Appraisal: More Questions Than Answers

Reflect for a moment on your professional career, has your appraisal experience contributed to your professional growth? Have you been lucky enough to have an appraiser who cared and sought to help you grow? Should it have been down to luck?

There are two things I am excited about for the next academic year and one of them is improving our current appraisal system. I have been doing a little reading and reflection on the topic in preparation for this. This post is about questions that I want to find answers to although at the moment, they are just that: unanswered questions.

Most literature to date highlights the tensions between different approaches to appraisal and accountability: 

  • formative – focused on professional development – versus summative – focused on accountability and student performance (Chow et al. 2002 and Stronge, 2006) 
  • and surplus – based on the assumption “that problems are unintended systemic flaws” versus deficit models – based on the assumption “that  problems are someone’s fault” (Didau, 2020, p.11 and Myatt, 2016). 

The summative and deficit models appear to stem from a neo-liberal approach to education. Since the late 80s the assumption has been that the free-market economy is the healthiest – both the most effective and most democratic modus operandi, a model so common in the UK with the appraisal linked to performance-related pay. This is true of international schools too which are often for profit organisations drawing on business models with student outcomes and admissions numbers being used as the key performance indicators. This focus on pursuit of the academic outcomes often leads to “a more centralised system of accountability” (Robertson, 2003, p. 284) and schools employing accountability measures that are summative and deficit focused in nature. Fortunately, the tide seems to be finally turning as that’s not what the research shows is best for teacher development. 

Q1: How do we get all leaders, some of whom may have spent their entire careers being told that appraisal is about judgement, on board with the idea that it needs to be first and foremost developmental in nature?

More and more leaders are now realising that teachers need trust and autonomy. It will take time to translate that changing mindset into school policies. After all, how often do senior leaders doubt teachers’ good intentions and drive for professional growth? I know I am guilty of this cynicism. At moments like this, I remind myself that we need to aim high and work with those resistant to understand their concerns and get their buy-in.

Q2: How do we get staff enthused about their development?

Q3: How do we regain the trust of those who have been judged for years?

Robertson (2003) found teachers preferred the formative model of appraisal ‘strongly favour[ing] an approach to accountability which was based on them being able voluntarily to give account of themselves rather than being called to account by other parties.’ (p. 290) No surprises there. On the other hand, leaders are often found to prefer the security of summative and deficit models of appraisal resulting in tension and a power struggle between the two. It is therefore important to ask here who the appraisal is meant to serve. Staffroom talk in the few schools I have worked in over the years indicates that teachers often feel that their appraisers don’t care about their development, that they are more interested in ticking the boxes although many have positive experiences they are sparse and on a one-off basis. They need to be more consistent. How do we get more buy-in from the appraisers themselves? 

Q4 How do we get the appraisers to care about the gravity of their role?

Q5 What training do they need to excel in their role as appraiser?

At the moment I have questions and just hints of answers but I hope this will change with time.

References:

Chow, A. P. Y., Wong, E. K. P., Yeung, A. S., & Mo, K. W. (2002) Teachers’ perceptions of appraiser-appraisee relationships. Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education, 16(2), 85–101.

Didau, D. (2020) Intelligent Accountability: Creating the conditions for teachers to thrive. Woodbridge: John Catt Educational Ltd.

Myatt, M. (2016) High challenge, Low Threat. 1st ed. Woodbridge: John Catt Educational Ltd.

Robertson, J. E. (2003) Teachers’ Perceptions of Accountability at an International School, Journal of Research in International Education, 2(3), pp. 277–300. doi: 10.1177/1475240903002003002.

Stronge, J. H. (2006) Evaluating teaching: a guide to current thinking and best practice, 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

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