How our school is making performance management effective.

Why should you read this?

If you want to find out how one school has made performance management more about ‘growth’ than ‘management’.

What is this about?

About how our school began a journey this year of moving from ‘appraisal’ to ‘growth’ and making the process personalized and based on staff ownership rather than being determined by leadership.

How did our journey begin?

It began with my own reflections about my own performance management targets and their relevance, and as a senior leader responsible for teaching and learning, if I felt my own targets were not helping me become a better teacher, then how did other staff feel?

For example, my teaching and learning target would be linked to some area of whole school professional development e.g. use a wider range of questioning techniques, develop AfL strategies. Naturally, I would have worked on these and always have had evidence to discuss with my line manager in my appraisal meetings.

But something happened last year that made me realise these targets were, at best, unnecessary, and maybe even inappropriate for helping me become a better teacher.

As an English teacher, I found, as all English teachers have done, that I needed to completely rethink my approach to teaching my exam classes as a result of the introduction of the linear examinations. In particular, I had become frustrated with teaching English Literature and my classes inability to express their own opinion about a text to meets the demands of the new AO1. As any conscientious teacher would do, I reflected and thought ‘I need to do something about this’ and looked around on Twitter and blogs to see if there was anyone else out there who was working on this. Thankfully, there was (credit to Tom Needham and his vocabulary work) which led me to adapting my lessons and my whole approach to teaching Literature and resulting in better AO1 marks for my students.

Although I have made this sound a simple and straightforward process to adapt my teaching, in reality, it was time consuming and not straight forward. I had clearly engaged in some ‘professional development’ but this wasn’t a target on my performance management document. But surely this is what my ‘performance’ as a teacher should be judged on:

  • I had identified a need for my students e.g. a weakness in writing for AO1.
  • I had engaged in research.
  • I had implemented strategies and evaluated their impact (because I began explicitly teaching skills for AO1, this led to them neglecting AO2 which I had to address).

Therefore, in my eyes, the performance management process was flawed: I was being judged on targets that had been arbitrarily set and yet I was still doing work on developing my teaching that was having an impact, but I was not being judged on or rewarded for it.

The key thing that needed to be changed was how and when targets were set: how can targets be set in September when staff don’t really know what they will have to respond to until they have begun teaching their classes?

The other piece of the puzzle that needed to fall into place was how professional development time and resources could enable this individualized approach to ‘growth’ rather than ‘management’. Fortunately, I had applied for a place on the Teacher Development Trust Professional Development Leadership course which introduced me to the current research into PD.

This led to, I suppose, a ‘perfect storm’ of ideas that led me to propose to the rest of the leadership team a way of transforming professional development and the appraisal process.

What changes have we made?

1) Created a set of Learning Standards for staff

Ultimately, all staff are judged and assessed on the Teachers’ Standards. However, if I look at Standard 3, demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge’ how do I know that I am doing this well. If someone tells me that I am not doing this well, do I know what I need to do to get better at it?

Essentially, the Standards are summative and were not really created to be formative to enable teachers to become better teachers. Therefore, as a school, we looked at creating a set of Learning Standards for staff (see below) that were more formative and they could link to their daily classroom practice and therefore create their own professional growth targets.

In September, staff evaluate themselves against these standards and discuss with their line managers who will have carried out lesson observations to feed into the discussion, what they want to work on with their classes (see 2 below).

2) Moved from grading lessons with numbers

To support this development of a formative culture of professional development, we decided to move from grading lessons with summative numbers and move to using more formative language of ‘secure’, ‘developing’ and ‘emerging’.  Therefore, a teacher’s target might be shaped from their own self evaluation e.g. Standard 10 for modeling they might decide they are developing and ‘can give learners examples and skills that are discussed but not fully explored.’ They would negotiate this with their line manage who confirm from their own observations and agree this is the best target.

3) Given staff time

To enable this process to happen we have given staff protected time after school within the meeting cycle to work on their professional growth and record their research and ideas as they go along. Therefore, the process of professional growth becomes more organic and responsive rather than three isolated meetings in a year where the performance document is looked at.

This approach isn’t perfect; it is flawed. As the process relies a great deal on trust, can leadership be sure that all staff are engaging in the process? But this year has been about taking a new approach and not doing the same thing; it has been about learning what we can do about making the process of the development of our staff even better next year.

So far there seems to have been a much more dynamic approach to staff development.  There is certainly more discussion around school about the various avenues staff have chosen to investigate.

I know that many schools have begun a similar process of professional growth and I would be interested about how you have tackled it and challenges you have met.