How to make the most of teacher appraisal

There’s lots of talk about appraisal in schools at the moment.

ERO are auditing 10% of the practising teacher certificates that are renewed each year. Schools are understandably trying to ensure that their systems meet requirements. This ‘compliance mind-set’ can mean lost opportunities – it takes the focus away from appraisal as an invaluable process for improving teaching and learning.

Our team at Evaluation Associates have been working with the Education Council for the last few years in the area of appraisal. We’ve talked to hundreds of school leaders on the subject, and are confident we’ve got a very good idea about what works, and some of the traps to avoid.

Here are our top six tips for a great school-wide appraisal system.

1.    Focus first on student learning

Our job as educators is to make a difference to student learning. Everyone in the school – teachers and the leadership team – should be gathering and reflecting on evidence which allows them to answer the question: “What difference have I made to my learners, or ākonga, this year?” This question might be framed within an inquiry or it might stand by itself.

At the end of an appraisal year you want to be absolutely clear as to what difference you have made to learning – in comparison with what difference you had been wanting to make.

2.    Focus next on teaching and leading as inquiry

Carry out robust inquiry into your practice, and you will be a long way towards providing robust evidence of the Practising Teacher Criteria. The same is true for leaders who inquire into their leadership practices and the impact these have on others’ learning.

A great appraisal process should have inquiry right at the heart of it, and be the major emphasis throughout the year. Time can be given in staff and team meetings for teachers to work collaboratively on these, using external expertise as necessary.

3.    Avoid mountains of evidence

A quality appraisal system does not result in mountains of evidence that no-one will ever read. Quality appraisal is not about hunting out ‘proof’ of each criterion, one by one. Quality appraisal is about ongoing reflection, evaluation and inquiry. The result – as far as evidence goes – is a select set of curated evidence which supports the teacher’s reflection process.

We’ve seen ‘evidence folders’ full of unit and lesson plans and an array of other evidence, all beautifully tabbed, but generally completely unnecessary for appraisal purposes. Evidence that clearly shows what has happened to ākonga learning over the course of the inquiry, is the basis for what is required. This is evidence that you will want for yourself. Gather the evidence that is necessary for you to really evaluate the impact of your changed teaching or leading – no more, no less.

Map this evidence to the PTCs and you will generally find that this will also provide ample evidence against many of the PTCs for you to evaluate the extent to which you have met them. Now you can determine if there is other evidence you might need in order to complete your evaluation against all of the PTCs.

4.    Focus on quality conversations

The appraisal process is the structure that you use to inquire into your practice. It is about your learning and the evaluation of your learning. Evidence to help reflections is important, but it’s not the search for ‘evidence’ that’s important in an appraisal process.

Much of your learning will come from the time spent in deep conversation with colleagues and appraisers, and opportunities to observe each other and evaluate what you saw. A sound appraisal process ensures that there is time set aside for peer conversations about their inquiry, and organising the timetable to allow for regular observation and feedback loops between colleagues.

5.    Led by the person being appraised

Appraisal shouldn’t be something that’s ‘done-to’ a teacher. It should be a process of ongoing reflection and evaluation that each teacher leads themselves. They shouldn’t be waiting for someone to assess how good they are, but rather they should be constantly reflecting, inquiring and improving their practice.

6.    Ensure your documentation endures over time

It is important that you have data systems which keep key documentation in a safe place and can be accessed over time, even if the teacher has left the school. Teachers change schools, have children, move away from the teaching profession for a time and then return. Up to five years after a teacher has been at your school they may ask for documentation which shows that they were appraised against the Practising Teacher Criteria and assessed as having meet the criteria.

Online systems can be great, but make sure the system you’re using works if a teacher leaves and their log-in to school accounts are deleted.

At Evaluation Associates, we are absolutely convinced that the learner should be at the centre of any good appraisal process. Focus your inquiry on the learners, and how they have benefited directly from your teaching, and you will already have much of the evidence required to meet compliance.

Read more about effective appraisal on the Education Council website.

Appraisal workshops in your region

Our team are currently running a series of appraisal workshops around the country. These have been so popular that we have had to put on new dates.

Find out when we are in your region.

We have a small number of spaces available for consultancy work with schools. If you’re interested in finding out more you can contact us: Julia Scott (j.scott@evaluate.co.nz) in the Central South region, Wendy Moore (w.moore@evaluate.co.nz) in the Northern and Central North region and Steve Edwards (s.edwards@evaluate.co.nz) in the South Island.

Check out Arinui – our online appraisal tool

Looking for an appraisal tool which is underpinned by the principles we’ve outlined above?

Take a look at Arinui. Evaluation Associates have developed this tool in conjunction with the Tarn Group. This cost-effective online tool is proving incredibly popular with schools and teachers alike.