Time to tackle troublesome staff

12th October 2007 at 01:00
One month into the new school year, the summer holidays are now a vanishing memory. The honeymoon period in terms of pupil behaviour is also likely to be well and truly over. It's time to dig in.

There may be some new challenges but the real trials are often those which have a habit of rolling over year on year. Underachievement is a case in point. How does the middle manager tackle poor performance, failure to reach potential, boredom and indifference? And it's the staff I'm talking about.

If your staffing is wrong, then you are in big trouble. Firstly, you need to identify the nature of the problem. If it is poor organisation, preparation, time-keeping or some such, then a calm, assertive, professional conversation may be enough. It is useful to set agreed targets to be reviewed within a specified time limit.

More testing are the members of your team who have poor relationships with pupils or colleagues, or both. As their leader, you set the standard and model how you expect them to talk to each other. Without respect for each other, the team is in serious difficulty.

To improve relationships with children you may want to invest money in training. There are many excellent behaviour management courses that provide teachers with strategies for dealing with young people.

Even more challenging are those teachers who appear to be switched off. Sometimes good people are simply in the wrong position. If you want to hang on to them, be creative in your thinking. Identify the strengths of individuals within your team and shift people around; match up round pegs with round holes.

One of the toughest nuts to crack is cynicism: it is a blight in any school. Don't confuse it with healthy scepticism or occasional black humour. It is far worse and needs rooting out. Someone once said that schools should be a reservoir of hope. You have an obligation to make it so. You may try to surround the offender with positive and optimistic colleagues but in the end the hard-bitten cynic may have to go.

People management is likely to be your biggest challenge as a middle leader. I prefer to call it staff development. The right staff in the right place is an absolutely winning combination. You will find that most things follow suit.

Lindy Barclay

Deputy head, Redbridge Community School in Southampton

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