Making the most of Appraisal Conversations

How can they be used to support professional development and enhance your Holocaust teaching and learning?

(Find out how the Centre can support you at any stage of your career – via the links to the right)

With the return to school comes the traditional review of exam results, last year’s successes and reflection on what remains a challenge or area for development. In this way, senior leaders and classroom teachers look back in order to look forwards; they consider their areas of focus, identify areas for development, and plan to implement change. Often these elements come together in staff appraisal conversations that take place in the first few weeks.

But appraisal is complex; experience and understanding of these annual conversations vary enormously, opinion is divided. The views of school senior leaders are often rather different from those of classroom teachers. Sometimes there is a shared sense of an ‘ideal’ appraisal conversation, a preferred desire for it to be developmental, constructive, driven by the appraisee. In some contexts, however, high stakes accountability has led to a culture or experience of teachers given data driven targets, a top down approach of being told the schools improvement targets and priorities and an expectation an individual’s appraisal conversation should focus on those.

Appraisal is a legal entitlement for all employees/teachers, to ensure that meaningful progress is being made by the individual and that they are doing their job. When done well it is beneficial for both individual and organisation. The most constructive appraisal conversations should focus on the appraisee’ personal contribution to whole school improvement – helping them to reflect upon previous success, best practice and identify need to develop their skills and competence in so far as it supports the school goals.

To that end, appraisal and personal development is intrinsically linked to school improvement. The DfE position on CPD entitlement remains unchanged – there is no formal numerical entitlement but a general statement that every teacher is entitled to professional development, however, with budgetary constraints in so many schools, a lack of support or opportunity for CPD, can limit the access for the appraisal to secure personal professional development in any meaningful sense, with some teachers regarding the whole experience of appraisal as ‘…a missed opportunity’, ‘…waste of time’,  impersonal, irrelevant, or even as ‘…a paper exercise’.

To avoid they’re being a ‘paper exercise’, and to be at their best, appraisal conversations should see staff’s work acknowledged, developed through training and praised to feel a greater sense of satisfaction, support wellbeing, and encourage them becoming even better at their roles. In order to ensure everyone can move forward and contribute fully to the school aims, setting well considered and shared foci or targets is important. Staff must have a voice in response to the school’s targets and priorities moving forward and feel able to contribute meaningfully to that improvement. On occasion this may mean using the appraisal conversation to appropriately challenge and consider the relevance of a focus, or the degree to which they can be personally accountable for the target set. As Mary Myatt has said, appraisal at its best, must be understood and delivered as developmental underpinned by trust, as opposed to a judgemental process.

What makes for meaningful, constructive appraisal/PM conversations?

Whilst related, Appraisal ‘should’ be separate to Performance Management, in the same way as school improvement is separate to Ofsted (PM). One is development the other is judgement.

The most meaningful appraisal occurs when the goals and purpose of appraisal is agreed and understood by both participants, where self-evaluation and reflection is accurate and highly valued, without reward or punishment and where the culture of constructive, fair peer feedback is shared and valued as a route to help all in the school get better. If school leaders school leaders frame the appraisal process in terms of ‘…we can all get better, we all want to get better, we care and respect each other so much that we all want to help each other WHEN help is requested’ then appraisals can be a hugely positive and potentially transformative experience.

With a well written appraisal document or well-framed process, the appraiser should be able to take the lesser role. The best conversations occur when the appraiser is supportively facilitating appraisee self-reflection. In this atmosphere of radical candour, where the appraiser acts as a guide who can illicit and support when needed through questions and probing, the appraisee should be able to identify success and challenges. The resulting personal, departmental and whole school targets should be driven by the appraisee and be vision and goal led, with an underpinning of the schools shared values. In the best, most meaningful appraisal conversations, it should be at least 80/20 appraisee to appraiser if there is to be trust, integrity and investment in the process. This is especially valuable if the conversation is focused on personal development and ‘What would you like to improve?’

With all that in mind… how might teachers ensure their commitment to Holocaust teaching and learning is both recognised and supported in Appraisal, and how might the Centre be able to help schools and individuals?

Our pathway of professional practice can support and enrich teachers throughout their careers. Let’s consider teachers with a range of experience, and how our work may inform or enhance appraisal conversations and respond to identified appraisee CPD need. Click on the links at the top right of the page to find out how our provision could support you at each stage of your career.

Whether an NQT or SLT, what are the challenges, limitations and opportunities for CPD as linked to appraisal? How best can a colleague make a case for CPD or support?

We recognise schools’ budgets are tight and in a climate of high accountability, CPD identified by a teacher during an appraisal conversation must be carefully considered. Senior leaders and CPD gatekeepers will have to balance their desire or concern to facilitate specialist professional support for their colleagues that may add value to student outcomes, and can be shared to drive improvement with the pragmatic school reality, that could curtail or limit opportunities due to cost, staffing/cover, time and value for money.

Given limited resources and constraints upon senior leaders, it may be that the appraisee can best secure access to their identified CPD need by ensuring motivations and choices are expressed as ‘wants’ not ‘shoulds’. It may also be worth the appriasee reflecting upon the ‘gap/journey’ between themselves and the stated goal that the CPD or training identified would address. Such a fair self or peer evaluation may give appraiser or the CPD gatekeeper confidence that investing in this course, individual will be beneficial and not waste limited resources.

The days of teachers accessing external, often costly CPD courses, is, for many schools, a thing of the past. Even examination specification courses may have to be refused/decline owing to financial or staffing constraints, but for some, access to such provision will also depend upon a schools low confidence or the efficacy on the internal capacity of individuals and their organisations to self-heal/ improve – in which case they feel a dependence upon external provision.

However, Mary Myatt argues that much CPD can and is being done in house – discussions with others, lesson visits and reading. In many MATs this is especially common, where the collective wisdom and a range of experience, school contexts and so on can be drawn upon, with individuals able to share their best practice with others through internal CPD or as mentors. By focussing upon attaining excellence or achieving improvements this internal provision for CPD can be tailored to need, of individual, discipline/departments, whole school or even trust wide priorities. Such internal CPD intervention must though have rigour, be embedded in research, demonstrate impact and participants must be given the time and space to practice and implement safely, frequently and reflect over time. Within the appraisal this target, or goal could be framed to embed practice within the school and thus demonstrate leadership.

Whenever seeking support, appraisee teachers are encouraged to provide evidence and a rationale for any CPD need identified, especially if it is external. Making reference to the school improvement plan, or linking to stated priorities will improve the request as it will testify to a desire to contribute to the individual and collective effectiveness of the schools overall provision. So we hope some of the above opportunities to engage in ongoing professional development, across our pathway, has illuminated how you might identify need and FREE research informed professional support through appraisal. Identifying need within this annual professional conversation is an opportunity to make your case and secure help, internal or external, about the Holocaust or any other dimension of you work. So do use appraisals to ensure the work you are doing to enhance quality provision for and young people’s experience of holocaust education is recognised in the first instance, but also supported through investment in you and your colleagues. 

In summary, what next?

  • REFLECT: ‘Honour yourself, by honouring the work’. The reflective practitioner looks back honestly at past year, what were the successes – why did those things work? Where is there room for improvement? What target or area did not go so well and why? What are you proudest of? What was an unintended consequence that had greatest impact on a group or individual? Ahead of the appraisal consider what would excite you, provide challenge, drive you to improve, to flourish, to develop? If you weren’t afraid of failure or high stakes accountability what would you try?
  • IDENTIFY: In advance of your appraisal, pinpoint your own area of focus for continued professional development or support, so that appraisal is framed as self-improvement that contributes to institutional improvement. Who do you feel could best help to contribute even better to X area for improvement? How best can you achieve X target or goal to improve? Whose help do you need – is this a colleague, internal or Trust support, or external, specialist support? 
  • READ/RESEARCH: What is it that we don’t know or understand about X area of need/support? What books, or websites could help? What courses, organisations or support is out there? For example, check out the range of materials, research, CPD and twilight opportunities available via our website: https://www.holocausteducation.org.uk 
  • REMEMBER: Have the big ‘school improvement’ picture in mind – frame your personal professional development request in those terms. Present Holocaust CPD as opportunity to contribute to whole school priorities, not as something niche. ‘We are humans first, professionals second.’
  • TALK: Radical candour in appraisal is possible, indeed important. Trust is key. As professionals we can take the truth (in difficult conversations and in supportive ones) as long as we distinguish the person from the work. Secure access to your identified CPD need by ensuring motivations and choices are expressed as ‘wants’ not ‘shoulds’. 
  • CONNECT: Reach out to organisations, schools, individual colleagues who can help and support you. The UCL Centre for Holocaust Education stands ready to support teaching and learning about the Holocaust, so do get in touch. Contact us via holocaust@ioe.ac.uk as, in addition to the CPD courses outlined above we may be able to offer bespoke advice, materials or provision.
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