Any good cycle (water, wash or life) ends with the completion of a goal. Progress is made: water returns to its source; clothes are cleaned; there’s new life. Unfortunately, the same may not always be true of performance-management cycles in schools.
One of the issues with performance management is that there’s not necessarily consensus on what the goal of the process is. While some view it as an accountability measure, for others it as an opportunity to grow and develop. It might be a process "done with" or "done to"; a carrot or a stick; fruitful or fruitless.
Whether performance management is seen as meaningful, necessary or pointless depends, it seems, on school context, personal experience and your role in the process. As a middle leader, you may have very little say in the school’s systems and processes for performance management, and you may encounter some healthy cynicism from those you line-manage – but how can you make the most of it for your team?
Here are my tips.
Improving performance management in schools
Be clear about the goal
What do you think the purpose of performance management is? You may not have a say over all of the targets set (some might be school-wide and set by senior leadership), but you can be clear with your team about the purpose of the targets that you are able to agree together.
In theory, a key aspect of the PM cycle should be about the core business of teaching and supporting your team to be the best teachers they can be. What is it about each target that’s going to make your team members more effective practitioners? If you line-manage those with additional responsibilities, what’s going to help them succeed there?
Make sure it’s a process ‘done with’
Once you’ve been clear about the purpose of the process, even if you have ideas about what you think the team’s or an individual’s development points are, allow those you line-manage to come to the target-setting meeting with ideas about what they want to work on. For PM to be effective, it needs to be a discussion in which targets are agreed together – if your appraisee feels like the process is being ‘done to’ them, they’ll see it as a box-ticking exercise.
Think carefully about how targets can be met
Once targets have been set, real thought needs to be given to how those targets can be met – not just how you will assess whether or not the target has been met. What do you need to do to support that member of staff? What needs to be provided by the school (time, resources, training) to give them every chance of success?
Be clear about when things should happen
It’s very easy, especially when targets aren’t owned or meaningful, for PM to be something teachers think about at three points in the year: target setting, mid-year review and end-of-year review. To make the process more meaningful for your team, discuss when smaller goals along the way will be met. As a middle leader, it’s your job to keep checking in with your team to see how they’re progressing and support them as necessary. Ultimately, you want everybody in your team to succeed.
Don’t set meaningless targets
If we agree that PM is about developing staff then we really ought to question whether the targets set are going to allow them to grow. You may very well want someone to run a lunchtime creative writing club, but is that really an appropriate target? Will it develop them? If not, don’t set it.
Rebecca Foster is head of English at St Edmund’s Girls’ School, Salisbury