LEADERSHIP & SUPERVISION RESOURCE CENTER
School site administrators admit that in their districts, the number of teachers who receive an unsatisfactory performance rating can be counted on one hand, with several fingers spared. So, an average of 25 percent of teachers nationwide have some need for performance improvement, but do not receive an evaluation that reflects that. Therefore, no improvement occurs.
Attrition in the teaching profession is challenging, with 8% of teachers leaving the profession every year. In addition nearly 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years.
Implement Continuous Feedback
Giving meaningful, supervisory feedback to all your employees on a continuous basis through opening a constructive, non-threatening dialog with each of them is a learned skill. Such communication takes the form of a well-thought-out conversation that is structured in a way that builds trust, respect and mutual understanding, and that leads to the growth of both parties. The conversation needs to clearly communicate the facts of the situation being discussed, what the positive or negative impact of the situation is, and most importantly, the context in which the situation exists. The discussion will end with some type of action for growth, which could be as simple as asking for an update on the situation by a specific date.
Learning how to structure these conversations for growth is at the heart of the McGrath SUCCEED with Communication, Supervision, Evaluation and Leadership training. The SUCCEED continuous feedback model takes the fear and trepidation out of the supervisory process, goal setting, and performance review discussion. It is a non-confrontational, non-hostile method of sharing information that produces employee accountability through agreed upon actions.
It is far too easy to blame the lack of effective communication between teachers and administrators on the union. Such finger pointing at the protections of tenure as the “reason” that evaluations aren’t honest and that constructive communication is often absent is a cop out. The right and the RESPONSIBILITY to effectively communicate and develop teachers reside with the school administrators. They need to use this supervisory power soon or lose it to an increased scope of collective bargaining that will render the school administrator irrelevant to the quality of teacher performance and student achievement.
Pleased and Confused
What would happen in your school if you suddenly started providing detailed constructive communication, verbally and in writing, to employees when they deserve recognition? They’d undoubtedly be pleased and confused, given that most teachers have not received anything in writing complimenting their work, other than through the evaluation process once every so many years. Respect for your professionalism would increase tremendously.
In the education environment, communication about performance—especially written communication—is usually reserved for “bad things,” or for formal observations and summative evaluations. Except to address the worst transgressions, employees rarely receive any written communication about their successes, or even minor shortcomings for that matter. When written communication does come it is automatically thought to be disciplinary in nature, yet nothing is further from the truth.
Records of employee growth are distinct in tone and content from records of discipline, even when they are in writing. Records of growth document discussions and agreements between a supervisor and employee as they work together toward enhancing the employee’s skills and value to the district.
Following the McGrath FICA communication method embodied in the SUCCEED with Communication, Supervision, Evaluation and Leadership program, these records include:
Determining the Facts;
Discussing any associated Impacts of those facts;
Placing the identified facts and impacts in Context; and
Weighing the Facts, Impact and Context to arrive at the next appropriate Action to help the employee grow.
Tone and Word Choice
Written records of employee growth use the principles of constructive communication feedback, which include:
avoiding adjectives and opinions,
keeping the tone professional and nonjudgmental,
setting expectations clearly,
determining measurable goals and timelines, and
providing information in a timely fashion.
By documenting the positive contributions of employees, as well as creating records of employee growth, you are building trust and enhancing the integrity of your employee relationships. Employees will respect your supervisory skills as you address the performance issues that are apparent to everyone, but that go unchecked because of our natural fear of confrontation.
Consistent constructive communication will allow 99 percent of your “problem” employees to self-correct or self-select out of your district. When you have to go to the mat with the less than 3% percent that cannot or will not improve, you will have legally fit documentation to do battle before the tenure commission or in a court of law, if necessary.
Most importantly, your records of growth and success will provide that much needed boost to the majority of your effective employees who work selflessly on behalf of our students. You will be amazed at the enhancement of your employees’ job satisfaction and the culture and climate of the workplace when you take the time to acknowledge success in writing on a regular basis.
Grounds and procedures for dismissing employees who are tenured, civil servants or otherwise protected by strong bargaining units are set forth in state statutes and bargaining agreements. The most common reasons for dismissal are:
violation of administrative policies or procedures or refusal to follow them,
conviction of a felony, and
alcoholism or drug abuse.
Incompetence must be proven by a pattern of conduct rather than one single instance of behavior. The charge of incompetence can be proven using observations prepared by evaluators over the period of time in question, as well as through summary evaluations.
Other types of evidence that can be submitted in a termination proceeding are reports, charts, and other documentary information related to the job. In teacher dismissal cases, such documentation may include lesson plans, tests and quizzes taken by students, homework assignments, and classroom assignments.
Evidence and testimony of clients, parents or coworkers can also be important. It is essential, if client or community complaints are going to be relied upon, that the employee was made aware of the complaint when it was received by the administration and was given an opportunity to respond to it at that time.
“Hidden” complaints that are lumped together and then dumped on the employee are often excluded by hearing officers on the basis that the employee did not know of the information and did not have an opportunity to respond to it at the time it was received by the administration. This failure to notify an employee of a complaint and to provide the supporting information results in a disadvantage to the employee who must attempt to explain his or her behavior after the fact. Many jurisdictions routinely exclude any such evidence, whether it be a parent complaint, a memorandum prepared by administration or any other item disclosed in an untimely manner.
The most important factor in proving incompetency is to show that the individual was specifically notified of the deficient areas, provided a remediation plan by his or her supervisor, and given the assistance and time needed to correct these inadequacies in job performance.
More than in any other case, when a termination is based on incompetency, the supervisor’s effectiveness and credibility are at issue. Ongoing documentation of the supervision and evaluation provided by the supervisor should not only reflect a thorough, systematic process, but also compassion and helpfulness in the attempts that were made to improve the employee’s performance.
Too often when an employee is performing poorly, action is not initiated until the community gets up in arms and starts besieging the agency administration or governing board. At that point, everybody scrambles. The community will not be appeased by half measures, and yet the dismissal an employee who is protected by virtue of a union contract, civil service regulations and/or tenure is not accomplished overnight.
When the “incompetency” issue comes to light, past evaluations of that employee will be reviewed. It usually surprises no one that those evaluations may indicate satisfactory performance. However, those satisfactory ratings do not reflect the reality of the employee’s performance. Rather, they reflect the atmosphere of expediency that makes it preferable to mark an employee “satisfactory” and avoid dealing with the union and the employee about an unsatisfactory evaluation. The satisfactory rating also could signify a lack of training and/or competence on the part of the supervisor.
This lack of competence is due in large measure to a failure by public agencies to make the task of employee evaluation a priority. Organizational leaders need to ensure money and resources for staff development on evaluation skills and to allocate time to the site administrator or manager to perform the function properly.
If done haphazardly, employee termination can turn into a nasty, bloody affair in which everybody loses. Other employees will close ranks around a colleague whom they feel is being unfairly treated, even though they may recognize that person is not doing well in the job. This creates tremendous conflicts for the professional who is committed to providing excellent public service but is unwilling to have the rights of employees shortchanged.
This unnecessary conflict can be avoided when documentation and evaluation are done thoroughly and fairly. Colleagues won’t have to choose sides, and frequently the struggling employee will be counseled by his or her association to “move on.”