Tackling Staff Underperformance: Strategies for managing challenging conversations

Tackling Staff Underperformance: Strategies for managing challenging conversations

Primary, Secondary
Jun 2012


'Although teaching has been judged to be inadequate this year in just 3% of schools, it is a serious concern that teaching in over 40% of primary and secondary schools is no better than satisfactory and is only outstanding in around 4%.’

The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector 2010-11

Tackling Staff Underperformance is a training resource that gives school leaders the tools to turn around poor performance using effective techniques for challenging it, skills in negotiating for improvement and confidence to address areas of poor performance in a collaborative context.

This practical resource will help managers at all levels to develop the skills and confidence needed to discuss improvements to teaching and learning in a constructive and collaborative way, using a coaching style designed to lead to improvements in teacher performance and whole school achievement.


Tackling Staff Underperformance will enable you to:

  • Secure improvements as part of your regular performance management and managerial role, in line with current regulations
  • Ensure effective leadership at all levels that monitors quality of teaching and challenges complacency
  • Identify staff who are underperforming and manage challenging attitudes
  • Develop a strategic approach to problem behaviour and difficult conversations using conflict management principles and empathetic listening
  • Encourage a collaborative approach to improving teaching using questioning skills that engage staff in a constructive, coaching conversation
  • Reinvigorate demotivated staff by understanding their motivations and providing counselling to renew their enthusiasm
  • Develop the skills to move to more assertive management if formal procedures are required and be able to form contracts for improvement
  • Ensure constructive solutions are maximised to bring about school improvement in a cost and time effective manner.

Why buy an Optimus Education DIY Training resource?

Tackling Staff Underperformance is part of the Optimus Education D-I-Y (deliver it yourself) training portfolio. Our D-I-Y training packages provide:

  • value for money – training sessions can be delivered multiple times to different groups of staff
  • comprehensive training materials – detailed training plans, presentations, handouts and a variety of practical activities to engage participants are all provided in the package
  • flexibility – training sessions can be customised with case studies, questions or exercises which are specific to your school’s needs
  • excellent quality – the training materials have been written by experienced trainers with expertise in the topic area; you benefit from their knowledge and guidance
  • measurable outcomes – each package includes ways to monitor effectiveness and learning outcomes.


Summary of contents

The training sessions will help you to develop a workforce committed to good-quality professional development, giving senior and middle leaders the skills to challenge complacency as well as to encourage well-performing staff to innovate and seek to raise their game still further.

  • Identify underperforming staff and negative behaviours
  • Engage staff in a collaborative approach using a coaching style
  • Maximise constructive solutions that are time and cost effective
  • Achieve whole school improvement by turning around poor performers

Session Breakdown

Training Session 1 – Identifying Underperforming Colleagues and Choosing your Strategy

Learning Outcomes:

  • Be able to identify and share with each other which teachers or other staff need to improve performance or professional behaviour
  • Explore their behaviours and observe some of the ‘common denominators’
  • Consider what strategies such colleagues use to make themselves difficult to approach and  how we might respond to those strategies

Training Session 2 – Conflict and your emotional response

Learning Outcomes:

  • Explore the sources of emotion in any conflict situation
  • Understand basic principles of conflict management and how this underpins our strategic approach and behaviour in tackling the problem
  • Learn ways to overcome your own insecurities and ‘blockers’ to taking action
  • Have practice of building empathetic understanding
  • Learn a series of fundamental steps as part of an ‘emotional strategy’

Training Session 3 – The Coaching Conversation

Learning Outcomes:

  • Understand motivational theories and consider what motivates colleagues
  • Acquire techniques to help motivate demotivated staff
  • Acquire and employ some ‘simple and wise’ questioning techniques
  • Have practised a ‘courageous conversation’ in the coaching mode

Training Session 4 – The Courageous Conversation in more Challenging Circumstances

Learning Outcomes:

  • Consider the transition from collaborative to directing mode
  • Have practise of giving negative feedback, while staying in collaborative mode
  • Know how to use strategies to cope with defensiveness and denial
  • Have practise of how to ‘negotiate for improvement’
  • Understand the role of notes, letters and written records in the process to this point
  • Understand the criteria which might indicate the need to move to formal procedures

About the expert

Edward Gildea is a former headteacher with 25 years’ teaching experience.  He has since specialised in the challenging aspects of school leadership, change and conflict management, as an independent consultant and runs courses and delivers consultancy on managing challenging personnel, leadership, change management and coaching, all clearly focussed on improving school effectiveness.


  • A4 Ringbinder, c. 64 pages
  • CD-ROM containing PowerPoint presentations and accompanying resources


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