5 Ways New Assistant Principals Can Support Struggling Teachers

As an assistant principal, one of your most important duties is supporting and developing your teaching staff. But what happens when you encounter a teacher who is really struggling in the classroom? How can you help them improve while still balancing your many other responsibilities? Here are five strategies new APs can use to effectively support their most challenging teachers:

Diagnose the Root Causes

When a teacher is struggling, it’s tempting to jump straight to offering solutions or prescribing new practices. Resist that urge, and start by deeply diagnosing the root causes of their challenges first. Conduct thorough classroom observations, looking at student engagement, lesson pacing, behavior management, and questioning techniques. Review lesson plans, assessments, and student data. Have honest conversations with the teacher about what they believe is and isn’t working. You have to understand the full picture in order to provide targeted support.

Clarify School-Wide Expectations and Goals

As an AP, it’s crucial to clearly communicate the school-wide standards and expectations for effective teaching that all staff must meet. These are the non-negotiables, the bare minimum for success in your building. They might include things like following the curriculum, maintaining a safe classroom environment, participating in collaborative planning, or implementing specific instructional practices.

When meeting with a struggling teacher, revisit these school-wide expectations. Clarify which ones they’re meeting and which ones they need to work on. Collaboratively set goals for improvement that align with these non-negotiables. This ensures the teacher’s growth plan is rooted in the school’s shared vision of quality teaching.

Take a Coaching Stance

Within the framework of school-wide expectations, take a coaching approach when working individually with struggling teachers. While the non-negotiables set the parameters, how a teacher meets those expectations will vary. That’s where your coaching comes in.

Work in partnership with the teacher to diagnose their specific challenges and develop their unique plan for improvement. Ask guiding questions to help them self-identify areas of growth, rather than dictating what you see as the problem(s). Once they pinpoint the issues themselves, they’re far more likely to take ownership and generate solutions.

For example, let’s say one of your school expectations is that teachers use common formative assessment data to inform instruction, and you notice that a struggling teacher rarely differentiates based on data. In your coaching conversation, you might ask: “How do you typically use formative assessment results to plan your lessons? What successes and challenges have you had with that process?” This prompts self-reflection and opens the door to brainstorming new approaches together, rather than you demanding “You need to differentiate more.”

Coaching conversations like this lead to authentic improvement.

Provide Targeted Professional Development

Generic, whole-staff PD likely won’t move the needle much for some struggling teachers. They need targeted, job-embedded training tailored to their specific growth areas. This could include sending them to workshops on effective instructional strategies or sharing with them a personalized series of articles and webinars. You could also encourage them to partner with an instructional coach for support. One of the most effective forms of targeted professional development is to arrange observations of highly effective colleagues. I have found that when teachers observe highly effective colleagues, the experience is actually beneficial to both parties. The observer benefits from watching a master teacher in action, and the teacher being observed is validated for their contributions to your campus. Regardless of which approach is decided upon, the key is to provide focused learning that is directly applicable to your teacher’s daily practice.

Give Regular Feedback and Follow-Up

New assistant principals often struggle to give direct, actionable feedback – especially to veteran teachers. But your struggling staff members deserve regular, honest coaching to improve. Make a point to informally pop into their rooms frequently to observe and leave bite-sized feedback. Highlight bright spots and quick wins. Ask probing questions to help them self-reflect. But don’t shy away from clearly naming the growth areas and required next steps.

After key coaching conversations or professional development sessions, always schedule a follow-up. Meet with the teacher to discuss their implementation of new strategies, answer lingering questions, and tweak the improvement plan as needed. Document your meetings – formally and informally – to track progress over time. Consistent follow-through shows your commitment to their growth.

In Conclusion…

Supporting struggling teachers is one of the most challenging parts of being a new assistant principal. The key is to marry school-wide expectations with individualized coaching and support. The non-negotiables set the bar, but your coaching helps each unique teacher reach it. When you strike this balance and help teachers grow, you’re not only improving that one classroom, but you are also positively impacting the whole school’s culture and outcomes. Keep these tips in mind as you tackle this meaningful work.

Looking for more resources for new assistant principals? Check out these articles.

This is one of the best books I have read about investing in your teachers. It offers some very practical suggestions, and I cannot recommend it enough!

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