An important job for any educator in the classroom is to never forget the students who are exemplary academically.
I remember attending schools where teachers were told to concentrate heavily on the students who were underperforming academically as a result of things going on outside of school or any cognitive challenges the student(s) may have had, or just poor prior instruction. As a result, the high performers were left to fend for themselves because they were so “smart.”
It was largely assumed that because they displayed excellence, the likelihood was they’d continue to do so, even if left alone. As an educator, I’ve witnessed this same strategy over the years. Administrators stress to teachers and support staff alike that the focus must be on underperforming and underachieving students; particularly the Black students among them, but I digress.
But what about the high-achieving and high-performing students? What support can educators offer them? Rest assured, high achievers need support too. The same is true for high-performing teachers. They also need support.
I’ve seen the genius of a high-performing teacher. They have command of their classroom, they have commanded their content, they’ve established meaningful and deep-rooted relationships with their students, they’ve done the same with parents, and because of their dedication to the craft, they are highly regarded and well respected by their peers, by the students, and by the communities where they work and live.
It’s easy to forget that these teachers need support just like those teachers who struggle. But like the teacher who often neglects the high-performing student because they are high-performing, administrators often neglect high-performing teachers because those teachers are one less fire to put out during the school day.
Don’t get me wrong, a high-performing teacher wants to be trusted with the autonomy to do their thing… I should know, but I digress. But that does not mean that a high-performing teacher is unaware of any areas of growth for themselves, or that they need support like any educators need support.
School leaders mustn’t be unaware of those truths either. Their high-performing teachers need space to grow and the attention to be supported. So what kind of things should administrators do to ensure that happens?
Generally, high-performance teachers are called on to support their peers; being named a mentor to teachers who are struggling or extra responsibilities along administrative lines to support the administration. But this year, it’s their turn. Here are things that administrators can do to actually support those high-performing teachers in a meaningful way that they might appreciate in ways where the infamous invisible tax is not levied against them:
- Ask them what they need to improve and do your best to make it happen. Certainly, educators aren’t mind readers, even the best among us. A high-performing teacher knows that their admin is likely unaware of what they need. Therefore, administrators must ask those teachers what they need and follow through with making it happen. In order to find out, you have to do number two…
- Meet with high-performing teachers regularly. By regularly, it could be once a month or bimonthly. (This can also help with retention!!!) Set your own schedule with the teacher, but as low-performing teachers are made a priority, so too must the high-performing faculty in a school. Administrators and these teachers can discuss the immediate needs of the teachers, concern for certain students in their class, opportunities for professional development, and anything else where the teacher is at the center of the conversation.
- Don’t assume that an opportunity for a younger and unseasoned teacher is one they’d pass up… invite them to any and all opportunities. Don’t assume that an opportunity meant for staff in need of support or for younger staff would be ignored by your higher-performing faculty. When sharing professional development, mentoring, or training opportunities, make sure that you share with the entire faculty, in case high-performing teachers are interested in participating.
- Facilitate a high-performing teacher leadership/learning and advisory group throughout their district. If you’re an administrator at the district level, this is an idea that may work well. Bringing high-performing teachers together to break bread and build together around the mastery of their teaching methods, classroom management, navigating school spaces, as well as an opportunity to give and receive advice on various matters. Something like this is needed for Black teachers as well as teachers of color, but I digress. Providing a place and space for this to happen could pay dividends for your entire district in ways you couldn’t imagine, as well as pay dividends for those high-performing teachers.
- Pitch high-performing teachers the idea of teaching a course where they’ll need additional training to master the content. Sometimes, teaching the same class can make teaching dry. But for high-performing faculty, a new class could reinvigorate the senses and excite them for taking on a new challenge. This may or may not be received well, which is why you “pitch” the assignment rather than simply “assigning” the course. High performers deserve the respect to be given a choice in matters like these. Fail to respect them, and they’ll fail to stay at your school.
There are certainly other ways to support the professional growth of high-performing teachers. But these are certainly good places to start. The key in all of this is to never neglect these teachers just because they don’t need micromanaging to do their jobs. The same way micromanaging will push them out, so will failing to nurture them as they help lead your school to academic heights. These are your partners; be sure to treat them that way.