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Dealing with Difficult Teachers

by Todd Whitaker

Laura Roberts

on 25 June 2013

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Transcript of Dealing with Difficult Teachers

Second Edition
Dealing with Difficult Teachers
The Principal and
the Difficult Teacher
Difficult Teachers
Making Difficult
Teachers Uncomfortable
with the
Difficult Teacher
the Influence
of Difficult Teachers
The Role
of New Faculty
Difficult Teachers
General Tips
and Guidelines
by Todd Whitaker
What is a Difficult Teacher?
Three Kinds of Teachers
The Role of the Principal
Looking for the Good Part -
Sometimes You Have to Squint
Public Versus Private Praising
Uncomfortable is Good
Empowering the Good Guys
The Teachers' Lounge
and Other Challenges
Teachers Must Accept Responsibility
Approach Them When You Are Ready
The Best Teacher, Worst Teacher Test
Focus on Eliminating the Behaviors
No More Party Poopers!
Sometimes You Have to Shuffle the Deck
What About the New Kids?
New Teacher Leadership
Where Do I Start?
Retirement and Other Miracles
How Can I Stop Them from Sending
So Many Students to the Office?
If all Else Fails -
General Tips, Guidelines, & Reminders
Easing the Guilt
It is a great day when a difficult teacher leaves a school.

When even one negative staff member exits, the school dynamics can change completely.

Although this section includes some information regarding formal dismissal of difficult teachers, it centers around many alternative methods of eliminating ineffective staff members.

Focus on the End Goal
if you want to eliminate certain
behaviors you don't have to eliminate
the teacher - just the behavior

Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe
if you have several ineffective staff members you need to figure out where to start, identify the staff member with the least support
When a difficult teacher retires it is like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!
Being aware of when your difficult people are eligible to retire is important. But realize they might not retire when eligible.

The principal can assist teachers into making a decision to retire earlier than they might choose independently.

With difficult teachers it seems as though they retired years ago, they just have not notified anyone of it.
Building Transfer
Try to avoid "the dance of the lemon"
Sometimes a transfer can be effective is a person has become too comfortable and too powerful

Discontinuing a Program
Addition by subtraction may be one way to look at it
Examine the pros and cons of losing any program if other approaches can change the staff members behavior
Dismissal of a difficult teacher should be a final alternative, because of the time involved. The bottom line, however, is that we cannot allow difficult teachers to continue to work with our students.
Nonrenewal of Probationary Teachers
Documenting in order to dismiss a tenured
teacher may be long and arduous
Denying contract renewal of a probationary
teacher is often more challenging emotionally
than it is procedurally burdensome

Dismissal of Tenured Teachers
Falls into three categories:
1. incompetence
2. insubordination
3. immorality

Although difficult teachers probably bring incompetence to mind, attempting to prove this should be your third option, if either of the others are possible.

Documentation - An Essential Element
The best way to document is to be factual and objective
in your report.
Many schools have one or two staff members who send 25 to 50% of all the students who are sent to the office for disciplinary reasons. In most cases the students have committed minor infractions.

The time drain on the principal is damaging and costly.

Keep in mind that the majority of teachers who "nickel and dime" students regularly have poor relations with parents .

A rule of thumb for educational leaders is that they should never feel defensive. If you do, it may be because they or teachers are doing something wrong.
Steps 1
Require that the difficult teacher contact parents before sending students to the office

Explain that a call from the teacher is more effective because the teacher is asking for the parent's assistance - not establishing negative initial contact regarding a punishment.

Steps 2
Offer teachers a script to work with:

"Mrs Johnson , I was wondering if I could get your help on something. Jimmy has forgotten a pencil three times in the last week. I was not sure if you were aware of this, but I wanted to request your assistance before he ends up falling behind in class or before the office has to get involved. Could I get your help in visiting with him and making sure that he leaves for school prepared?
Your assistance would greatly
be appreciated."
Steps 3
Sometimes setting the expectation to
contact parents will not cause them to stop
the parade of students to the office.

You can use their resistance to contact parents
to your advantage.

Start by treating them as though they are doing what is right. Ask the teacher what the parent said when called. The teacher will probably offer an excuse as to why they couldn't call.

Set up an appointment to meet with the teacher during their planning period. When the teacher shows up have the parents phone number.

Again ask if the teacher spoke with the parent.
If not, mention that you have the number,
call it and hand the phone
over to the teacher.
Deciding when to first approach a difficult staff member is a challenge.
If they know you are aware of it, they know you accept it

Take time to decide on a strategy so you can approach the teacher professionally and effectively

Never argue or raise your voice with a difficult teacher

Arguing is unprofessional and offers poor role modeling.

Hope they run out and tell their peers

If you consistently work with difficult teachers in a professional manner, then you have no reason to be concerned with what these staff members tell their peers.

The "word of mouth" information may alter the behavior of their negative peers.

Use a shotgun approach

When dealing with difficult teachers, remember that each is different. Feel free to use a combination of approaches simultaneously. Make them uncomfortable, reduce their influence on other staff, continually attempt to motivate them, always be aware of opportunities to eliminate them, etc.
Remember, that the difficult teachers in your school have long been thorns in the sides of your positive staff.
Should you feel guilty?

Dealing with difficult teachers is never enjoyable.

We are all caring people.

There is no doubt that the great concern we have for others is one of the reasons we have chosen to devote our lives to education.

Remember as principal your goal has to be to do what is best for the students.

You should only feel guilty if you do not.

Nothing is more damaging to a school than a negative teacher leader.

One who resists is harmful, but one who resists and recruits others is catastrophic.
Brown Nosing Back Stabber - willing to help, be in the know so they have the knowledge to influence peers (won't express directly to the leader)

Town Crier - publicly argues against any possible change (resistant and wants everyone to know it)

Stay-at-Home and Saboteurs - resist change insufficient confidence to alter what they are currently doing, very little leadership and associate with saboteurs/fight school improvement by almost any means - play devil's advocate (most vocal and belligerent)

the Dynamics -
Dealing with Negative Leaders
Don't argue or get into a power struggle
They will always disagree with any new concept
Don't draw a line in the sand
They can't lead without followers
Develop as many opportunities/scenarios for the followers to become connected to more positive staff (It limits the impact and influence of negative leaders)
Break Up
the Group
Reduce the number of followers
Work with negative leaders one at a time
(They are less comfortable and less likely to resist change if they are alone.)
The Power
of Pity
Feeling of pity for the cynical, bitter, and negative
No one wants to follow someone they pity
Guest Speakers
They can use specific examples that
apply to your staff
They help others see the ineffectiveness of a negative leader
Change room location

Adjusting conference period/planning time

Switching grade level

If you miss a little, you miss a lot
(make some meetings voluntary: you choose not to attend, then you miss information and are not a part of the decision making process)
New teachers can be powerful tools in improving schools

Critical for principal to provide guidance and structure to insure new faculty members have the greatest positive impact and are never influenced by the negative teachers
Two ways to improve your schools:
1. Improve the teachers you have

2. Hire better teachers

Should be more interested in the school becoming like the new teacher

Cultivate the new teachers to be positive leaders and superstars in the shortest time possible

Make sure new staff members become members of the positive faculty

Mentoring programs

New staff orientation
6 Areas that cause you to label teachers as difficult:

1. Classroom Behavior
2. Staff Influence
3. Public Perception
4. Resistance to Change
5. Dampen Enthusiasm / Damage Climate
6. Parade of Students to the Office

Superstars = (3-10%) parents request them, respected by all faculty

Backbones = (80-90%) heart of faculty, good solid teachers

Mediocres = mostly difficult teachers

For a school to be Productive and Satisfying:
Must have a positive school learning climate
A principal who supports the climate
Study of more effective vs. less effective schools:
Leadership of the schools
Climate of the schools
Find something that even the most difficult teachers do well and work with that.
Develop a Weekly staff Memo that works
communicate logistical information about upcoming activities and provide a calendar of events.
be used as a staff development tool.
used as a motivational tool
be used as a planning tool to assist staff.
Approach is everything
Never raise your voice, use sarcasm, or treat difficult teachers rudely.
You do not have to prove who is in charge
Also, never argue with difficult teachers, they are better at it than you.
Give Difficult Teachers Responsibility
You cannot always put the additional responsibilities on you superstars. (burn them out)
Give them responsibilities that make them get involved with other peers.
Have difficult teachers work with superstars.
It puts pressure on them to step up.
Praise in Front of a Superior
A good way to motivate difficult teachers is to praise them in front of the supt.
Effective private praise should be:
Authentic: you are genuinely praising people

Specific: you can let teachers know what their good qualities are

Immediate: the more immediate the
praise the more effective it will be

Clean: praise that is offered without qualifiers or provisions

Private: most praise should be in private
Public Praise can be used with difficult staff, but should be done only in rare occasions.
If difficult teachers never feel uncomfortable, they will never change
Ineffective teachers can not come to work and feel happy with their job performance
Ineffective teachers will probably never quit
Allowing an ineffective teacher to feel comfortable gives them permission to continue
Raising Discomfort Levels
Empowering the good guys
Raising their interpersonal intelligence level
Using effective approaches at faculty meetings and reducing negativity in the teachers’ workroom
Making teachers responsible for their actions
Using peers to help make them more uncomfortable
Empowering the “superstars” will make the less effective teachers feel as if they are missing out (grant writing example)

Recognize consistent positive faculty contributions

Raising Interpersonal Intelligence Levels
Interpersonal intelligence is how well people determine how they are received by others. A great number of difficult teachers have low interpersonal intelligence.

Principals must share with the teacher how they come across to others.
example-guidance counselor

Faculty meeting should be productive. Administrators should feel comfortable and negative staff members should feel uncomfortable.
rearrange seating
change front and back each meeting
have other administrator come in last and sit next to negative staff members

Teachers workroom

Getting less effective teachers to accept responsibility for student learning, behavior, and interest in their classes is an important part of teacher performance.
Must emphasis to the staff that they will not lay blame on “last years teachers”.
Let staff know that they will not be critical of outside influences that you have no control over.
Using Peers To Make The Difficult Teacher Uncomfortable
Pairing up a difficult teacher with two “superstars” to attend a workshop or conference.
Communicate to difficult teacher the fact that some of their peers or concerned with the way they handle situations.
(example of the new teacher transfer)
Choosing the most opportune and
effective time is essential
do not rush, but attempt to address
the situation as soon as possible

It is essential that you feel comfortable.
The more comfortable you feel, the more
likely it is they feel un-comfortable.
let emotions subside to gather your thoughts
meet with the teacher when you are prepared
approach the most difficult teacher with their guard down

Good teachers would love the Administrators to “fix” the difficult teachers. But what they more reasonably expect is for them to try.

When dealing with a less effective teacher, handle the situation the same as if the whole staff was present.

Best/Worst Test

Never address the inappropriate actions of one to the entire group.

Defending a ineffective teachers actions could possibly reinforce their behaviors and encourage others to defend and emulate. – New teachers?

Personal behaviors

Ignorance or
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