Every year, in every school, there comes a point when we’re told it’s time for an appraisal.
Usually, this is met with groans and rolling eyes.
We’ve all worked in schools where appraisals could consist of a tick-box exercise, which is filed away in a cupboard, never to see the light of day, or where you are told all the little things that you’re doing wrong.
But it doesn’t have to be like this; appraisal should be about school development where all stakeholders reflect on what we do well and how we can improve standards to benefit the students in our care.
Getting the most out of teacher appraisals
Here are a few simple steps to make your appraisal system work for your school.
1. Make it relevant
One size never fits all – it just makes most people unhappy. An appraisal system has to be relevant to different categories within the school.
What a full-time teacher is appraised on should look very different to what a senior leader is appraised on, for example.
Make the designing of an appraisal document a whole-school effort – what do teachers and middle leaders want to be included? Often they will come up with areas of their job that senior leaders forget about.
The school leadership can then take all the ideas and develop different criteria for teachers, middle leaders, senior leaders and even admin. This means there is more buy-in from all to the appraisal process.
2. People should own their appraisal, not have it done to them
As teachers, we know the value of getting students to reflect on their own learning. The same is true of adults.
A good appraisal system should always start with the individual. Where do they see themselves excelling or requiring development?
This should form the basis of a conversation with their line manager, where they agree to ratings. Where there are disagreements, ask for the individual to provide evidence.
This empowers middle leaders to take responsibility for their own department – are they happy with its performance? If not, this gives them the chance to address it. By the time they come to me as head, it should be pretty accurate.
As a school leader, you can’t know all the things that people are doing and this is a wonderful chance to sit down and talk with staff about them – I often find myself thanking staff for all their efforts, which adds to their sense of pride and achievement, boosting morale and improving retention.
3. Teachers do so much, so recognise it
Some appraisal systems focus on grades – the argument is that if the students get good grades, everything must else must be right – the planning, the feedback, the questioning and so on.
But this neglects so many other things teachers do and misses an opportunity to help teachers improve in small areas.
Yes, we are all accountable for grades, but we should also measure the impact teachers have in other areas – do they organise trips, run educational credential assessments, provide effective pastoral care, meet deadlines, communicate effectively with parents, or are they simply a positive influence around the place?
All of these add value to a school and it’s important to identify those who are meeting or, indeed, exceeding expectations.
4. It should be ongoing
I’ve been appraised by just one lesson observation in the past – thankfully it went well, so I was deemed an outstanding teacher.
But let’s face it, we can all teach an outstanding lesson – and we can all have a shocker.
Therefore, it is better to have a process of ongoing appraisal whereby teachers are seen a number of times (preferably by a number of people, so that bias is removed) in order to gain a true reflection of their common performance.
5. Follow up and offer professional development
Before anyone does anything, there needs to be a clear understanding of why we are appraising (to raise standards) and how the process will be used (to help achieve that aim).
A simple rating system can be shared with staff so that they know what the expectations are and how they can develop.
A top rating of lead practitioner may require staff to take on professional development such as a master's, becoming an examiner, IT certification, speaking at conferences, etc, leading to staff driving their own CPD.
Similarly, if a teacher is identified as a lead practitioner they can be buddied with staff requiring development in that area to ensure they are supported to meet expectations.
By analysing the data, it may become apparent that there is an area for development in most staff, in which case this will form the basis of your improvement plan, or perhaps you have lots of experts, in which case you can share this talent with other schools in a talent-exchange programme.
Overall, schools need to see appraisal not just as a way to monitor standards (which is important) but as something far more powerful that is a driving force in developing standards through teacher improvement.
After all, if you can make small incremental gains, the overall improvement will be substantial.
Ian Thurston has spent 13 years in international education, currently working as head of secondary at Dar Al Marefa School, an IB curriculum school in Dubai, UAE