Saturday, May 9, 2009

Appraisal - rigour or rubbish

Lets not beat around the bush, if your teacher is achieving in the classroom then they will always "pass" an observation and you will always attest to their meeting the professional standards. This presumes of course that they are collaborative team players bla bla bla. The problem I have is that the MOE says you should have goals, observations etc. I know one highly respected colleague who gave me a blow by blow discussion on how he observes practice and rigorously appraises teachers and it makes a huge difference to kids learning (he does have the evidence to prove it too). But what if they are sometimes late for school, and your DP has observed something in passing that set off a small alarm, their team personal demeanor isn't always spot on, and a couple of parents have expressed something that doesn't sit well with you as principal.
The thing is that an observation or even ten of them doesn't tell the whole picture. The term ‘playing the game’ is too easily applied to too many levels of the process. Pre booked observations are easy to plan for and often show unrealistically high effort. Planning can be checked, but this may or may not reflect the teacher’s practice during real student contact time. Still, these methods are widely accepted by governmental and Board stakeholders who are familiar with such business-world models to justify investment in institutions and programs.

Teachers and managers know strategies to succeed in these systems, but those strategies are seldom collegial, transparent, self-reflective or even honest. If the system of appraisal involves forced and false situations for observation, lengthy yet shallow accountability procedures and the underlying dichotomy of expecting teachers to engage in a process that has historically offered little benefit, then it’s unreasonable to expect that a culture of useful, honest dialogue may ever become embedded in a school as a result. Engaging in the ‘play the game’ subtext at a school wide level offers considerable threat to essential learning dialogue with peers or the chance for teachers to request help from management or leaders.

So every day of the week, month, and year teachers are being judged. Its a bitch I know, but here is what you are really being judged on:
the professional standards and your professionalism
colleagues and there observations and discussions
your children and how well you cope
lateness, punctuality, the time you put in or perceived time
senior managers, DP's, team leaders
environment the look and feel
your dialogue with everyone from the office staff to parents to kids and colleagues
professional learning your participation, enthusiasm, attitude
personal demeanor, happiness, feedback to others
part of learning community, fit and feel with staff
wider community, parental support

So all this stuff is really used to judge you as a teacher, I need a beer just looking at the list. So lets fake it and go to an observation, an irrelevant goal and tick the box. Or lets look at the horrible list and tackle it with respect and professionalism. Leaders need to be trusted. If they are lemons you are in trouble, but if you trust them and the little things are taken care of, then the open honest learning community will thrive.

Teachers if its all too much, just read the list above and apply that list to your principal, because everyday that guy has been in teaching he has also been judged by the same list. Would you attest to your principal?


Moturoa said...

As Deputy Principal no one has EVER asked me to be part of the appraisal process for the principal. They get an outsider in for a chat, tick the box and leave.

I like to think that I have very valuable input to feed forward into the process but never get an opportunity.

Allanah K

gregcarroll said...

Appraisal of any sort is fraught. I love the list though. Agree on all the points!
... time at school (on the premises) has been an interesting one for us last term. My timing bringing it up may have been crappy but still .... the irony was that for the past two years I have teachers who have bought up with the BoT chair as part of my appraisal the time I spend at school. Interesting they judge me on this criteria but not themselves?
Teachers can provide anonymous feedback via 'the process' on their principal; we get to look them in they eye as we provide 'goals' and 'next steps' thoughts.

Often the things people need to work hardest on are the 'soft' skills like the ones you describe. I think we have been driven into formal systems through the focus on process if we get to formal competence procedures. No 'evidence', nothing you can put a number on; it didn't happen, not an issue.

Appraisal is like catching smoke. We just need to get better at it.

We ALL also need to be more aware of the things on your list!

Fletchspeak said...

Having to provide checklists and formal documentation kills the real professionalism we need and strive for in teaching. To me to have time to visit my teachers in real action (not staged) and to informally ask questions ( what, why, how and when?)for improvement would be more beneficial. As you say Luke - you need trust to have this engagement and that takes time & the discarding of written statements. I don't have a problem with a simple checklist reiterating the performance of a teacher on a national basis so they can get their pay rise, apply for another position or set competency procedures in place but in the learning environment of our place - a coffee & a chat is the magic potion!

Podgorani said...

DP's not being involved in feedback (or better still feedforward) is poor.
Greg i like the analogy of catching smoke. I think by using the list i have provided and getting understanding and "buy in" that appraisal is a full circle, 365 days a year then Daves simple checklist may not be required.

another thought:
I think if you are going to look at an attestation signature from payroll and hesitate before signing because you think the teacher is struggling then you need to look at yourself. You see, if you have done nothing in the way of guidance and support, discussion, assistance, compassion, encouragement when it was needed then you are dicing with disaster.

Pedro said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pedro said...

It's clear that this discussion is filled with people who want to be trusted, and are working to honour the trust they earn with good leadership practice. I think the attestation process offers good systems for seeing that practice is fair and balanced in the absence of such well deserved trust. Linked to your blog with my thoughts.

Danny said...

Good stuff Luke.

I've wondered (and been frustrated by) the same things for years now. My thinking has been changed by the 4 minute walkthrough process promoted by Interlead consultants - not sure if you are familiar with it but it strives to take away the one-off "show" that teachers put on for observations. The "data" around performance becomes cumulative rather than one or two forced situations. I've found it a powerful tool for honest conversations with staff.

Principal appraisal is another kettle of fish altogether of course... I'll return to post some thoughts on that later. Thanks for sharing your viewpoint.

Pedro said...

Hi Danny, I work with the Podgorani doing walkthroughs with Tony Burkin as part of our EHSAS cluster. We're getting right into it and we like them. We've tried hard to separate them from core attestation so that teachers can focus on safe, high trust conversations and not worry about the rest. That's what The List is for and it works really well. We're also using Michael Absolum's Effective Teacher Matrix to communicate the effectiveness of our Walkthrough process across our EHSAS cluster. The other cluster schools use a variety of strategies, so having that common thread is good.
Doing all we can to 'not play the game'. Funny thing about the game is, everyone needs to not play it for a new strategy to work. It's easy to fall into old habits that set us up for old sytems to surface. One example is when we wonder when's the 'best time' to do a walkthrough so we see 'core teaching time'. But we are relieved that when we go at random, we get a real slice of real practice, and then that's what we reflect on. It makes is so much easier, and so much more honest. That's the point I think.

Pete Hall
Summerland Primary

Podgorani said...

cheers danny I see pedro jumped in with his kick before I could get in and reply. i think what is important with these walkthroughs is not to butcher the process and have them become a "we do walkthroughs" thing and make it a catch word rather than an effective process. i want to ditch the word walkthrough before it becomes the new "inquiry".
Danny what do we really do with principal appraisal. that is one hell of a big can of worms.

Danny said...

That's the core question - why do we do it and who for? BOT to tick off on their list, or for our own personal growth? Which child in our school benefits one little bit from principal appraisal? 'm grappling with these questions at the moment. I'm not aganst them per se - there needs to be some checks and balances - but the current models don't seem to lead to much more than compliance for the board.

Re: walkthroughs - glad that you are finding it a helpful process . Another point I forgot to mention around teacher observations is knowing when to just get out of the way. Great teachers need a pat on the back not minor next steps pointed out that undermine or detract from good practice in the name of attestation. I find walkthroughs work better with less capable and developing staff - you can use that anecdotal info and "pattern" data to have powerful conversations.

The Effective Teacher Matrix sounds interesting - I'll google it - any recommended sites or books?

Tony said...

I've enjoyed reading your comments. The interesting thing about traditional appraisal is the more I work in schools the more I can't escape the notion that its traditional appraisal that will ultimately prevent schools from working through that crust to becoming rich professional learning communities. It’s a wonderful paradox. One of the most important management systems in a school which focuses teachers on their teaching practice actually prevents that from happening. In my experience traditional appraisal encourages games, encourages dishonesty, erodes professional trust and damages professional relationships - especially over time. All the things you mention. When you think about it these 4 things alone will prevent most leaders from being able to establish the high trust environment required for professional communities to thrive. There is a huge misalignment between desired outcome and process.

I enjoyed your discussion on Principal Appraisal. When working with Principals around Walk Through development and implementation it is not uncommon for a Principal at some stage of the process to voice their frustration that there is not a similar process for them. Actually I believe there is. There's no reason why for your appraisal as a DP/AP or Principal a Walk Through type of approach using other Principals, DPs/APs in other schools couldn't be used with an Appraiser/Coach driving that process. I must admit I haven't tried this yet but it would appear to me that the whole area of vicarious experience provides powerful learning opportunities for everyone. No reason why senior school leaders shouldn't benefit in the same way. This requires more thought around process but I’m sure it’s achievable.

Podgorani said...

i think the whole discussion on principal appraisal is something we need to investigate. you raise good points on the possibility of walkthroughs on principals, but somehow i think relationships are the key to principals, how a walkthrough can analyse relationships im not sure.