you're reading...
Saturday Thunks

Appraisal: Best Use of Your Time? #SaturdayThunk

It’s that time of the year again when teachers dust off their appraisal or performance management documentation and review how things went then set new objectives.  I wonder how many teachers actually look at last year’s objectives with a degree of surprise or consternation thinking, “What was I thinking when I agreed these” or possibly, “I don’t remember setting these.”

Photo Credit: Gian Luigi Perrella via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Gian Luigi Perrella via Flickr cc

Martin Robinson (@surrealanarchy) wrote a wonderful blog post over the summer, Performance Management is Nonsense: Stop Meaningless Appraisal in Schools, which got me thinking.  Over the years I have been involved in hundreds of appraisal meetings and literally read thousands of sets of appraisal documentation.  I read every one of the documents for teaching member of staff, each year, to make sure they were suitably rigorous, challenging and focussed.  A few more frustrating hours were always spent chasing up the last few returns.  My summary of the objectives for teachers would be: try to teach a bit better and get some decent results.  Is the time invested worth the impact or are there better ways to spend the time?  Maybe we’re not doing appraisal that well or maybe people talk up appraisal systems to look powerful, busy or competent rather than focussing on actual improvement and development of individual staff, departments or a subject.

Having spent over a decade building multiple complex systems within a school I’m now sat wondering how many I can dismantle, abandon or simplify across the Trust.  It helps every now and then to step back and survey the whole terrain.  Is teacher appraisal the best way to spend the limited time you have available or are there other options which will have a greater impact on outcomes?  What about alternatives to appraisal such as:

A whole school improvement project that you would lead with proper research into the issue, engagement of other staff and metrics against which to measure the impact of the initiative or development.

A team action plan focused on improving a particular issue that needs improving, identified from pupil outcomes the previous year.

A lesson study inquiry into an aspect of your teaching practice that you want to develop.

An extended professional development programme, run in-house or with external support, to help you develop a particular aspect of your practice that you want to improve from a low base or make a super strength.

We can fail to ponder what is possible because of artificial limits we impose on ourselves.  Head teachers sometimes wonder how performance pay decisions can be made in the absence of appraisal information.  The cynic in me says just look at the results, that is what you do anyway, and the leader in me says get rid of performance pay it’s a distraction that damages the culture we aspire to.

#SaturdayThunk is based on something I’ve been thinking about, discussing, working on or has been topical that week.  The thunk is designed to be bite sized and will deliberately be kept short.  It will take one small issue or an aspect of something much bigger.  The intention is for it to be read in two minutes as you’re relaxing or busy running around on you day off.



14 thoughts on “Appraisal: Best Use of Your Time? #SaturdayThunk

  1. Having the same conversations with myself and my DHT all week!! Going to start the “change” by getting support staff to meet in pairs and come up with their own development targets. What do they want to develop/learn/become skilled at? Last year I did not have a DHT so did all teachers, support staff, lunchtime staff etc myself! It was just far too onerous and time consuming (and meaningless?) When staff are working together, pulling together ad having professional conversations on a daily basis (inc support staff) it is hard to just target one thing. My team is growing in expertise every day so things are unrecognisable from October 14. Oh well. Baby steps. Maybe I’m doing it all wrong! Thanks Stephen!

    Posted by mrsmiggins123 | September 26, 2015, 7:36 am
  2. Morning Stephen. Sensible suggestion to discuss here rather than in 140 characters.
    Last year was my first year of headship (in a small school that had only be open a year).
    I had been a ‘performance manager’ in two previous schools and had long conversations with my previous HT about the need for robust PM objectives and a process that was meaningful, helped drive school development and empowered staff.
    Last year I spent much time working with colleagues, releasing them to see practice in other schools and to undertake joint development like Research Lesson Studies. We put a lot of emphasis on developing a Growth Mindset with our pupils, and I encourages staff and modelled it similarly. I would openly admit mistakes / errors I made, point out how colleagues were helping me learn / move me forward in my thinking. We developed some key policies like Teaching for Learning and Feedback together over the course of the year. This is the type of culture I want to continue to grow and embed, one that empowers, where staff can take risks and be open with each other and me about things they are struggling with.
    Then comes PM and PRP. I certainly ensured that I looked at teacher standards as well as outcomes from specific objectives. Obviously we had ongoing discussions during the year. The data conversations were made more complex by the removal of levels for some and keeping of levels for others.
    I know my staff are working hard, keen to improve, taking on board ideas and developing their own thinking. However we did not meet all the data outcomes we wanted. Despite this everyone had a positive outcome to the process (which we concluded in July to keep it within the same academic year).
    For me the challenge may well be this year or in future years when start don’t meet data targets / or other objectives to such an extent that I cannot write “achieved expectations” on their end of year review. If and when this happens how do I continue to motivate them to be open and collaborative members of the team who see themselves as learners with a Growth Mindset.
    (You were quite right: 140 characters was not enough) I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.
    Thanks. Tim.

    Posted by timjumpclarke | September 26, 2015, 9:17 am
  3. Thank you for your thoughts, which are coming at a good time for me. I have just taken on headship at a school that has no appraisal system. We have the luxury and opportunity of starting with a blank slate.

    There has been a lot of debate in the last two years about what would be the best approach and there is a consensus about the concept of “accompaniment”. Being new I am teasing out what this means in my own mind. The way I see it right now is a continuum, supporting the development of everybody from where they are to where they want to be. It isn’t about SMART targets; it is about development. I am convinced that the critical issue is creating a professional development process and culture of learning first and foremost. Appraisal systems (and I have used them) are just time sapping another layer in a school.

    I think something like lesson study, as you suggested, or teaching triads or strategic offer much more potential than a system of checks and balances. How you make the theory real is where the challenges lies.

    Posted by thom gething | September 26, 2015, 12:21 pm
  4. Hi Stephen. Great topic and one I am sure all leadership teams revisit regularly. Over the last 5 years our schools in Hong Kong (English Schools Foundation) have worked on aligning our beliefs about coaching with all of our work including lesson observations, performance review and development and professional development. We have seen a noticeable change in the way teachers approach all of these processes now and the feedback we receive is overwhelmingly positive. This year we have moved towards a slightly more directed coaching model using Jim Knight’s Instructional Coaching framework. This is early days and teachers are getting used to the new model but for me it provides a nice balance between pure coaching and traditional lesson observation feedback. Happy to share our work with anyone that is interested. Thanks for the regular “Saturday Thunks”. Great stimulation for the week ahead. David

    Posted by David Fitzgerald (@DavidWFitz) | September 27, 2015, 4:06 am
  5. Thanks for this useful ‘think’. I guess school leaders all over the country are thinking about this right now. We’ve gone for objectives focussed on the Standards on pupil progress and teaching to meet the needs of all pupils (with focus on disadvantaged), a third personalised CPD objective and a fourth on leadership for SLT / MLT / TLR. I too believe that PRP is counterproductive, but what can we do when Ofsted told us at last inspection that appraisal must be linked more closely to pay progression?

    Posted by Caseby's Casebook | September 27, 2015, 9:03 am
  6. Isn’t appraisal about the conversation and recognising ALL that staff do not just about setting some data targets? A chance to reflect, celebrate and plan to make the year even more successful.

    Posted by vicgoddard | October 13, 2015, 7:39 pm
    • It can be but is there another way we can do this? I’m musing about what we could abandon to allow us to do fewer things better. Appraisal was one that came to mind and I wondered about the impact of no longer doing it. What would you abandon from current practice? I’m open to all and any ideas Vic. Thanks

      Posted by ExecutiveHT | October 13, 2015, 9:24 pm


  1. Pingback: ORRsome blogposts September 2015 | high heels and high notes - September 30, 2015

  2. Pingback: Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast So Build Great Teaching Cultures | @LeadingLearner - February 28, 2016

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Leadership: Being, Knowing, Doing (New Book)

Liminal Leadership


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 32,090 other subscribers
Follow @LeadingLearner on WordPress.com

Blog Stats

  • 1,605,329 hits


%d bloggers like this: