In the previous two parts of the appraisal series, I explored the ongoing tension between appraisal and accountability expressed by the two dramatically different approaches to appraisal: the surplus and deficit models. I also looked at how to start changing the appraisal culture through the ‘gentle pressure relentlessly applied’ approach.
In this part appraisal pathways take centre stage. Most schools require staff to set themselves professional development targets which usually are linked to an element of a school improvement plan or based on some form of self-review against teacher or leadership targets, but few schools provide structure for achieving such targets while allowing for teacher autonomy. That is where pathways come in.
When reviewing and researching appraisal systems that are surplus in nature, my biggest challenge lay with finding or designing a system that provided rigour while supporting professional development and teacher autonomy. This is how I came across Graham Chisnell’s article on Talent Pathways in the CCoT’s termly Impact magazine and was blown away by the simplicity of the idea. Pathways provide the development and support needed for staff to progress effectively and are loosely based on the concept of action research and all follow a similar pattern:
Discussing the idea with colleagues, I started exploring ways of applying the idea of pathways to our international school context and came up with the following pathways:
- Research: suitable for those interested in practice-based inquiry and bringing innovation to their role and to the school as a whole. As a part of this pathway, staff identify an innovation opportunity or a problem to solve and carry out practice-based inquiry working with a critical friend of their choice. They are supported with a series of optional sessions on the principles of practice-based inquiry, critical literature review and collecting and analysing data. The pathway ends in a Research Fair with everyone presenting their findings.
- Expert: suitable for those interested in developing their teaching expertise focusing on particular aspects of pedagogy. As a part of this pathway, staff are given the opportunity to refine one of their teaching skills. They need to carry out professional reading on the topic and carry out peer drop-ins to support their professional reflections. Staff will be then invited to share their learning through optional CPD opportunities and INSET days.
- Leadership pathway is divided into two strands dependent on experience:
- Aspiring to leadership: suitable for classroom practitioners interested in middle leadership;
- Leadership: suitable for middle and senior leaders interested in refining their leadership skills or progression to the next level of leadership.
As a part of this pathway, staff are enrolled on self-guided Leadership Matters courses which start with LM Persona for Aspiring to Leadership staff and a 360 review for those on the Leadership pathway. Staff focus on skills identified as areas for development through a choice of leadership project. They are invited to share their learning through middle and senior leadership meetings.
- Teaching Assistant pathway focused on development of knowledge and provision with particular learning needs in mind. As a part of this pathway, staff are offered opportunities to develop their understanding of learning needs through specialist courses and professional reading, to then put the learnt skills to practice and share their learning through team meetings.
- And Specialist pathway for those whose roles require specialist skills such as technicians, counsellors or boarding staff. Similarly to the Teaching Assistant pathway, staff are offered opportunities to develop their understanding of specialist skills through training courses and professional reading, to then put the learnt skills to practice and share their learning through team meetings.
We are a High Performance Learning school and when holding staff consultations, I found staff new to the school and to the HPL philosophy felt they would have benefited from a more in-depth induction to our teaching approach, which resulted in the creation of the New Staff pathway focused on HPL to support their successful induction and integration into the school.
At the start of the appraisal cycle, staff were invited to consider the purposes of each pathway and the provision within it to help them make their choice. They are now in the process of holding conversations with their appraisers to refine their foci. The participants on each pathway received individualised email to support their professional development while the appraisers have been offered soft skills training to support staff with key appraisal conversations.
We are at the beginning of this journey and the initial reception has been positive. I am looking forward to reviewing, reflecting and refining the system as we go through it.