How To Support Weak Teachers

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James Manwaring

James Manwaring is Director of Music for Windsor Learning Partnership, a Multi-Academy Trust in Windsor, Berkshire. He oversees music for the 4 schools in the trust and has been working in music education for 16 years. James has been nominated for a National Music Education...
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How do you support teaching staff that are underperforming?

Teaching is a profession that can get very tough very quickly, and it can also get very lonely, even if you have been teaching for a while, you can still struggle at times with difficult classes or changes to specifications and processes.

There are the challenges imparted by OfSTED, as well as the changes to curriculum and the ever-changing landscape of this country. Therefore, support is crucial for our teachers is we are to retain the very best. So, how do we support weaker teachers? How do we ensure that they have the tools to make progress in their career and ultimately ensure their students meet their targets?

We are all the same

When it comes down to it, the great thing about our profession on the whole, is that we all started out in the classroom. We all went through those early days of full-contact timetables, huge piles of marking and the demands of exams and coursework. Therefore, we are all in a position to support colleagues and it shouldn’t be left to one person, or even to the head of department to do all the work. Every teacher in every school has the ability and capacity to support other teachers – whether you are on the high-end of a threshold salary or not – but a mentor must have the willingness to do it.

Share the burden

It goes without saying, that often the things we struggle with and find hard are the same for everyone. Underperforming staff need to know where they are having issues and that they are simply encountering the same issues everyone has faced at some point in their career. Here is my advice:

  1. We can support underperforming staff by being a friend and offering support. Sometimes it can be obvious when a teacher is struggling. You might walk past their classroom and notice something or hear something from a student. It doesn’t matter what position you are in the school, you can offer them a listening ear. Don’t turn a blind eye when you can see someone needs help. There will be a teacher in your school that needs support, so go and find them and lend an ear/hand.
  2. We can support underperforming staff by sharing strategies. Once you have opened up the conversation with a colleague, you can then share some ideas together. We might think something is obvious, but someone else will really benefit. Share books you have read and maybe even a good blog post.
  3. Supporting staff is easier where you have an open door style policy. Encourage a staff member who is struggling to walk into your room whenever they want. Hopefully they might also see that you struggle too, but they will also pick up ideas.
  4. Offering to do an informal observation can sound daunting, but it is something that will really benefit a colleague who is finding the classroom tough. These kind of observations can focus on little things that might not be picked up on in a more formal observation.
  5. The crucial thing for staff who are under-performing, is to think about marginal gains in their teaching – what small things can they do to make a big different. Helping them to identify these issues is crucial in order to help them move forward. Identifying these issues in a friendly environment is a really good way of helping staff to improve.

Alternatively, a good old-fashioned friendship over a beer in the local pub will help them to see that they are not on their own. It can get lonely in a classroom, so make sure that with their permission, you pop in regularly to check that they are okay.

We all need to know that there is someone out there looking out for us. It might not be that they don’t need a new strategy or style, but might just need to realise that they are doing okay and some small changes will make all the difference. And like lots of things, teaching is an art form in many ways.

The more we do it the better we get, or hopefully at least.

5 thoughts on “How To Support Weak Teachers

  1. These are all excellent strategies for short periods of time, however it is important to have a balanced approach when staff are struggling over longer periods of time. This avoids people becoming dependent on support and burn out of good teachers who are continually carrying weak staff who have no interest in improving their classroom practice.

  2. In my experience of working with staff who are “underperforming” (relative term surely!), there is an underlying issue of not having effective learning relationships with those they teach (leading a horse to water proverb). I have coached staff in this situation and worked with groups of staff to highlight how they can enhance their teaching by planning to meet learning needs (NOT styles) as well as curriculum content. It’s relatively easy to include and always gives a significant improvement in “performance”. See this article for an outline of what is involved.

  3. *Cough*. I’m 27 years in as a mainscale English teacher (I stayed in the classroom by choice because guess what? Not everyone wants to escape into ‘leadership’) in a highly successful department. ‘We all remember those early years of full timetables’ etc – some of us are still there!
    Aside from that this is a horribly patronising and sneery piece of ‘advice’. Do a term back on the main scale on that full timetable with that heavy workload and total absence of control in this post-Govian dystopia and then see how things look. And finally when you’ve done that, maybe try treating your actual in-the-classroom staff as adults – always a good start in my experience.

  4. I am sorry for the delay in my reply. Thanks for your comments, but I wanted to confirm that i am a full time classroom teacher. My current role is Director of Music, however I am still very much a classroom teacher who has the chance to support younger and less experienced teachers. I feel that I am still in a similar position to them battling against the changes that have come along over the last few years. I am sorry you found my comments patronising, they weren’t intended to be. I feel that in my career I have not only used some of the approaches that I mentioned, but have also been on the receiving end of them – and they have helped.

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