Leadership is an opportunity to connect with people and help them realize their greatest potential. As leaders, we are in a position to inspire others and support them as they build their strengths and make our organizations stronger.
Sometimes, we have the distinct privilege of seeing potential in someone who does not see it in themselves and we get to gently push them into the light and watch them shine.
Sometimes, though, we have to be the person who brings things to an end. A savvy leader knows that there are times when the nourishment has to stop and an employee has to go.
I’ve fired enough people to know that it is one of the worst parts of the leadership job. Frankly, it sucks.
While firing a teacher isn’t fun, sometimes you have to do it. And if you have to do it, you might as well do it right.
I’m here to lay out some strategy for you so that you can create a system that works for you and protects your school. These tips also work if you have a teacher resign.
Call Your Attorney Before You Act
If you operate a school that doesn’t have the support of a district, you need a lawyer specialized in human resources and you need one that will answer your call when you have a significant HR situation.
Let’s be clear here: firing a teacher is a significant HR situation and is not to be taken lightly.
Anything I say here is what I have learned on the job as a school leader and from the situations I have witnessed or been party to as a school leadership coach. This blog is full of good ideas, but I am NOT a lawyer and this blog is merely designed to get your wheels turning.
Just, call your lawyer before you fire anyone. Period.
Have a Witness When You Fire a Teacher
If it is at all possible to have someone else in the room, do it. However, you can’t just pull the janitor or a random parent into the room (I’m sure you already knew that). You need to have another person of some sort of appropriate authority to sit in the room quietly and listen.
If you are firing an assistant teacher, it would be appropriate to have the lead teacher in the room. If you are firing a lead teacher, you might want another member of the leadership team present with you.
Either way, you are well-served having a third-party present to witness the interaction.
Be Prepared to Fire the Teacher Immediately
The best thing you can do is be ready for the conversation to happen quickly and without incident. A few things to consider preparing ahead of time:
- The employee’s final paycheck.
- Copies of everything from their file that they may be entitled to.
- A letter verifying their dates of employment and number of contact hours.
- Any personal belongings from the classroom.
- Information on COBRA benefits and termination of other benefits.
Again, this is one of those things that should be addressed with your attorney. Whatever you do, make it consistent across every employee. Turn it into a formal protocol with an official checklist.
My colleague, employment attorney Laura Hazen of H & K law, always told me to fire people on Monday morning because then they aren’t going to go to the bar with their friends over the weekend and get themselves all worked up. Instead, they are more likely to get to work trying to find a new job while everyone else they know is working.
Get your substitute teacher in place and do the deed. Firing bad teachers isn’t fun, but it’s the right thing to do.
Have Documentation of Teacher Performance
Generally speaking, an employee should not be shocked that they are being fired. If they are, you have failed to engage in an appropriate amount of guidance and discipline conversations with the employee.
There should be clear documentation for every instance in which you had a conversation with the employee about a certain breach of protocol or policy.
Of course, there are always unusual circumstances that require terminating an employee with no prior documented infractions, but that is going to be extremely rare.
Be Direct When You Fire a Teacher
Finally, when it is time to have the conversation, you are obligated to be clear and direct about what is going on. This is not the time to sugar coat or berate.
Actually, as far as I’m concerned, there is no appropriate time for a leader to sugar coat or berate employees.
When that person walks into the private space where this conversation is occurring, you get to the point.
“I brought you in here this morning to let you know that we are letting you go for (insert documented reason here). Here is your final paycheck including an hour of pay for this meeting. We believe that we have collected all of your belongings from the classroom. Please email us to let us know if there is something we missed. Here is a file with copies of documents from your employee file and verification of your hours. Do you have any questions for us?”
Boom. Done. Just let go quickly and without emotion. It might feel a bit cold at first, but it really is the most respectful way to do it. Have the witness in the room document their response verbatim to include in their file.
Using a direct approach like this also helps protect you from discrimination claims.
Did I mention you should talk to your lawyer about this?
After you have severed the relationship with the employee it is time to move into your standard employee dissolution procedures. These procedures keep your office organized, ensure your records are clear, and help protect your school. Basically, everything related to HR should have a formal procedure.
Firing a teacher is tough.
Fortunately, if you are getting your leadership right during the first four stages of the Employee Life Cycle, you won’t have to initiate dissolution very often.
When the time comes, though, you will be glad that you took time to plan ahead and prepare yourself for the job by doing some research, talking to your lawyer, and creating formal protocols.
That is how a savvy school leader operates.