Appraisal tools giving teachers autonomy

Historically, if an appraiser didn’t like you, they could give you a hard time during an appraisal meeting.

This article featured in our Term 2 issue! Click here to read the whole thing. 

Bias is something modern appraisal tools eliminate by compiling a considerable amount of self-reflective data for appraisees to take into their yearly meeting and guide the conversation.

InterLEAD managing director, Andrew Ormsby discussed this with School News in more depth.

The traditional idea of an appraisal was something that was done to people but in the last five years, there’s been a real shift  towards the appraisee taking more ownership of the process and being more aware of their practice.

Teachers now have access to more information prior to an appraisal meeting, so they can come prepared and have a conversation with the appraiser rather than feel judged by the appraiser. From that conversation and the information they hold, they can identify areas of strength and weakness, and from there they can identify the most effective goals and/or inquiries. Through the year, data can be compiled from a series of self evaluations as well as evaluations and observations from colleagues plus ‘learner voice’ feedback. The goal of this information gathering is to create a rounded view of a teacher’s ability and professional practice.

There are still environments where appraisee’s can feel like appraisal is being ‘done to them’  but appraisals are most effective in an environment where people trust each other first so that they are happy to give and receive authentic feedback and have robust dialogue.

In New Zealand, every teacher has to be appraised on their teaching practice every year. Part of this process should be an appraisal conversation where the aim is for a teacher to come out with an evidence-based goal or inquiry to work on. So, rather than setting an arbitrary inquiry or goal during the meeting, there’s a push towards making sure teachers set individual evidence based goals or inquiries that will improve their practice the most and therefore improve learner outcomes the most.

Ideally, an appraisal tool should provide teachers with a reflective journal space that allows them to load up and reflect on their teaching goals or inquiries, share progress with colleagues/mentors, or their appraiser, and link what they are doing to Professional Standards for the Teaching Profession and Code of professional Responsibility. This helps them to fulfil professional obligations as they grow their practice. Combine this with a series of templated evaluations, which provide feedback from other teachers and learners, and schools are consistently compiling useful appraisal data.

As we have recently heard from the Teachers Council, one huge misconception is that for teachers to demonstrate a journey of reflective practice they need to include a mountain of reflective data in their appraisal portfolio. What teachers must actually do, is focus on quality over quantity. It is better to have evidence of 15 practice-changing reflections than 300 diary entries.

“I came to work today a little bit late,” isn’t the start of a valuable reflection but people can get into that mode as sometimes it can be the easier option. This is reflective evidence: “I had a situation today and wasn’t 100 percent sure how to deal with it. I did ‘XYZ’ but after talking to my colleagues and thinking about it myself I possibly should have done ‘ABC’. Next time, I will do ‘ABC’ based on what I’ve learnt in this experience.”

You can use tools in different ways; they can be heavy handed or they can build people up. If schools create an environment of teacher development and growth that focuses on depth of practice rather than simple questionnaires, teachers will engage positively with their appraisals.

The effectiveness comes back to professionalism and the environment you have created : if you try to ‘game it’ because you are afraid of judgement, the process won’t work and you are stifling your own professional growth. Likewise, if appraisers don’t work with teachers to put together helpful, evidence-based feedback based on multi-faceted evaluations then ultimately it is the learners that miss out.

Arinui chief Tony Gilbert spoke to School News about the overall pedagogical shift and basis of appraisal in New Zealand.

The most significant change to appraisal in New Zealand education has been the shift from the Practising Teacher Criteria to the Standards for the Teaching Profession. Coupled with this has been the notion of an appraisee-led model, where teachers take ownership and responsibility for their appraisal rather than having it “done to them”. This significant pedagogical shift has major implications on how a school, kura or centre manages and leads appraisal.

Appraisal should be grounded by inquiry into practice, led by the teacher, and be a vehicle for school change and improvement. It is essential it is built on the principles of robust inquiry into practice based on carefully selected supporting evidence. 

Teachers lead their own appraisal process so that appraisal becomes part and parcel of their professional practice. By inquiring into teaching and leadership practice, it is easy for educators to evaluate the impact that they are having and track this back to the Standards for the Teaching Profession.

When schools, centres, and educational organisations choose an online system to support appraisal, it must be one that helps them build their evaluative capability. As the digital age has developed it is all too easy to simply fall into a ‘replacement technology’ paradigm, essentially replacing massive folders of paper and evidence with digital suitcases. Any online system must support educators to know the impact of their practice and inquire into areas of teaching or leadership in order to make the most significant impact for their learners. In this sense, any tool should be designed to be focused on improving rather than proving, with the prevailing focus on student learning, teaching and leading as inquiry and active reflection. 

Employ scaffolding, collaboration and take a guided approach. Using reflective questions is essential in building an evaluative process. Rather than focussing on compliance by asking ‘how do we meet the  Standards for the Teaching Profession?’, a good tool should intrinsically be helping teachers improve. A compliance driven process where you try and think what evidence you could gather against each of the standards in isolation discourages collaboration and genuine self-reflection. In this regard, a tool should have options for those that are more or less familiar with concepts such as teaching and leading as inquiry, so they can pick the kind of support they need.

One of the hallmarks of effective appraisal in New Zealand is the ability to be able to easily collect naturally occurring evidence and artefacts of practice. An effective tool should not only make this easy, but should support the teacher in evaluating this evidence. All too often teachers appraisal collections are made up of a whole lot of “stuff” but fail to reflect upon the impact that this has. PLD is a classic example. Virtually any appraisal system out there will have a mechanism to log PLD in terms of date, time, topic and content. However, a key feature must be the tools ability to help the teacher evaluate the PLD, with a view to improving outcomes.

Appraisal is not about showing everything that you do as a teacher all the time. It is a distillation of key and supplementary evidence and reflections. It demonstrates a journey of growth and development – an appraisal tool should be built to encourage this pedagogy.

Rosie Clarke

Rosie is the managing editor here at Multimedia Pty Ltd, working across School News New Zealand and School News Australia. She has spent 10+ years in B2B journalism, and has spent some time over the last couple of years teaching as a sessional academic. Feel free to contact her at any time with editorial or magazine content enquiries.
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