When it's difficult to expresso yourself

10th September 2004 at 01:00
Is there any point in completing a questionnaire which asks about one's satisfaction with the effectiveness and efficiency of colleagues from external agencies? My contacts run into double figures and, for each agency, I am expected to appraise these liaisons. Depending on the organisation I can be asked to enter a number from 0 to 5 (with 0 being "who?" and 5 "I go to the pub regularly with so-and-so"). Or I might be asked to ascertain how effective a colleague has been with a child (0 = murder took place, 5 = total cure).

Or I might be required to fill in a fearfully large box which cries out school report-style comment: "The school nurse has had an excellent year and I feel sure the incident surrounding the mis-placed syringe will soon be resolved." And then I am often asked to believe these documents will remain confidential and will be heeded. Worse, I have to complete some of these infernal things with the colleague in question. Who, may I ask, has ever been overtly critical in this way? Even if you are rhino-hided you are going to find it awkward to annotate their uselessness over a coffee.

So, here's what to do in future. Abandon the formality of the annual questionnaire in favour of encouraging, if need be, the relationship between your own line-manager and your colleague's equivalent so that you can get any critical message across in a more personal fashion.

Make your own contact as well at non-crisis times - as we suggest teachers do with parents - so that any future criticism is better received when delivered. Feed back regularly to your visiting colleague, making clear that the views you are expressing are not only yours but those of in-house colleagues as well. Is it not true that the unexpected compliment does more for morale than the formality of an annual "well done?"

We all need positive feedback and constructive criticism but we will only react enthusiastically and thoughtfully if we feel comments are well-considered, follow collegiate discussion and reflect, if negative, the difficulty of the task you are jointly undertaking.

Ticking a box is something we teachers are surely trying to reduce in our practice with pupils. Why regard it as useful with colleagues Derek Raishbrook is head of learning and support at Woodway Park school, Coventry. Feeling aggrieved? Write us a 400-word Sounding Off and get paid as you grumble. Send it to susan.young@tes.co.uk

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