Last week, in Better than Outstanding, I reported on progress we had made in shifting our appraisal practices, and in particular our formal lesson observations. What I hoped for then, but didn’t know, was that staff would have adjusted to grade-free observations, and that they would already be experiencing the joys of dialogue and development.
Rather nervously, my colleague @Bterziyski and I put together a questionnaire for middle leaders with three challenging questions:
- Are you appraising, and are you being appraised by, the right person?
- Do you see the new appraisal process as development or merely administrative?
- What is your view of the new no-grades lesson observation sheet?
The challenge for us in these questions was that they were somewhat ‘leading’, and the place they might lead to might not be a happy place. If our new approach was a leap in the dark, we might just have landed on the rocks.
- Twenty-three of the twenty-eight said they were appraising, and being appraised by the right people. They felt held to account by people who knew their work, usually the Head of Faculty. An oyster of an answer, perhaps, but one with at least two bits of grit. Without complaining, some – principally those right at the top of the middle leader pile – pointed out that they rarely if ever get formal observation feedback from a subject specialist. They might value the generic discussion which ensued, but at some level they felt they were missing out on the dialogue with a specialist in their subject’s pedagogy. Another interesting response was from a few who valued the opportunity to be observed by, or to observe in, a pair. When we review faculties, this is often how we do it, but for whole-staff appraisal the coordination of 1 teacher + 2 observers would be beyond my genius. What both of these sets of comments said to me, however, was that there is a continuing thirst for learning from peers.
- Nobody thought our appraisal procedures were ‘merely’ administrative. Some thought it was paper-heavy, a ‘faff’. A few more felt that their targets were predetermined by their role. However, twenty approved of our new format.
“It makes you pause and consider your development.”
“This year I believe I actually learned from it.”
“The process encouraged me to become more reflective as a reviewee. There was more open professional dialogue, with colleagues feeling that they could share their weaknesses and ask for support.”
More than one pointed out a consistency between our new approach to performance management and our other development priorities this year: life after levels at Ks3 and developing a Growth Mindset in the way we talk to and feed back to students.
3. One person felt that, as no-grades lesson observations put the onus on developing practice, the process was in danger of becoming too ‘personal’. Three people began their responses, ‘I like it but…’, ‘Good, but…’, ‘Of course I’m in favour, but I would still like to be told…’ I was astonished by the rest.
“I was able to reflect more on how to improve, rather than feeling relieved if it went OK or smug if it went well.”
“Not having the grade made our conversation focus much more on the learning and what to do next.”
“Several staff took risks and were more experimental. The ‘next steps’ box helped…encourage staff to share their best techniques with other staff.”
“It says what you really think about a lesson, rather than trying to shoe-horn your observation into pre-ordained criteria.”
“It removes some pressure from the observer and opens the dialogue.”
“It allows for a much more developmental conversation.”
Risk-taking, openness, dialogue about next steps: these are exactly what was missing when we graded lessons. We have landed in a much happier place.