When teachers repeatedly get less-than-effective ratings, it may be time to implement a performance improvement plan, or PIP. In fact, 33 states – including Missouri and Nebraska – require teacher performance improvement plans or performance assistance plans for teachers rated below effective.

When is it time to write a teacher performance improvement plan? Well, there’s no magic answer. These types of decisions need careful analysis and context applied. Read our blog on the timing of teacher performance improvement plans, and ask yourself whether it’s appropriate for your circumstances.

Writing a teacher performance improvement plan is not a fun activity, but remember the reason it is important:

Effective teachers are the most important factor contributing to student achievement.

Don’t let performance issues slide; address them head-on. As the instructional leader of your school, you have the amazing responsibility to influence, mold, and improve the teaching practices of an entire faculty. Struggling teachers especially need your feedback and support.

In this blog, we share the best practices for writing and implementing a teacher performance improvement plan.

Coaching conversation

Before implementing a teacher performance improvement plan

Before implementing a teacher performance improvement plan (PIP), be sure expectations are clear and that you have given the teacher opportunities to improve – and that you’ve documented the efforts so far. The PIP conversation should not be the first you have had with the teacher about performance. (Although occasionally there are egregious situations that must be documented and corrected immediately.)

Long before it is time to discuss a PIP, teachers should be made aware of the expectations concerning instructional practice. Make sure the teacher has a copy of the rubric being used for classroom observations and understands the exact behaviors you are looking for when you’re in the classroom. A great resource to help principals in this effort are the NEE exemplar videos housed in the EdHub library that provide video segments of highly effective teachers in action. Principals should be in classrooms frequently, observing and offering focused feedback throughout the year.

Through observation of teachers in the classroom, you will have noted the skills that teachers need to sharpen and the behaviors observed to justify your comments. Classroom observations should always be followed with a face-to-face conversation with the teacher to offer feedback, support, and if necessary resources for improvement.

In every feedback conversation, follow the steps in the NEE Guide to Effective Feedback:

  • Prepare
  • Present the data
  • Discuss focus
  • Make a plan
  • Follow up

For more details, read our blog on the 3 Golden Rules and 5-Step Guide to Giving Effective Feedback.

Give teachers the opportunity to implement the plans you discuss during regular feedback conversations, but if improvement is not occurring, it is time to move on to a more formal plan.

Plan for the conversation

Before you bring the teacher in for a meeting to discuss a teacher performance improvement plan, think about what you want to say and how you will say it.

Be straightforward in your approach. Remove nonessential threads, which could create confusion and mask the goal of the conversation. Quickly identify the teaching behavior that is falling short, the evidence you have collected, and then move on to discussing the teacher performance improvement plan.

Some administrators actually script the conversation by imagining the teacher’s comments and reactions. You might not predict exactly how the conversation will go, but thinking through what needs to be addressed and giving consideration to the details that accompany these interactions will help you cover all the important points and react appropriately.

Also consider where and when you will hold the meeting. Give yourself plenty of time. You might consider holding the meeting at the end of the day when the teacher does not have to return immediately to the classroom. Will you meet in the teacher’s classroom, in your office, or in a neutral location? Each place sends a different message about how serious the conversation is and might affect how open the teacher is to the message.

Writing a teacher performance improvement plan

NEE provides a template for administrators to utilize when writing a performance improvement plan. We call it a short-term professional growth plan.

Depending on the situation, you might write a suggested plan and then discuss it with the teacher, or you might choose to write the plan side by side with the teacher. You decide which approach is appropriate for your style and the situation. However, when possible, it is best to complete this document with input from the teacher. When teachers are able to collaborate on the creation of this document, they are more likely to be invested in the process and more likely to accomplish the goals you set.

Complete the first three sections of the document:

Set a goal

The first step is to develop a SMART goal that will guide the teacher’s work. (SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.) Select just one goal. If there are multiple issues to be addressed, select the most important one to focus on first. You can complete subsequent plans, if necessary, after the completion of the first goal. Be clear on the timeline of the goal. Don’t allow the process to extend too long.

List activities and resources

List at least three activities or steps that will be completed toward meeting the goal. Keep each step of the plan small and quick so progress can be easily tracked. These steps might include utilizing professional development materials available in EdHub or from another source, observing another teacher’s classroom, or joining a professional learning network.

List the evidence

List three artifacts or pieces of data that will be collected to document completion of the three activities. This could be the completed EdHub tasks, notes taken during a peer observation, or an attendance certificate from a PD session.

After completing the first three sections, you are ready to put the plan into action. As you leave the meeting with the teacher, make sure the teacher feels supported and equipped to accomplish the goal.

If the goal is instructional in nature, let them know you will be completing classroom observations to check for progress and holding feedback conferences throughout the plan’s duration.

Record your follow-up

It’s important that you follow up with the teacher and offer feedback throughout the duration of the teacher performance improvement plan. A feedback loop helps to establish a coaching relationship that supports the teacher in accomplishing their goals.

Record the dates of the follow-up observations, the scores from those observations, and the dates of the follow-up conversations. You might choose to write notes about each observation and feedback conference in a separate document that you can add to the PIP.

Establishing a frequent feedback cycle keeps the teacher informed on their progress over time. Offer praise for improvement, and offer additional resources if needed along the way.

Teacher self-reflection

After the completion of the activities and follow-up steps, the teacher will complete a self-reflection to record what was learned, the improvement achieved, and how the changes have been integrated into the teacher’s instructional practice.

Record evidence of progress

The progress section provides space for the administrator to reflect on the progress that was made toward meeting the goal. Note the data and evidence you have gathered over the course of the plan.

Final review

The final section allows both the teacher and administrator to record any further comments about professional growth and to sign and date the form. The completed PIP should go in the teacher’s personnel file, and a copy should be made for the teacher.

If all of the activities that were included in the PIP are completed, the PIP is considered to be completed after the final review meeting between the teacher and the administrator.

If, however, the teacher is unable to complete the activities or does not meet the goal for improvement, the final meeting is used to discuss the reasons the goal were not met and to identify the next steps. Next steps might be another intervention cycle, where the teacher will again attempt to achieve the goal or, if there have been numerous intervention cycles, it might be time for a conversation with your human resources department.

Adjust your mindset

A teacher performance improvement plan is often thought of as a negative tool because they are sometimes used to begin the path toward nonrenewal of a contract.

However, PIPs do not have to be a completely negative experience. PIPs are meant to give struggling teachers the targeted support they need to improve. That means principals share in the responsibility of providing support and resources to help teachers accomplish their goals for improvement.

Almost every teacher wants to do well. They want to improve. Give struggling teachers your support and make this a collaborative process. Recognize the teacher’s strengths. When teachers have your support and give input on the creation of the plan, they are more likely to be invested in the process and more likely to accomplish the goals you set together.

Also keep in mind that the environment of the school can greatly affect how feedback will be received. If the school climate is positive and focused on improvement, negative feedback will be viewed more objectively. Teachers must feel they can take risks and try new things. When this level of trust is missing, they may feel it is safer to continue to do the wrong thing than to take a chance on change.

Although it can take time, building trust in the teacher evaluation process is critical for sustained instructional improvement.

For more on teacher performance improvement plans, read When is it Time to Write a Teacher Performance Improvement Plan?

Best practices for writing and implementing teacher performance improvement plans via @NEEAdvantage

The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.