This topic comes up fairly regularly at DOS meetings, with a particular DOS venting their frustration about a particular teacher, asking “how does everyone, ahem, rejuvenate coasting teachers?” Of course what they really mean is ‘how do you manage someone who refuses to develop?’; in fact I specifically recall a tabled question for discussion along the lines of ‘what do you do about the dinosaurs in your staffroom?’ Well, I was recently asked to deliver a training session on the topic, so here are the areas my session covered…
Firstly, I wanted to elaborate on the meaning or perception of ‘coasting’ – how could we define it, or at least describe it? Does it tend to refer to younger or older teachers, or all ages? And if it implies a pejorative connotation, what might be the opposite of coasting?
Here are some responses, both from my session and from PLNers who responded to my question on facebook:
- Is it when you can’t be bothered to prepare anything so you just play a DVD?
- Stuck in your comfort zone.
- Not going to TD sessions because you’ve ‘done it all before’
- Set in your ways
- Doing something without putting much effort into it.
- Reluctant to take on new challenges
- Stale, jaded, routinized
I think age is irrelevant; any teacher of any age might be ‘coasting’, although it does come into other people’s perceptions (cf the question about dinosaurs).
One colleague shared the link to a fascinating talk given by Tessa Woodward on The Professional Life Cycles of Teachers where she explores the research of Michael Huberman into Teacher Career Cycles; his research looked at how teachers view older/younger colleagues, and whether managers tend to ‘typecast’ their teachers, the suspicion being that they ‘knew which teachers would grow stale’. He also outlined the typical phases that teachers go through if they remain in an institution over a long period. Interesting stuff.
The opposite of coasting? Teachers who are engaged, connected, developing, creative, who approach their work with a sense of enquiry, who go the extra mile. It is probably easy for most of us in this profession to picture past or present colleagues who seem to fit into these opposing ‘categories’.
Next, it is essential to consider the causes – what might cause a teacher to coast? And also consider what are the ‘threats’ for the school – why is it a problem?
There are of course multiple potential causes, summed up here in a slide from my prezi:
These possible causes all point to the need for managers to really know their staff, to find out what is behind the issue, and avoid ‘typecasting’. It might not always be what we think, or what our ‘bias’ might lead us to believe.
And the threats? Why should coasting teachers concern us? If the coasting teacher is popular with good student feedback, is there a problem?
I think there is.
As managers, we must be consistent. We must expect and ask the same of all our staff, not just the ones who respond positively to our demands. Of course, if a coasting teacher is keeping their students happy, then it is easy to let them off the hook, and avoid dealing with the issue. But the result of this is to turn an issue into a long-term problem, because the more you turn a blind eye, the harder it becomes to deal with; a coasting individual can potentially have a negative impact on students, on other staff members and ultimately on the institution.
So how to manage it?
The first thing is to confront your own perspective: why do you feel bad about asking the coasting teacher to get out of their comfort zone and engage in their work? What are you really asking of them?
Now the institution I work in is accredited by various inspection schemes, we strive for quality, we are continuously aiming to drive standards, and we have a good reputation.
So my perspective on this matter is that all I am asking is for teachers to meet the standards and expectations of the school. This is not some kind of hidden, secret trick; I have not seduced anyone to come and work for me and then sprung something unexpected on them. I don’t think I am asking too much.
To ensure the academic vision is clear, then, there are 3 management headline strategies: Communicate, Lead by example, and Culture.
Communicate your values and expectations consistently – at the recruitment stage (in job descriptions, interviews, contracts, induction), in staff handbooks and teaching guides, in meetings, 121s & appraisals, newsletters, and so on and so forth. In spite of what I said above, I think more could be done to be transparent and consistently clear so that staff know what is expected of them (this LAM SIG event on the theme of Communication could be worth catching…)
Lead by example – be a model for the values of the school, share what inspires you and your own learning and development. (Controversial thought – is the cause of a coasting teacher a coasting DOS?)
And promote a culture of learning, collaboration and development – look to recruit teachers who are engaged, don’t ignore the power of a positive staffroom. And give opportunities to those who shine and go the extra mile, not just to the next longest-serving teacher in line.
Then there is clearly a need to manage performance.
In appraisals and catch-up chats, you need to address under-performance (coasting), explore the possible causes, (re-)highlight the expectations and standards, and set goals which will improve performance. I know that some managers and teachers feel that measuring teaching performance is too abstract (and for some, too controversial), but there are tools which can help both to do this. The European Profiling Grid is one such tool; it attempts to describe training and qualifications, and teaching competencies and behaviours from entry level to very experienced, and can be used as a reference for discussion between manager and teacher to look at standards and set goals.
And, finally, it is important to understand and manage motivation.
Deal with the hygiene factors as much as you can – ensure good work conditions and facilities, keep admin and prescriptive policies to a minimum – and really enhance and emphasize the motivators. Set out a relevant and varied teacher development programme with choice and collaboration at its heart, offer job variety and challenge with a range of courses and responsibilities, allow space for autonomy and creativity, share positive feedback, say thank you and offer praise, and give recognition to those who go the extra mile.
Once these areas have been considered, and these management strategies acted upon, and lots of specific and positive support has been given, then you should have managed to set out a clear pathway to revitalize a coasting teacher.
Do you have a success story to share? How did you deal with a coasting teacher?
Or are you in the midst of an on-going saga? Where and how are you getting stuck?