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Staff appraisals – 5 tips for making yours more effective

After the year we’ve had, schools would be unwise to adopt a ‘business as usual’ approach when it comes to their appraisals, observes Andrew Morrish...

  • Staff appraisals – 5 tips for making yours more effective

The performance management silly season is in full swing.

Teachers up and down the country are currently psyching themselves up for the one thing they really don’t need at the moment – their annual appraisal meeting. Armed only with graphs, charts and folders stuffed with just about anything they can lay their hands on, the teaching workforce is about to go into battle.

You could be forgiven for thinking that there isn’t an international pandemic going on, because nothing will stand in the way of the annual appraisal meeting. That includes Ofsted, who as we know, are coming to visit a school near you. They may even be signing in as you read this, keen to learn about your mental health while, of course, not wanting to add to your stress levels…

Right now, though, you’ve got far more important things to be worrying about. Like not catching a deadly virus.

Meaningful and robust

Appraisals never motivated me. By the time the clocks had changed, I’d have pretty much forgotten all my objectives. I’ve yet to meet the teacher who wakes up excited at the prospect of meeting one of their targets. It’s not why we went into teaching.

The appraisal process in its current form is underwhelming at the best of times, and even more so now, in the wake of lockdown. Post-COVID, we’re seeing lots of talk around not wanting to go back to ‘the old ways of doing things’. The pressures on teacher wellbeing have never been so great, and in the absence of any meaningful assessment data, we need to try something different. If we do, we could ensure that deep-rooted professional learning and development is as meaningful and worthwhile as it is robust.

Here, then, are five things that I believe will improve the current appraisal format:

1. Go long
Abandon the annual high stakes model of backward-looking rating and ranking, and instead opt for a more developmental approach. By focusing on longer-term coaching for growth with built-in milestones, teachers will be more likely to engage with the process and find it useful. This will also help schools build a culture of continual improvement, with wellbeing and trust at the core.

2. Ditch the data
Avoid only going for things that are easily measurable, like assessment and attendance data. These are important, but not when used to measure teacher performance. It’s sensible to have targets that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely, but try to also aim for ones that are PURE – Positively stated, Understood, Relevant and Ethical. The latter is particularly for intrinsic motivation.

3. Stay in the loop
Insist on building in meaningful time to check-in with a trusted colleague to reflect on how things are progressing. Checking-in isn’t checking-up, and it doesn’t have to be with your appraiser. If you have a coach or mentor, even better. The focus should be on keeping the feedback loop alive so that you feel supported and know how to improve.

4. Experiences are key
Meaningful growth occurs best when you have safe opportunities to take risks, try new things, and get things wrong. Avoid the trap of ‘going on a course’ to fix the problem, which will seldom change what you do. Instead, aim for school-based CPD experiences that mobilise research based on evidence-informed practice.

5. Be social
When two or more teachers work together on shared goals, the potential to scale up the resulting impact is profound. Interdependence is essential when improving performance, so try and assemble a group with similar objectives so that you can all work on your goals in a supportive and collaborative manner. (This also makes things a lot more fun.)

Schools can’t transform their culture overnight, but what they can do in the short term is respond to the emotional needs of their staff. Remove all unnecessary reliance on data next year and instead choose to be more holistic. If that doesn’t happen, then any long-term attempts at fixing the problem may well prove futile.

Andrew Morrish is the founder of Makana Leadership Ltd (@MakanaUK), a former headteacher and MAT CEO and author of the book The Art of Standing Out (John Catt, £15)

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