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Why do we do appraisals? What is their purpose?

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This article originally appeared in NAHT’s November Leadership Focus 

Authored by Andrew Hammond, Headteacher, Hall School Wimbledon

How do we manage performance in a way that encourages colleagues to invest in their own development?

The extent to which pupils engage with their learning and feel a sense of ownership over it, may be inextricably linked to how empowered teachers themselves feel. A school’s system of appraisal can play a central role in encouraging all colleagues to invest in their own development.  

Too often, performance management reviews or appraisals are seen by employees as ‘something done to them’ or just ‘one more thing’ they have to remember to do. In the worst cases they are perceived solely as an accountability measure. There is, rightly, an element of quality assurance going on, but if the ultimate aim of any performance management is to enable an employee to be the best they can be, then the efforts and attitude of that same employee are integral to this aim. We want our staff to feel invested in the appraisal process; we want them to feel confident about their strengths and motivated to address their areas for development, as a reflective practitioner.  

Critical reflection is the key to future improvement, whatever your field. Reflecting on the impact we are having as a teacher not only helps us grow as a professional, it also motivates us to keep going, precisely because we can see the positive impact we are having on our pupils. Such motivation will not be lost on the children; it can help to create a positive learning culture in their classroom.  

Appraisals should provide the opportunity for practitioners to become more cognisant of what is going well (and why) and what is not going so well (and why). This ‘evidence’ of professional development should facilitate an ongoing professional dialogue between appraiser and appraisee. Critical reflection leads to more productive discussions and ultimately better practice.  

The NAHT Discovery Education Pathway programme is designed to encourage reflective practice. Its content is carefully and deliberately presented in ways that empower the user to reflect and take control of their own performance and development. Each course – and there are multiple courses within Pathway – is presented using filmed discussions to watch, academic writing to read, and coaching questions to reflect upon. Throughout each course there is space and time provided for the teacher to reflect and compile an ongoing professional learning journal – and such a journal brings an effective script to appraisal meetings.  

When a Pathway course is attached to an appraisal target – i.e. the subject of that course addresses the focus of that target – then we have a new approach to performance management, one that moves the appraisee from a passive stance to a pro-active one – a professional teacher actively engaging in their own professional and personal development. The use of the word ‘personal’ is key here. Pathway focuses not only on pedagogy, but teacher wellbeing, critical reflection and developing resilience. With such an holistic approach, appraisals can themselves place the person at the centre of the process, rather than focusing only on professional skills.  

Patrick Foley, experienced headteacher at Southborough Primary, acquired the Pathway programme for his staff and quickly linked it to his appraisal system. ‘We want our staff to have control over their own learning,’ he says, ‘And the programme will give them this. We have suggested that everyone, before the appraisal interview, if they can, spends some time on the Orientation element and accesses the Wellbeing course, so that the conversation during the appraisal meeting can be informed with high level thinking about this.’ 

Another experienced headteacher, Kirsten Marriott of Hemingford Grey Primary School, has engaged with the Pathway programme and recognises its holistic approach:  

‘Pathway’s focus on the whole teacher resonates with my deeply held value system. I want every teacher to know that I care about them, value their professional journey and know that I trust their instinct and interest in continual improvement. The word that caught my eye in Pathway was empowerment. I loved the sound of empowering my already dedicated staff with a toolkit.’ 

Every course contains multiple questions for reflection, and each question provides the opportunity to write as much as you wish. There is no single ‘right answer’, no ‘one way of doing things’, rather there are different styles, strategies and contexts, the key ingredient being reflection – knowing what works, what doesn’t, and why. 

Created in partnership with NAHT, Pathway offers a fresh new approach to CPD supporting the continuous professional empowerment of teachers and leaders.

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