Unnecessary, uncoordinated, subjective, patronising, hypocritical and insulting: what’s the point in the annual performance management cycle?

It’s that time of year when teachers complete the appraisal process.  Part of performance management, we refer to them as appraisals in our schools to help instil a slightly softer approach to the management system.

Over the years I have heard teachers, particularly those in the upper pay range, call the process unnecessary, uncoordinated, subjective, patronising and even insulting.  Of course, even in an individual school there are so many staff involved in the process, that we cannot guarantee we avoid all of these pitfalls all of the time, but here are a few suggestions to help make the process more effective.  

Firstly, by making the point of the process clear.  Appraisal is a chance for those who lead a school to measure what they feel is important to measure.  As William Bruce Cameron suggested in 1963, “not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”  We need to make sure that the formats we use count and that we measure the things that we as an organisation think are important.  So the processes, templates and categories used should be reviewed by those responsible for governance and debated with staff before any individual starts setting their personal targets.    

Secondly, by trying to reduce the unexpected and lack of coordination.  There is a golden rule that nothing in the annual appraisal meeting should come as a surprise.  Results of exams, parental concerns, successes and failures in all areas should be discussed in advance of the meeting itself.

Thirdly, let’s face it, objectivity is an elusive holy grail but we can reduce the subjective elements of the process by having clearly defined targets, involving the views of others and having clear lines of appeal.

Finally, no one wants to feel patronised or insulted.  The way we speak to our colleagues is always crucial.  Allowing them to tell their story unimpeded is really important.  Probing and testing evidence and assertions is fine but always with a desire to clarify and to edify; never to tear down or destroy.

We may never be able to remove the anxiety entirely from the process but we can certainly do our best to make appraisal constructive, supportive and hopefully beneficial.  

Written by:
Julian Dutnall
CEO, LIFE Education Trust

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