weeks.)

    As for as the children, I stand by what I said. Yes, children may be resilent. I don't deny that. However, should they HAVE to play catch up for a year of incompetent teaching? THAT is NOT fair and I won't stand by it. This is the future of our world we hold in our hands and they MUST be handled with care.

    With that, it is the last I will say on this matter.

  12. Keighleigh

    Keighleigh New commenter

    God, I think that person must be on drugs or something! Totally crazy!

    • Do your research

    • Have evidence if you can

    • If you can find good that they are doing, mention it

    • Be clear about what you want and make sure that they are clear

    • Have someone else take notes

    • Follow it up in writing if necessary

    • The needs of the children MUST come first
    Have you done NPQH, similar kind of scenario there? I'm not a Head but think you have the right to challenge underperformance. I'm sure this can be done without bullying. Treat people how you want to be treated.

    Good Luck, let us know how you get on.
  13. Summert - Thanks for sharing that - A few points
    In your first instance - the bully was promoted - the bully won. Had they not been moved up, could you have effectively challenged them or would you have been squashed for trying?

    In the second, even as a senior member of staff, you were squashed between presumably two bullies in what sounds like a 'hostile' environment. Fortunately you were able enough (and young enough) to move on. On the second occassion it seems that it was suggested that you were underperforming and had you not been self confident enough to both recognise and challenge, then you could have been destroyed. Presumably the bullies survived and thrived feeding on the work done by other competent people.
    What you survived twice might have destroyed other equally competent but less aware teachers and their demise would have involved 'innocents' above and below being decieved by the spin from the bullies at the source.
    Often people being targetted don't have any realistic option to move on - they are trapped by circumstance, the need for a favourable HT report and possibly age or health. THe longer they work in the hostile environment, the worse will be their prospects. You were fortunate on both occassions, each time becoming older and wiser.
    Of the three schools you make reference to, my understanding is that two had bullying HT's and one of these two also had a second bully on the SMT. Even in your current position where i believe you do care for your staff you make reference to nipping bullying behaviours in the bud and I think by implication that less aware HT's than yourself might not do the same. MY point is, even based on your own experience, bullying in schools is not rare and that the higher they are in an organisation, the more damage they cause.
    How do they get the jobs?, Why are they not called to account especially when the evidence exists to suggest they are serial offenders?
    I'm not here to score points - The evidence of problems and lack of awareness are everywhere. It is time that good people like yourself who are in positions to influence others became more proactive in rolling out workplace bullying awareness programme so that more people can counter bullies and can ,like yourself,survive and thrive after being targeted.
    Re the OP / title -- this discussion is very relevant.

  14. Keighleigh re your :-

    'God, I think that person must be on drugs or something! Totally crazy!'

    Could you expand on your reasoning for making such an invallidating statement ?

    This is an important thread which highlights how intellegent people can easily miss what should be obvious to them. How much time is spent in teaching headteachers how bullying actually operates? I imagine no time at all. Thats one of the main reasons that good headteachers miss the signs that they are being bullied from below. If they can't look after themselves, how can we have confidence that they can look after their staff?
    The OP in this case is looking for help - Like you and others, i've done my best to provide relevant help.
    Your invallidation suggests that you might also benefit from reading about the reality of workplace bullying rather than being so convinced that you already know and understand the subject.

  15. How many teachers do the participants in this thread know who were dismissed or even disciplined for underperforming?

    Chances are the underperforming (or "underperforming") teacher will contact their union and the school will get lucky if they don't have to pay out compensation for bullying. Don't pick battles you can't win...
  16. Hi Jan

    I am joining this discussion rather late, I know, and I imagine that your interview with the teacher in question has faded in your memory now.

    It sounds to me as though, as a new Head, you have inherited a system which is not set up to support you in your role, and that you have not been given the necessary preparation to handle these difficult, sensitive situations.

    My advice would be: enrol on a school management course asap, where you will be challenged to think about your new role and will be given some tools with which to cope. As a school leader, one of the most important resources is a "critical friend" off whom to bounce your ideas - a management course is a great place to find one! Look also at the NCSL website, and visit your local bookshop: there are many good titles directed at school leaders, though all their titles escape me at the moment.

    The IoE in London runs some excellent post grad courses, for the long-term ...


  17. impis

    impis New commenter

    I think <font color="#00a560">a19pb</font> makes some very valid points and it is only right that HTs should be made aware. He/she is not having a dig at SMT at any level - only informing about how bullies work.

    Opinions vary - in all things. Including the judgement of performance. While I agree that there are under achieving teachers, I have never known any of them to come under scrutiny - mainly because they are able to talk the talk, or can blag their ways out of trouble. On the other hand, I have seen lots of great teachers crumple due to unwarranted critisism.

    I am impressed that here, at least, a Head teacher is being made aware of possibilities. The OP, don't forget, is new to the post, and therefore has to rely on what they are being told, to a degree.
  18. oldsomeman

    oldsomeman Star commenter

    I was a teacher challanged by incompetency.
    |The head started by walking into my class after an ofstead and demanding my resignation because i had got a poor....even offered to pay me till end of term if i left immediately.Imagine being landed out of the blue with out warning, after dinner when your getting ready to teach your kids .

    I refused then he said i woudl be put on competency if i didnt....he assumed a conversation in the room was sufficient to start the proceeding immediately.My, did he have a lot to learn..and i believed it was bullying because he then chose all ways to have a go at me.

    Despite my union and myself fighting I was set impossible targets and although i meet them they then found more..........and a fat lot of good the advisors were.they sided with the head.
    I have to say that since then i have meet teachers who indeed are underachieving and far worse than anything i was accused off!
    Sufficient to say in the end i left as the pressure was putting my health at risk.i never did win, and never would as the head was determined i was going out,,,,,,,,,,And yes he did destroy my self confidence and belief in myself as a teacher..that has taken years to gain back.When i go to schools as a supply im usually asked back and have high standings in my role as a supply.This very same head had been pushing me for D/H posts only the week before. and wanting me to go though the threshold barrier.which i was preparing for.
    So yes i am one othem bullied ones...........but i never will be again.


  19. Luckily for me their are good headteacher out their and I am honoured to be working for one!

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