Is it time to appraise your appraisal?
George Budd outlines how his school introduced an 'innovative and supportive' way to evaluate staff
For nearly three hundred years, Godolphin has been at the forefront of educational innovation, so when it came to reviewing the staff appraisal process in 2016 we took to our roots, developing an innovative and supportive programme. This followed a thorough staff consultation process.
This process was crucial for both staff buy-in and because no senior management team should be arrogant enough to think that they could possibly have considered everything alone. Since the staff are the people involved in this process, genuine consultation about how it could be further developed, or where any potential pitfalls or problems might lie, is a win-win situation.
We began planning next steps with a discussion at a working party. The staff appraisal systems dealing with teachers’ performance that we had all experienced at other schools struck us as being a mixture of “carrot and stick”. They were often seen as judgmental by colleagues, due partly to the name and partly to the practice of “rating” staff in lesson observations.
"It was nonsensical to have a system intent on tripping up these wonderful teachers."
The overwhelming majority of teachers are surely in the profession to do a good job, and the strong value-added factor at A-Level and GCSE suggests that this is particularly true at Godolphin. It therefore seemed nonsensical to operate an appraisal system which appeared to be intent on tripping up these wonderful teachers and focusing on what they could and could not do.
The appraisal document lived with the appraiser rather than the teacher, and so was very much a top-down approach. Surely the whole point of any performance management system is to allow staff to improve their own teaching practice? In my experience, staff are almost always aware of areas they would like to develop further, which makes a top-down approach at best unhelpful and at worst counter-productive.
The ubiquitous allocation of the line manager as appraiser is another problem with the traditional performance management system. Whilst this may be of use at times, what if the member of staff and the line manager have similar strengths and areas for development? What if the member of staff wishes to develop an area of their role where there is an expert teacher available in another department who is not a head of department? What if one line manager simply has an unwieldy number of people to appraise?
Moving away from traditional rigidity to a flexible and tailored approach has the potential to provide some serious benefits in terms of meeting the training needs of staff as well as cross-department links, allowing all staff to develop their coaching skills (as anyone can be a reviewer).
Furthermore, the various systems we had experienced elsewhere often seemed to be about “checking up” on staff as much as helping them to become better teachers. Whilst there is clearly a place for the monitoring of performance (e.g. through work scrutiny or exam results), this is not an atmosphere that I would want to engender as part of a staff development process.
"Our staff development programme is that it is a positive one."
The bottom line is that all schools have systems for addressing under-performance in their capability policies, but staff appraisal systems should exist to deal with the 99.9 per cent of teachers who would never experience such a review in their entire career. Separating the formal procedures from the coaching, training and support aspects of staff performance provides a much more transparent, positive and honest view.
The foundation of our staff development programme is that it is a positive process underpinned by a peer-reviewed support network. Shortly after the start of each academic year, all academic and boarding staff are asked to select three potential “reviewers”, who can be from any department in the school at any level of seniority.
Staff are then allocated one of their chosen three reviewers each year. Recognising that new staff would find this process quite tricky, and also with an eye on our staff induction process, all teachers new to the school are allocated their line manager as their reviewer in their first year. NQTs do not undertake the process in their NQT year, as they have quite enough paperwork to cope with as it is.
Following the allocation of peer-reviewers, staff meet with their reviewer and set goals for the year in three areas - Academic, Pastoral and Wider Responsibilities. For the academic section, staff select one of seven of the Teacher Standards to focus on that year in consultation with their reviewer. These are a great starting point as they are objective and come from outside any school. As ICT is a whole-school focus for us this year, there is also a question asking which specific area of their use of ICT in teaching and learning should be their focus in the coming year.
"It is the lesson which is being commented on rather than the individual teacher."
Staff set specific goals related to their chosen standard and use of ICT and outline any training needs they may have in that area. We ask staff to make use of student feedback as part of this process.
We have developed a student feedback form, based on the work of the Gates Foundation which analysed the work of several thousand teachers to come to a view on the characteristics of an effective lesson. From this, in consultation with some senior heads of department, we designed carefully worded questions to emphasise that it is the lesson which is being commented on rather than the individual teacher.
The specific forms submitted and the precise results of these surveys are confidential to the member of staff and only the overall trends, both in strengths and areas for development, are discussed with the reviewer. We need to trust our teachers to be honest about this feedback, as it could easily be seen as a “stick”, whereas it is vital that feedback is seen as helpful rather than judgmental. Allowing staff to draw their own conclusions from feedback, and to share the overall pattern of results by keeping the individual forms confidential, goes some way towards achieving this.
"The observer simply records brief non-judgmental notes."
One formal lesson observation is conducted using the narrative lesson style. This means that the observer simply records brief non-judgmental notes on what takes place in the lesson and these are used as part of a coaching conversation with the teacher afterwards. The observation is focused on the teacher’s chosen teaching standard and follow-up happens quickly, ideally within 24 hours of the lesson. The notes from the observation and the discussion are ultimately filed with the finished staff development form.
The pastoral area covers staff roles as tutors, house staff and specific areas of need relating to particular year groups, such as the UCAS system. Boarding staff also complete an annual 360 degree appraisal with their teams and parents are asked for their views every two years.
The wider responsibilities section is a catch-all for everything else. It covers those with leadership responsibilities (e.g. heads of department, SMT) and asks for a goal related to this aspect of their role. It also has a commitment to extra-curricular activities and a simple yes/no question about staff having any serious concerns about the school’s arrangements for child protection.
This section also covers one of the most exciting aspects of our new staff development process - staff research projects. Every member of staff is expected to be involved in either a group or individual research project of their own choosing. Last year, we had projects about “A culture of health and fitness”, the use of the iDoceo teacher planner app, the Artsmark award, vocal warm-ups in music and the use of iPads in science.
Our boarding team conducted a large-scale investigation into a range of topics including the integration of international students, the use of mobile devices and wellbeing.
The highlight of the year was a whole-staff marketplace feedback session, complete with wine and soft drinks, where everyone could circulate and visit a stand run by each group, learning about what had been researched and discovered.
During the year, the member of staff meets the reviewer regularly to discuss progress and there is a space on the form to note updates and outcomes along the way. The idea is for the form to represent an ongoing conversation during the year, rather than the result of a rushed, judgmental lesson observation at the end of the summer term.
The process concludes in September the following year with a review meeting. The member of staff draws together the progress towards various goals during the year and the reviewer writes a concluding statement. Goals for the following year are drafted, then all paperwork is filed before the process begins again.
We have made some refinements to the process for 2017-18, and the feedback from the staff has been positive. Outcomes are hard to measure quantitatively, but with a significant rise in exam result value-added at Godolphin, things are looking very positive indeed.
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