Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Transfer Has a Bad Rep: 5 Steps to a Smoother Transition

Timken Roller Bearing Co., calendar, September 1950, teacher at deskOver the weekend I received a question to my direct inbox on Twitter. Because it was sent to me privately, I’m keeping the identity of the sender private. And because it was sent to me on the weekend, obviously weighing heavily on the sender, I’m giving it the top spot on this week’s blog post.

How should I approach a transfer teacher who has known performance issues? How can I find a balance between offering a fresh start and monitoring deficiencies?

For administrators in larger districts this question comes up often. The HR department starts tackling staffing allocations for the upcoming year - your phone starts to ring.

“Good afternoon Dr. Principal, this is Mr. Jones in HR. How’s things, good? Listen, I’ve got this teacher that I need to place with you next year. Issues? No not really, well maybe a few - I don’t know … just call their current principal. I’ve directed the teacher to report to you in August. Thanks for being a team player - Bye!”

You call your colleague who laughs out loud when you tell her the teacher is coming your way. Before she hangs up, just so you’ll be prepared, she runs down the list of complaints and deficiencies adding that she’d been praying for this day for years. And, oh by the way - good luck!

You’re inclined to give the teacher the benefit of the doubt -or a fresh start- come August but are concerned about ignoring the reports you’ve received regarding performance. What do you do?

Well how about 5 easy steps? (We all like steps don’t we?)

1) Within the first week of the teacher reporting to your school call him in to have a one to one conversation about the information you received. Be open, honest, and lay it all out on the table. The conversation could go something like this … “Mr. Transfer welcome to Suburban High School - I’m glad that you’re here. Listen, we need to talk about your past performance. I’ve heard some things and this is not going to be an easy conversation but we need to talk about it.”

Then lay everything out - use quotes and supporting documents if possible - give the teacher a chance to respond and offer his perspective. Take note of whether the teacher accepts or rejects the reports. Does he accept responsibility and admit the need to improve? Does he deflect and assign blame (to students, staff or administrators)? Does he say the other principal never liked him? His responses will give you a great deal of insight into how you’ll have to proceed moving forward.

Offer a fresh start but also let him know that you have a responsibility to check out the reports of his performance. Follow-up the conversation with an email that summarizes the discussion, send it with “read-receipt requested,” print out the email, the read-receipt, and any response and add it to the teacher’s school based file.

2) Schedule at least two observations (one announced and one unannounced) within the first month of school. Follow up with post observation conferences to discuss your findings. Good or bad, compete an interim evaluation and begin painting a picture of current performance.

If both observations are good and you have not noted any problems then continue to monitor but with greater distance until you are convinced that the teacher has corrected the pre-transfer problems. If the problems persist then go on to step 3.

3) Develop an Action Plan for Performance Improvement for areas of noted deficiency (the ones you observed directly). Schedule regular observations and follow-up conferences. Begin to provide weekly or monthly coaching sessions and resources to the teacher. Assign a department chair or curriculum specialist to work with the teacher. Provide opportunities for the teacher to observe model teachers.

4) Document, in writing, the teacher’s progress on the Action Plan. Determine follow-up needs and revise and extend the plan as necessary. Look for ways to mitigate the effects on students - i.e. pair with a strong inclusion teacher.

5) If improvement is not seen then begin to build your case for dismissal.

There is a balance you must strike between a complete fresh start and smacking the teacher in the head as soon as he walks into the building. Your initial conference and observations will set the tone for your relationship with the transfer teacher for as long as he or she is in your building. After all, this could be that rare case when personality issues and conflicts came into play. The teacher may appreciate the clean(er) slate and increase performance. If not, then I’m not a believer in the “pass the trash” philosophy. If you can’t get the teacher straight then you move for dismissal. Remember it takes at least two years for students to make up ground and learning lost from just one year with a bad teacher. If you can’t fix it - stop the cycle.

Good luck.

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