What next for appraisal

Over the past week, we have fielded several calls and emails about appraisal, mostly as a result of the Teaching Councils correspondence clarifying their expectations about appraisal. If you havent seen this, then you can check out the clarification on their website and read their FAQs. Evaluation Associates has been asked by school leaders to provide advice on what next.

The advice we provide here is based on years of work in the appraisal field. At Evaluation Associates we are firmly committed to raising ākonga achievement and reducing disparity. We believe that a high-quality appraisal system can and should contribute to these aims.

The Standards for the Teaching Profession express what it means to be a teacher in Aotearoa and, when enacted, these will help us as a system achieve for our learners. As a profession, we need to be proud of our standards and take them seriously. We believe that a high-quality appraisal system can and should contribute to raising ākonga achievement and reducing disparity, which is why we care so much about it. The standards, in our view, need to be front of mind, when thinking about appraisal.

The Teaching Council has confirmed that teachers need to be involved in an appraisal process which culminates in an annual summary of practice. What the appraisal process looks like is for each school to determine.

Leaders have choices to make, just as has always been the case. Our education system is designed on this premise think of our curricula which provide the direction of travel, but they dont specify the how. Appraisal can be thought of in a similar way.

The Councils FAQs clearly state that their clarifications do not provide an opt-out for teachers who no longer wish to complete parts of their schools process.

Here are some questions that we have been asked that we think are worthy of exploring.

Does this mean we stop doing teaching as inquiry?

  • Teachers inquiring into their practice remains a cornerstone of effective practice in New Zealand. In our view, if the expectation that teachers inquire into their practice is dropped this would ignore a fundamental aspect of the Standards for the Teaching Profession. However, if you feel your current inquiry process isnt making a positive difference to teaching and learning, then it would certainly be worth reviewing why that is the case.
Do we not need to have portfolios of evidence anymore?

  • We see reflection on evidence as a core part of our roles as professional educators. In a high-quality appraisal system, teachers deliberately reflect on their practice, and evidence is naturally part of that process. It isnt onerous, and it isnt screeds and screeds of text. Its carefully choosing evidence of practice that is worth looking carefully at and learning from. We work in hundreds of schools and see the variability of appraisal processes first-hand. There are schools where teachers gather folders full of evidence, either online or hard copy, to prove they meet the standards. These teachers spend hours in the evening and in weekends compiling stuff and often report that this slog has made no difference to teaching and learning. Why have a system like that? There is no point in gathering evidence for the sake of evidence. If you feel that your appraisal process may be too onerous, now would be a great time to review.

Do we have to change our system now?

  • You can change your system now but there is no compulsion to do so. If your appraisal system doesnt cause or promote learning or places excessive expectations, then relooking at this would make sense. However, our advice would be to not rush into major changes at this time, because it is very likely that there will be further announcements through the Accord process.

Given our experience and expertise we agree that when appraisal is used solely as an accountability instrument it does very little to improve teacher practice and, as a result, makes little or no difference to learners.

In our view, the approach that does work is one guided by clear principles and simple processes:

  • The inquiry/reflection/appraisal process is agreed to and driven by the appraisee (teacher)
  • The criteria for desired performance are discussed and agreed before the process starts (informed strongly by the Standards for the Teaching Profession)
  • Evidence that needs to be gathered for the purpose of reflection/evaluation, by whom and when, is agreed
  • Evidence is gathered and formative discussions occur along the way as mutually desired
  • The appraisee and appraiser evaluate evidence, co-construct what it means and set next improvement steps.

This is the learning-focused appraisal approach’ for which we strongly advocate. Each appraisee brings their professional motivation to the process and spends as much time as is necessary to achieve a useful result.

In a compliance-focused appraisal system, the emphasis is on teachers proving their practice. In a learning-focused appraisal system, the focus is on improving practice.

Compliance-focused appraisal   Learning-focused appraisal
 Reporting on what has been achieved Sharing and understanding insights 
 Focused on success/failure  Focused on supporting growth and improving practice
 Key purpose - accountability. Learning or improvement may be a by-product  Key purpose - improved teaching and student learning. Accountability is the by-product
 Essentially about compliance

 Essentially about collaborating as colleagues, co-constructing meaning and the way forward

 Gathering evidence to prove competence  Using evidence to evaluate and improve
 Appraiser is the sole arbiter and judge of competence  Appraisee and appraiser seeking a range of perspectives in order to evaluate
 Done to appraisee  Led by appraisee

If your appraisal system feels like a waste of time, it is a cue to change something about your system.

A learning-focused appraisal system does not avoid accountability. We all choose to be employed in this system to produce high-quality learning outcomes for all learners and should rightfully be accountable for the quality of our teaching and professionalism. The issue then is about the process by which professionals can be seen to be accountable. If teachers experience a system which is overly compliance-focused, this detracts from their motivation to really evaluate, reflect on, or appraise the quality of what they do.

At Evaluation Associates, most of our team are teachers who hold a Practising Teacher Certificate; we too are subject to the rules of the Teaching Council. We have a learning-focused appraisal system that we have thought a lot about and refined over time. You might be interested to know that the clarifications from the Teaching Council will change nothing about our appraisal system.

In a nutshell, heres why:

  • we are confident that our system makes us better educators and that in turn, we make a greater difference to the learners we work with
  • each person leads their appraisal process in which they inquire into their practice, and seek a range of persectives to help them to reflect on their practice (that includes getting feedback from people they are working with, being observed in practice, and evaluating the impact of their work).
  • each person meets with an appraiser throughout the year and the evidence that they gather and reflect on in Arinui (our online system), is only that which they personally find useful to look at more closely. We dont, for example, record every professional development opportunity, file every piece of feedback, or collate every piece of planning.
Therefore, with our learning-focused system, nothing needs to change for us when the compliance part of the system is clarified, because we believe in what we do. Weve worked hard to find a system that causes learning and improvement and were committed to it.

The points that have arisen through the collective employment agreement negotiations should create a pause for every school to think about their current approach.

  • Is our appraisal system compliance or learning focused? How do I/we know?
  • Are all aspects of our appraisal system fit for purpose?
  • Are there aspects of our appraisal system that are too heavily weighted to proving over improving?
  • Should any elements of our appraisal system be refined at this or are we better to wait until more information comes out of the Accord process?

It may well be that in time that we have different language to describe the term appraisal. Regardless of the name, if each school has a process which is learning-focused and based on high-quality evaluation of practice to cause improvement, then we cant go far wrong.

If you do decide that you want to review your system now, we are happy to work with you to do this - please contact Dr Wendy Moore (w.moore@evaluate.co.nz). If you are currently using Arinui and want to know more or are interested in talking to someone about it, then please contact Tony Gilbert (tony@arinui.com).


About the authors:

Anna, Michael and Mary are the directors of Evaluation Associates. Their involvement in leading appraisal thinking in Aotearoa spans many years. Michael and Mary worked closely with the Teaching Council on workshops for school leaders on effective appraisal. Anna and Michael were two of the writers of the Standards for the Teaching Profession and both were involved in piloting these. All three are committed to the concept of building a learning system for the good of all ākonga.

Tags: appraisal evaluation leadership teaching as inquiry

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