You have identified a specific teacher behavior that needs to change and your concern has elevated to the point you believe a teacher performance improvement plan (PIP) will be beneficial and necessary for the behavior to improve. What are the next steps to get the process moving? Surprisingly, it would be to slow down and double-check your own actions and reasoning. One more time, go over the considerations that were discussed in our previous blog When is it Time to Write a Teacher Performance Improvement Plan?

Two women talking across a table

Before you move forward, make sure you have:

  • Observed and documented the behavior on more than one occasion
  • Articulated a specific behavior that needs to change
  • Collected objective data
  • Given honest feedback
  • Provided supportive resources
  • Allowed time for improvement
  • Informed appropriate district administration of your intent

Initial Actions

If you are indeed ready to move forward with the PIP process, there are several initial actions to take. First, it is imperative that you tie the overall objective of the PIP process to the mission, vision, values, or improvement plan of the district. The second you do this the PIP moves from a personal attack by you to a compliance issue grounded in documents that govern expectations for everyone in the district. It is hard to argue against a PIP that clearly demonstrates the behavior in question is moving the district farther from its mission. As you begin to craft the actual goal for the PIP, make sure the link to the district’s mission, vision, value, or improvement plan is clearly detailed. A PIP anchored in this way can temper future emotions and focus the dialogue.

Another initial step is to determine the intensity of the need for a PIP. Not all PIPs are put into place with the same level of urgency. Each situation will produce the need for more or less time, more or less action, and more or less monitoring. Understanding this upfront will allow you to respond appropriately when writing the details of the PIP and will influence the way you interact with the teacher. This narrative should be based on the data you have collected and the conversations you have had with the teacher, not influenced by the chatter of others.

Check Yourself

It is usually at this point in time that you realize the PIP process is more than filling out a form. You are going to have to face the teacher and confront your own reservations about doing so. You have some sort of relationship with the person, and you are about to question their performance. It would be unnatural if you did not have some hesitation and even the thought of just forgetting the whole thing. Unjustified excuses begin to enter your thoughts: you don’t want to damage your relationship, the situation might fix itself, you have more important priorities, this is a power player teacher, you’re not confident with your instructional leadership, etc. When these dark deliberations start to creep into your thinking, just remember that silence is consent. Allowing the behavior to continue unchecked sends a powerful message to the rest of your staff. You are condoning the behavior and signaling to all that it is acceptable in this workplace.

Are you in the right emotional place to begin the PIP process? Do you remember the guiding objective you have established? A PIP is not about your frustration, disappointment, annoyance, sadness, defeat, weariness, or aggravation. Until you can realize this is not about you, don’t begin the PIP process. This is about assisting a teacher’s professional growth. It is crucial that you enter the process with the mindset that things can change and become better.

Introducing a Teacher Performance Improvement Plan

With your mind and attitude in the right place, it is time to invite the teacher for a conversation. Be forthright about why you want to meet. Don’t be vague or hide behind verbose language. Keep it simple and noncombative. For instance: “We have been talking about your use of formative assessments, and I would like the chance to continue that conversation and create an action plan together. When is a good time for you to meet?” The teacher should have the opportunity to come to the conference prepared and thoughtful, not ambushed.

Choose a private place for this conversation and think about where each of you will sit. Sitting in comfortable chairs turned for conversation sends a different message than you sitting behind your desk with the teacher directly in front of you. The physical environment at this conference can be used to magnify the intensity or decrease the intensity of the situation, so be sure to give this careful consideration. Time is another factor that warrants attention. A quick 10-minute conference isn’t going to produce the results you want; schedule a reasonable amount of uninterrupted time. 

Do not enter this dialogue with the PIP completed. Doing so communicates to the teacher that this conversation has a predetermined outcome and they have no voice. It also closes your mind and discourages your own ability to listen, learn, and discover details that will help you to inform the action plan. Certainly, you will not go into this conversation cold; you will have reviewed the data and contemplated possible actions while remaining open to what the teacher has to offer. Above all, you want to remove perceived threats and promote an environment of cooperation.

The initial PIP meeting sets the tone for your work together over the course of the plan. First and foremost, this is the time to link your concerns to the effect on the mission of the school. Be direct and clear and share your facts. Do not impose your opinions or express yourself through adjectives, which convey emotion. A common mistake made by principals is the desire to protect the feelings of the teacher by sugar-coating or glossing over the message. This leads to confusion on the part of the teacher, who could interpret this conversation as motivational cheerleading or kind advice and not the charge for change you intend.

Being able to state the facts in a direct manner doesn’t mean you have all the answers. Jumping in to write the details of the PIP before hearing from the teacher is ill-advised. Create an atmosphere of genuine inquiry and solution to open the teacher’s mind and help them to be engaged in the process. Always ask the teacher for their input, and listen for the underlying causes of the concerning behavior. Taking notes, nodding in affirmation, and asking questions not only tells the teacher their voice has value, but it allows you to collect more data about the situation. Admit that you don’t have all the answers, and be unpretentious as you explore circumstances.

After stating your facts and allowing the teacher to share their story, it is time to think through the components of the PIP form. Explain to the teacher that you want to develop an action plan that will spell out their responsibilities and your responsibilities as you work together to improve performance. Acknowledge this is an opportunity to improve and you believe they can. Initiating the PIP is your decision, but approaching it in a direct manner with concern and empathy will influence the likelihood that it will be successful. Use a blank form to sketch ideas and plans as you and the teacher discuss and provide input. Inform the teacher that you will draft the actual PIP from these notes and send the final version to them for their signature.

Next, you will move on to the more specific components of the actual PIP. Read our blog Best Practices for Writing and Implementing a Teacher Performance Improvement Plan, and follow our Teacher Performance Improvement Plans blog topic. We will continue to add more resources and ideas for you on that page.

“Our conversations invent us. Through our speech and our silence, we become smaller or larger selves. Through our speech and our silence, we diminish or enhance the other person, and we narrow or expand the possibilities between us.” — Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Connection

Cheri Patterson is a trainer and field support representative for the Network for Educator Effectiveness. She joined NEE in 2013 after an extensive career in K-12 education as a teacher, principal, and associate superintendent.

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.