How to re-engage your staff

Teachers are the most important resource headteachers have but what do you do when you inherit disengaged staff? Suzanne O’Connell provides strategies for re-engaging the disaffected

Author details

Suzanne O'Connell has more than 25 years' teaching experience, 11 years of which were as a junior school headteacher. She has a particular interest in special needs, child protection and extended services and is currently a writer, editor and...

Tips for engaging staff

  • Be uncompromising on your non-negotiables – make sure that all staff understand this is what everyone in the school must do.
  • Get trainers to work with a group of children to demonstrate the innovation or technique in practice – it’s much harder to claim that it ‘won’t work here’ if it has already been demonstrated that it can.
  • Look at your staff meetings – are they interactive? Do they differentiate for the different needs and starting points of your staff? Consider the staff meeting as your opportunity to demonstrate how a good lesson should work.
  • Focus on strengths and areas for development. Work hard at constructing a professional dialogue with staff that allows them to shape practice too.
  • Hand out responsibilities – for most staff being given a role such as chairing a meeting or drawing up protocol shifts the balance from antagonist to protagonist. 
  • Keep them involved. Make sure all staff have the data and can see exactly what they say about their own performance. Place them in charge of identifying the issues for themselves and suggesting the strategies that might work. 
  • Engineer a change - disengagement can be the result of boredom. Consider the teacher moving year groups or taking on a new responsibility. 
  • Find something that’s considered to be a bureaucratic burden and ban it. It could be handing in weekly lesson plans, for example. If it has little impact and takes time away from teaching then be brave and get rid of it – they’ll thank you for it.

Over a period of years most headteachers have been able to develop, nurture and recruit the staff they need. This isn’t the case when you move into a new school and you inherit staff.

Even if you have gathered your team around you, good teachers can also have their periods of disillusionment and need support to find their feet again.

Know your staff, lead by example and put the children first

Form your ow​n opinion

If you are a headteacher in a new school to listen to what your SLT have to say about the staff but also keep an open mind and not pre-judge until you see the evidence for yourself.

Staff will react differently to different leadership styles. Historical features of the school influence the ways in which individuals have developed and without the right culture it is easy for even the most talented of staff to begin to languish and lose their edge.

Amongst your first actions will be the need to open up a dialogue with your staff, perhaps through individual interviews or by spending time in an initial staff meeting introducing yourself and asking staff for their views of the school. What is their story for how the school has developed as it has – both successes and failures?

The next stage is for you to observe and feedback. Allocate yourself an intense period of observations during which everyone understands that your main priority is to gather a good view of the school.

Don’t make it personal at this time. Everyone is being observed in a spirit of getting to the heart of how the school works.

Make sure that everyone is aware that everything is about teaching and learning

A focus on teaching and learning

With a clear understanding of the individual strengths and weaknesses of your staff and how they interact, you can then work on the culture and the ways in which individuals contribute to it. This is where your strength as a leader can make the difference.

Don’t accept excuses - listen patiently and collectively identify actions that can be taken to address them if you feel these are legitimate causes for concern. 

Make sure that everyone is aware that everything is about teaching and learning. CPD is crucial here and you should find as many times and opportunities for staff to learn from one another and external sources as you can.

Use the expertise of the staff you have without overburdening them. Within your existing staff team there will be some teachers who, with a little encouragement, can provide good role models in your school.

Allow them to work on a co-coaching system and find ways of rewarding them accordingly. This may not necessarily be through remuneration but through additional time and conditions.

Your insatiable desire to make teaching and learning the best it can be should draw your staff along. Try and turn every conversation, every staff meeting and every training opportunity into a teaching and learning moment.

Make sure that everyone is aware that everything is about teaching and learning

When ​all else fails

After all your efforts some staff may not be demonstrating the capacity to improve or the will to re-engage and you may need to consider beginning capability procedures if competence or performance are the issue.

Download our performance management and capability model policy and tailor as appropriate for your school.

Procedures begin with informal discussions and you must offer counselling, coaching or training to help remedy any difficulties a teacher is having. If this does not help then you will need to begin formal proceedings.

Remember, the aim of this action is to address any difficulties that the teacher is having and to ensure that they are brought up to an acceptable standard.

Invoking capability procedures has implications for the rest of your staff too and you will need to consider how it is received amongst others. It can have an unsettling impact on the team and you will need to remain upbeat and focused throughout.

Hopefully, the measures that you have taken to engage and work with your staff will ensure that competency procedures are not necessary.

Most people work best when you show your trust and confidence in them. Know your staff, lead by example and put the children first.

Last Updated: 
26 Aug 2015