I have been a teacher for 27 years, a Headteacher for 12 years and, at the age of 51, this much I know about how Appraisal can help improve the quality of teaching in schools!?

The belief that there are thousands of consistently inadequate teachers may be like the search for welfare queens and disability scam artists—more sensationalism than it is reality.

David C. Berliner, Regents’ Professor of Education Emeritus at Arizona State University

It’s the law! The latest DfE advice on Performance Related Pay is unequivocal: Schools need to ensure that their pay policies are clear that performance-related progression provides the basis for all decisions on pay – for classroom teachers and leaders.
Make a legislative imposition work to your advantage. An effective Appraisal process can be a genuine asset. It is a given that Appraisal processes have to be consistent and fair. But more than that, good Appraisal processes will sit coherently within a school’s Continuous Professional Development system. Rather than an awkward legislative hoop-jumping burden, Appraisal systems can be designed to improve the quality of teaching in a school to the benefit of everyone concerned.
It is not the critic who counts. In his book The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawunde talks about critics who stand outside of medicine making negative judgements about medical practitioners who make mistakes; he may just as well be talking about teaching: …the judgement feels like it ignores how extremely difficult the job is. Every day there is more and more to manage and get right and learn. And defeat under conditions of complexity occurs far more often despite great effort rather than from a lack of it. The thing is, that is where the comparison with teaching diverges slightly, for in the next sentence he says this: That’s why the traditional solution in most professions has not been to punish failure but instead to encourage more experience and training. In the best schools I know, teachers at all levels of competence are encouraged to improve their practice; in the worst schools, a climate of fear reigns and teachers who find the job challenging can be left unsupported, made to feel inept, and often go on to leave the profession.
The thing is, teaching is a damned tricky business, as Lee Shulman recognised in The Wisdom of Practice: After 30 years of doing such work, I have concluded that classroom teaching…is perhaps the most complex, most challenging, and most demanding, subtle, nuanced, and frightening activity that our species has ever invented…The only time a physician could possibly encounter a situation of comparable complexity would be in the emergency room of a hospital during or after a natural disaster.
Performance Development, not Performance Management. In their appositely entitled paper, Good Seeds Grow in Strong Cultures, Saphier and King say, If we are serious about school improvement and attracting and retaining talented people to school careers, then our highest priority should be to maintain structures that nurture adult growth and sustain the school as an attractive workplace.
The real work of a Headteacher. In the end, our leadership activities as Headteachers in creating a culture for students and staff to thrive have to lead to improved student outcomes. Viviane Robinson’s extensive research into school effectiveness led her to claim that, The more leaders focus on their relationships, their work, and their learning on the core business of teaching and learning, the greater will be their influence on student outcomes.
Make PRP supportive not penal. I am in the process of completing the annual Performance Development cycle of 30 Huntington teachers. It is my core work, the most important thing I do in the school year because it is the vehicle through which I can most influence the quality of teaching. All of which leads me to make a number of claims about our Performance Development system, something absolutely central to our school improvement processes. It is a system which…

  • is built around a culture where every colleague accepts the professional obligation to improve his or her practice;
  • focuses upon the quality of teaching as a whole, not upon meeting a small number of data-driven objectives;
  • doesn’t judge lessons, rather our observers’ main aim is to help teachers improve their teaching;
  • takes Professor Rob Coe’s definition of great teaching to be, that which leads to improved student progress;
  • is data cognisant but not data obsessed;
  • gives me the opportunity to engage in genuine and hugely enjoyable conversations about teaching with interested and interesting colleagues on a regular and frequent basis, not just at the beginning and end of the annual cycle;
  • produces moments of real illumination when teachers have tracked a pedagogic intervention through to their students’ outcomes and can expertly judge the effectiveness of their practice…the thing is, John, the six students who received the intervention all improved by two grades in their final examination and no-one else did – this year, all the students will benefit from that intervention;
  • is coherent with our overall drive to improve our teaching;
  • provides within its processes tailored CPD opportunities to support teacher learning;
  • gets the balance between pressure and high standards about right most of the time;
  • epitomises Roland S. Barth’s observation when he says, Show me a school where instructional leaders constantly examine the school’s culture and work to transform it into one hospitable to sustained human learning, and I’ll show you students who do just fine on those standardized tests.

Collaborate don’t compete. If you would like a copy of our Performance Development and Pay policies just email me at j.tomsett@huntington-ed.org.uk.

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This post has 6 Comments

  1. A really nice post packed with common sense and wisdom. I have my doubts regarding the extent to which common sense and wisdom contribute to the output of the SMTs of many schools, but this post reassures me that amid the desert of dispair there are oases of normaility. I especially liked the following paragraph.
    “In the best schools I know, teachers at all levels of competence are encouraged to improve their practice; in the worst schools, a climate of fear reigns and teachers who find the job challenging can be left unsupported, made to feel inept, and often go on to leave the profession.”
    I would pass on my experience which is that many teachers find the job challenging not due to any shortcomings on their part but due to completely unreasonable workloads and expectations. This very weekend we see stories of record numbers of teachers quitting due to workload, we have junior doctors talking about quitting due to unreasoable workloads and midwives making the point that a shortage in staffing is leaving them with unreasoable workloads. We have carers expected to travel between appointments in their own time and social workers with worloads that tend to lead to potentially tragic outcomes.
    I feel that prior to stepping in to support teachers who find the job challenging by helping them improve their practice, leaders need to ensure that workloads are SMART. To link pay to performance in a situation where a teacher is unable to manage an excessive workload is wrong.
    Leaders have a legal obligation to protect the the mental health of their teachers and I am amazed that there are not more legal actions for breach of health and safety obligations. Yes support teachers who are struggling due to their own weaknesses, but firt ask whether difficulties are due to excessive workload.

  2. Another real gem of an article by John, this one being a topic that has concerned me many years, and I echo his comment “An effective Appraisal process can be a genuine asset.”
    Ever since I began teaching in 1973 I have been confused by the term ‘appraisal’ since it is obvious to me that we, teachers, have always been appraised or assessed, clearly influencing our pay scales. I personally received 3 promotions/pay increases in my first 6 years of teaching without ever applying for anything or having an interview (my first of either occurred after 12 years of teaching). I’ve witnessed hundreds of staff being given increases in pay without any clear evidence as to any link with capability, in fact it often appeared as though the main criteria was a well written letters of application and references, supported by good interview technique. Consequently, I have campaigned for 40 years to have an evidence-based approach (I am a scientist and analyst) to teaching and leadership, linking it with effective CPD, as a result my M.Ed.in 1990 focused on Staff Development and Appraisal. Unfortunately, I have seen little evidence of schools becoming the ‘Learning Organisations’ (Senge 1990) necessary to achieve this aim so that “good Appraisal processes will sit coherently within a school’s Continuous Professional Development system” in which development and measurement of good emotional health and skills becomes central, our highest priority should be to maintain structures that nurture adult growth and sustain the school as an attractive workplace”
    I hope John’s school can act as a role model, they already have fortnightly Teaching & Learning Forums and coaching team. However when any appraisal of teachers should always have the following central to it:
    “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think” Socrates
    “The greatest sign of success for a teacher… is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’ Maria Montessori

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