Pruning the Orchard: The Cost of a Few Bad Apples

Vol. 11 No. 2


We’ve entered the fall harvest season, with apple, cranberry, and pumpkin festivals abound. This brings to mind the question whether we allow “a few bad apples to spoil the bunch”—or whether prudent “pruning” will help our orchards thrive in the years to come.

A Few Bad Apples

Does your school have one or more employees who have been bringing down morale—but who, for a variety of reasons, have never been addressed about his/her behavior? This might include:

  • The Expert Lecturer who refuses to collaborate with their peers on an assignments, projects, committees, etc.
  • The Veteran Teacher who constantly complains about the administration, but who has built up an air of invulnerability, creating perceptions that he/she is untouchable.
  • The Department Chair who may be esteemed in his/her field, but who has no patience for supporting and encouraging new faculty in his/her department, and even less patience for complying with procedural dictates from administration.

If so, one or two bad apples may be having a more dramatic effect upon faculty and staff morale than you might imagine.

An Antidote

Two key leadership actions may neutralize the negative impact of toxic teachers:

1. Defining “Characteristics of Excellence” that describe desired (and required) behaviors for all faculty in support of your mission and aligned with your culture and values; and
2. Managerial courage to address and confront poor behavior, going so far as to—if repeated violations persist—refusing to renew contracts for these teachers, notwithstanding their otherwise esteemed status.

Support and Encouragement

These are, of course, complex issues that require considerable reflection and review. We’re not suggesting knee-jerk reactions or emotional responses based on being sick and tired of such behavior. We are suggesting, though, that lingering feelings of discomfort—i.e., your gut or intuition—require action. By actively engaging with these issues, rather than pushing them aside or denying their existence, you’ll be working to support and sustain the faculty culture, thereby, serving the school’s best interests for years to come. Pruning the orchard sometimes leads to even greater harvests of fruit, something that pays benefits far into the future.

Additional ISM resources of interest
ISM Monthly Update for Division Heads Vol. 8 No. 2 The Recipe to Prevent Teachers From Becoming Toxic

Additional ISM resources of interest for Consortium Gold members
To The Point Vol. 15 No. 7 How Did the Toxic Teacher Get That Way?
I&P Vol. 33 No. 7 Teacher Impact: How to Identify the Difference Makers
I&P Vol. 37 No. 2 A 21st Century Teacher Evaluation Model
I&P Vol. 33 No. 10 Characteristics of Professional Excellence: Faculty Interviews

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