An ex-colleague of mine used to say ‘in teaching, never do anything until you’re asked/told twice. If they don’t ask twice, you know it’s not that important’. Writing reports, collecting data or providing books for moderation, to name but three, are examples of tasks you will probably be asked/reminded about more than once. Performance management actions, however, are all-too-often vaguely and quickly agreed upon in an annual performance review and never really touched upon again, until the next annual review comes around. Is it any wonder, therefore, that these actions are often tabled, shelved…or stuck on some other sort of furniture to moulder away? If, as many schools do, you have a performance management cycle that consists of one appraisal meeting per year and little to nothing else, it’s perfectly understandable that thinking about targets, never mind acting upon and evidencing them, gets gently moved further and further down on our never-ending list of things to do.
However, what if we changed our mindset a little? Instead of waiting to be asked twice to look through and act on our performance management targets (perhaps not the most effective time management technique!), what if we recognised the opportunity offered by performance management? I understand all the arguments against it, believe me: ‘I don’t have time’, ‘it’s not a priority’, ‘it’s just Big Brother checking up on me’. I even agree that the very words themselves do create rather a clunky phrase. It feels a little business-y, and we, as teachers, tend to be quite averse to terminology that makes our vocation feel too much like a factory, churning out results and data and ignoring those wonderful little cogs – our children – who represent the reason we went into this best of jobs in the first place. So “performance management” and phrases like it can often be met with a rolling of eyes and an attitude of negativity. And I get it. I totally get it. However, the fact of the matter is that performance management, used properly, can be one of the greatest tools in a teacher’s toolbox. And, in fact, acting upon our targets is usually no different to what we do on a regular basis to better our practice anyway! And what betters us as teachers improves the experience we give to our children. Isn’t that what we’re there for? To give those children the very best of ourselves?
So, in practice, what does this mean? Am I advocating a focus away from the day-to-day running of the classroom and towards our own professional development? Well, no. That would be counter-intuitive. What I’m saying is that in the day-to-day running of the classroom, there are opportunities. There are opportunities to recognise that performance management can and should be integral to our practice every day anyway. And, crucially, that collating evidence towards performance management doesn’t necessarily have to mean lengthy interludes of research or taking time out of the classroom, or actually spending any additional time doing anything that is not already part of the good practice we all aspire towards anyway. Perhaps it means using half an hour of PPA time to observe another teacher within your school. Perhaps it means implementing a quicker and simpler marking structure. Perhaps it means shaking up your children’s talk partners, because they’re not using one another in the most efficient way. All of this – things we do naturally and other things that may not be so natural – are actions that work towards our performance management targets, because they’re things we’ve done to try to improve the experiences of the children in our classrooms.
So what’s the real point here? The point is a change in mindset. These little activities that we do all the time anyway – something as simple as trying a new seating plan – are evidence towards performance management targets, if we recognise them as such and remember what we’re working towards. As schools, we all have a vision of what we want to be: an over-arching aim for the future, if you will. Shouldn’t that be something that, as teachers, we also have for ourselves? True performance management just means looking at these little changes and improvements that we make all the time anyway and seeing how they fit into the bigger picture. To take one example, let’s say that your target, as a Year 6 teacher, is to achieve x% Level 5s in writing SATs. How does a new seating plan fit into that? Well, perhaps you’ve done it because you’re trying to improve behaviour by splitting up some aspiring clowns at the back, or perhaps you’ve done it to mix up your ability groupings in order to try some peer coaching – whatever your reasons, this seating plan is part of your over-arching attempts to improve your children’s attainment, correct? Well, then, it’s a positive action towards achieving that x% of Level 5s, surely?
I’d like to illustrate my point by mentioning our new online performance management software: School CPD Tracker, which allows teachers to quickly scan or upload pieces of evidence and tag them against targets. What this means, in reality, is that all these little things – new seating plans, a slightly altered marking policy, even a really great piece of work by a pupil – can be quickly and easily popped onto the portal and shown to be part of our performance management. In this way, performance management is something we are thinking about every day, but not in a data-driven, ‘management’ way, but in a professional – and, indeed, a personal – development way. Our targets become a way of structuring what we’re working towards and creating evidence for, rather than a form-filling exercise that we can barely remember a month after the annual review. The targets, also, can be linked with the school’s overall School Development Plan, so that everyone is working together to improve, in a really cohesive and intuitive way. Suddenly, then, from having e.g. 50 members of staff in a achool, all with totally disparate, slightly vague ideas of what to do to improve their practice, none of whose targets actually contribute towards supporting the school in moving forward in its development plan, you have a team. A team that can support everyone in that team to achieve, that is constantly keeping in mind their own individual targets as well as those of the team as a whole.
It was Winston Churchill who said “The price of greatness is responsibility”. If we take want to truly be great teachers, working in great schools, let’s take responsibility for our own development. In this way, we can be the great teachers we have the potential to be. Let’s exploit the opportunity offered by performance management, to ensure that we are doing the best by our schools, our children and ourselves.
Published on 10 June 2018