Performance management? - time for a new approach

For many the autumn term means the annual round of performance management with meetings, targets and sometimes a rather jaded outlook on the whole process.  But what if it could be different? - what if it could engage, inspire and lead to real improvement in the performance of the individual and the school as a whole? In a previous post I talked about the inspiration of Tom Rees' book Wholesome Leadership well this initiative is all about tending our soil and giving our staff the opportunity to grow and flourish.(1) 

These questions arose as we began our work as a pathfinder school for The Ethical Leadership Project.  Our school values are 'the fruits of the spirit' (2) and suggest growth and nurturing and the Ethical Leadership values are well aligned with this.  In the workplace I have found myself on both sides of the appraisal process many, many times to both good and bad effect.  I have long reflected on the process, it's always been a bit of a 'thing' with me and, as a Chair of Governors, I have thought long and hard about how this works in our schools. I always urge boards to take control of the process and work together with their Headteacher to make it a truly positive experience; a professional dialogue about the individual, about change and about school improvement. I agree with the sentiment Tom Rees puts forward that 'we should make sure that appraisals are used more effectively as developmental and motivational tools for our staff'.(3)

The first point for us to think about is what we will call the process in our school - you might think this is a small thing, but words matter, they set the tone.  In a previous post about our work as a pathfinder in The Ethical Leadership Project I wrote about 'getting the SAYING aligned with the DOING.'   Performance Management and Appraisal sound like things that we do 'to' people not with them.  A quick search around social media led me to the 'Growing Great Teachers' work led by Chris Moyes. He talks of the process focussing on ‘improving not proving’ - exactly what we are interested in achieving. (4) I would urge you to look at the way in which he has led change in Performance Management in his trust - it is all about growth and improvement and I really like it. 

So, back to our school, and we need to rename the process to better reflect the dialogic, developmental, professional conversation that happens.  Something like Leadership Development Meeting will work better for us perhaps and Professional or Personal Development Meetings for the staff. This flags up that things have changed - it isn't same old, same old but rather a new, dynamic initiative focussed on the individual.

We want to embed some action research into this process, in line with our vision to be a learning organisation, and another scan of Twitter tells me that my HT and I are not alone in looking for new ways of doing this.  @ThinkingSchool2 for example has been tweeting about how they tackle this - 'This week we asked all teachers to come up with a research question that they would like to explore in prep for their meetings next week.' (5)  It is important that staff can see the relevance of this to their work, that we are mindful of workload, but we hope that this will be collaborative and interesting for them and a useful tool in their own development and the development of their practice.  

Now I wouldn't want you to come away with the idea that this is all fluffy stuff that is not firmly focussed on school improvement.  Quite the opposite!  I firmly believe that if staff are invested in their own development the impact of that will be seen in the achievement of their pupils. Of course as governors our remit is solely with the Headteacher but that doesn't preclude our working with the Headteacher to establish this culture across the school. The board needs to know that staff appraisal has happened, that high quality cpd is in place and that it will lead to improved outcomes for children.  Jeremy Hannay, in his series of blogs No Ordinary Classroom, writes about 'student success as a result of teacher development'. His ideas are completely in line with our thinking and I love the concept of an annual learning plan. (Incidentally every member of our board also formulates an annual learning plan to develop them in their role as a governor) Reading Jeremy's blog also brings me full circle to the beginning of my writing - he talks of staff flourishing because we are 'soil people' (6)

Yes! That surely is what we want! 

1) Tom Rees, (2018) Wholesome Leadership, p58

2) Galatians, Chapter 5, Verses 22-23

3) Tom Rees, (2018) Wholesome Leadership, p154

) Chris Moyes, (Jan 2019)

) @Thinkingschool2  tweet  Kulvarn Atwal, (2019) The Thinking School

6) Jeremy Hannay - online blog No Ordinary Classroom


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