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.