Saturday, 22 February 2014

Teacher Appraisal and PRP - Part One: Background Thinking behind Berkhamsted School's approach

As a teacher I never found the appraisal process particularly satisfactory: the self-appraisal questionnaires were symptomatic of a broad-brush approach that, at one end of the spectrum, didn't set out to recognise excellence and staff who went the extra mile; and, at the other, allowed poor and even failing teachers to survive for yet another year (or three!):
  • "What have you been teaching this year?"
  • "What are the things that you have done well this year?"
  • "What aspects of the job have you found most satisfying this year?
  • "What areas have you found challenging?"
  • "Are there any ways in which the school management could make it easier for you to do your job?"
  • and so on . . . . . 
As a Head of Department, I was never even asked to feed back to the SMT on the performance of those in my department which meant that under-performance remained unaddressed - at least by the senior team. However, it is all too easy to be critical of Senior Leaders, as I realised as soon as I was catapulted to running my own school. As a young Headteacher I was just as bad as those who had gone before:  I was too busy keeping the school I was running afloat to be able to deviate from the bland platitude approach to appraisal. There had to be a better way . . . . . . 
It has taken us (this has been a real team effort) three years to put a better way in place.  
The starting point:  Learn from the Best
The starting point was in November 2010 when I had the opportunity to visit the Human Resources team at the Basel headquarters of Novartis, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. It has the value and turn-over the size of a small country and its continued profitability depends on developing new drugs and medicines each year to replace those that are going out of patent. Novartis' success relies on attracting and developing the best talent in the world. There the rewards for high performance and the cost of of poor performance are measured in tens of millions (£s). 
Novartis use a 3 x 3 grid developed by The Harvard Business School to evaluate performance:

This performance management tool combines two aspects: 'performance outcomes or results' on the y axis; and 'attitudes and behaviours' on the x axis. The 'attitudes and behaviours' dimension is particularly important for Novartis, because the success of Novartis isn't just about individual's meeting personal objectives, it is about working as a team and collaborating with others. The company can suffer if I as an individual meet or even exceed my objectives, but that the rest of the team that I lead decide to leave the company (probably taking experience and insight to work for a rival) and our (£multi-million) project goes down the pan.
'Results' v 'Attitudes and Behaviours' in Teaching
The attractive aspect of this approach to appraisal  is that gives scope to evaluate how they do their job -by looking at how teachers conduct themselves on a daily basis.  
An appraisal structure that looks at the key teaching competences, such as lesson preparation, classroom control, subject knowledge, the range of pedagogy, assessment etc., allows appraisal to focus on teacher improvement and development and not just on results. 
Such a structure provides scope to recognise those who are team-players, those who are excellent practitioners and those who go the extra mile for their pupils. It also provides a mechanism to highlight areas of relative strength, which might be harnessed by the school in spreading 'best-practice'; or of relative weakness, which will be areas which will be a focus for improvement over the coming year. 
Managing Poor Performance in Teaching: 
In my experience, everyone knows who are the 'good teachers' and who are the 'bad' ones: the pupils can tell you, colleagues know, Heads of Department know, the parents know, and (because of that) Headteachers certainly know. The problem is that often 'bad teachers' can perform when they need to, and are able to pull out a 'satisfactory' lesson when required. Furthermore analysis of examination results often demonstrate that 'bad teachers' in independent schools tend to perform as well as good ones.  There are many reasons for this: pupils devote a disproportionate amount of time to their subject or paper, other teachers in the Department put on revision classes, and in some cases parents pay for private tutors or attend crammers in the Easter vacation. Ultimately pupils and parents will "back-fill" because the price of a child failing is just too great. The consequence of this is that exam results (raw, comparative or value-added) alone are too crude and instrument to manage poor performance.  By looking at day-to-day teaching practices, the Novartis grid provides a management tool, where teachers who do not prepare lessons or do their marking can be held to account.

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