Professional development reviews: How to make them work

A good review should make you feel ‘wrung out’ – but also feel ‘lighter and clearer’, says Susan Ward

Professional development reviews: How to make them work

Well, we have made it to June and you know what that means. In schools across Scotland, teachers’ inboxes are pinging and post-it notes are appearing on desks, each one signalling the date for a flurry of annual Professional Review and Development (PRD) meetings for teachers. The clue is in the title, really – this should be time for teachers to have some time to review their professional development, reflect on what’s gone by, and plan for what’s coming next.

So why is it often not like this at all? Ask most teachers how they feel about their upcoming PRD and you can expect a fair bit of eye-rolling. The general attitude is mostly we are too busy and too tired to think about this stuff right now, thank you very much.

PRD that is inflicted upon you never feels good, and it is 10 times worse when the reviewer who meets you acts like they wish they were somewhere else. Too often, PRDs are squeezed into already jam-packed schedules, resulting in hurried conversations that barely scratch the surface. When school leaders are furtively checking their watches instead of listening closely, teachers can be forgiven for feeling the whole thing is just a box-ticking exercise. It can be tempting to give up, jump through the necessary hoops and then simply forget about it until next year.


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But there is another way. Here are a few PR-Do’s and PR-Don’ts for teachers and school leaders to make sure this year’s meeting breaks new ground.

1. Don’t forget to do your homework

A good PRD has an agenda set by the teacher. The hit list of things to talk about should have been put together by reflecting on the challenges and accomplishments of the year gone by and point towards a plan for the year to come. It should be insightful and honest. You can’t knock that out on the back of a fag packet on your way to the meeting room, so make sure you set aside some time to think things through in advance and go into the meeting well prepared.

2. Do make sure there is time to talk

A rushed conversation is no conversation at all. The PRD meeting should happen on neutral ground, not in a classroom or an office and preferably somewhere no one can find or bother either of you. It is hard to get into the guts of things when pupils keeps interrupting looking for their PE kit or the phone is constantly ringing. So, find a quiet space and make sure everyone knows you are not to be disturbed.

3. Don’t shy away from the hard questions

This is an hour of protected time to just talk about you – 60 glorious minutes where nothing matters more than talking about your career, your skills, your craft as a teacher. How you got to where you are. What you will do to move forward from this point. Do not waste that precious opportunity engaging in pointless small talk. Skirting around the edges of the big issues for the sake of politeness and platitudes is not what a PRD is all about. Get real and make every minute count. A good reviewer will help you to look the tough stuff in the eye and get you to start talking. To dig deeply into how you feel about your work. If you don’t like what you find, be ready to talk honestly about what you need to do to make things better.

4. Do make sure you are in need of a lie down by the end of it

A good PRD should leave both parties exhausted. Drilling down into someone’s practice is emotionally hard work and even with a well-planned agenda to do some of the heavy lifting, you should expect to feel wrung out afterwards. But you should also feel a little lighter and a little clearer. You should leave with a plan for what will come next and a feeling of having been heard, supported, valued and appreciated. Your reviewer should leave feeling they know you a little better and have helped you on your way.

That will ensure it has been an hour well spent for both of you.

Susan Ward is depute headteacher at Kingsland Primary School in Peebles, in the Scottish Borders. She tweets @susanward30

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