Wednesday, 18 September 2013

A true story about appraisal and performance management

Guest BLOG by Dan O'Brien

There's a low grumbling noise coming from the school hall.  It's the sound of cautious chatter as the entire staff: teachers, teaching assistants and senior leadership team assemble for the highly anticipated session on 'setting objectives for appraisal'.  There is quiet when the Principal stands.  With all the pressure of Performance Related Pay, after their recent inspection, there's a tangible sense of trepidation and dare I say - reluctance in the air. She addresses the group in a calm but confident way and deliberately does not refer to the  inspection but she does say she is ditching their current on-line school improvement system in preference for something they are going to learn about in the afternoon, some grin.

In an almost relieved manner she hands the session over to John Pearce and me, introducing us as visiting experts on the professional development approach to appraisal and performance management in schools.  John begins his usual amusing, inspirational and hands-on session, they watch intently as he slides the beads on a simple abacus to demonstrate a unique improvement planning process.  Slowly, but surely, he convinces all in the room that if done correctly and thoughtfully appraisal can be an empowering and positive experience that integrates what the best approaches to learning.  He concludes by highlighting the theory and research that underpins this collaborative approach to school improvement.

With everyone now at ease, confident in the ethos and ethics behind the abacus approach I can reveal iAbacusTM - our deceptively simple, on-line tool that each member of staff will now use to self-evaluate and set their objectives for appraisal.   I demonstrate iAbacusTM and the straightforward, step-by-step process by sliding the beads on my laptop and tablet. When this is projected onto the screen there are smiles and confident nods as many silently compare this to the over-complicated, form-filling school improvement software they’ve used until today.

Teacher Appraisal and Performance Management

We break up - each member of staff leaves the hall, some to the isolation in their own classroom, others to enjoy a collaborative environment in the staff workroooms.  Their mission is the same:  log on to the iAbacusTM self-evaluate, add evidence, analyse factors, set objectives, and plan for improvement.  

John and I circulate, ready to deal with questions and help with ways forward.  We are delighted to watch as they use the iAbacusTM intuitively and mostly without any intervention from us.   Even better, some are already leaning across the table and demonstrating to colleagues how it can be used. We are almost redundant - excellent.  As we talk to the Principal in her office - she proudly shows us their new School Improvement Plan, pinned to the wall.  We both look - there they are!  Those tell-tale abacus beads giving an accurate judgement of progress - she has compiled it using the iAbacusTM!  

When the staff  return, now chattering with relief - they write these comments on the feedback form… 

“User-friendly. Can clearly see where you currently are, and where you want to be in terms of development.”
“The Teachers’ Standards already on the system makes it easier to highlight areas for the action plan.”
“I like how it helps you reflect as a practitioner. The visual idea of an abacus makes it easy to use.”
“It's simple and easy to use even for a computer-phobe like me. Thank you for all your help.”
“It's easy to use and accessible from home.” “I liked the opportunities to provide evidence.”
“Can see straight away what you are up to - and what you could be working towards.”
“Simple to use -  you can evaluate yourself and also ask others to collaborate on it.”
“The idea is good, the display is good - the final report function is very good.”
“The sliding beads really made you think carefully about your subject area.”
“Provides an easy way to visualise targets and further improvements.”
“It was simple to understand for some who are not computer literate.”
“ I liked the ability to generate reports.” “Simple to use and visual.”
“I liked the visual display of where you are for each standard.”
“Easy to understand - even with my lack of computer skills!”
“Easy to see where you are and where you need to be.”
“I like how it's accessible from home and easy to use.”
“Good for self-reflection to highlight areas to target.”
“Simple to use -  lots of detail already inputted.”
“It is very simple and straightforward.”
“No I didn't get a headache!”

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