Free article: Making performance management count in school improvement

Published: Saturday, 18 June 2016

What do you need to do to make performance management a watertight process that makes a real contribution to school improvement? Keith Wright has some suggestions.

Summary

  • It is important to review your performance management process to make sure that your school’s approach is in good health and plays a part in school improvement.
  • Any performance management process must help teachers develop self-awareness of their professional skills and needs.
  • Professional development needs identified during the performance management process should be scrutinised to check whether they will make a tangible contribution to the fulfilment of a school improvement objective.
  • Having an all-inclusive dynamic action plan and making sure everyone interacts with it is the best way to ensure team working.

It might be tempting to see performance management as an irksome box-ticking task. However, if it is planned in the right way and built on some solid guiding principles, it can be a real driver of school improvement, providing you with a framework for translating your school improvement priorities into action. It can then be tracked and measured to give you a detailed picture of how you are progressing against your school improvement targets.

Reviewing your performance management process to make sure that it is underpinned by these principles is a good use of your planning time before the start of the new academic year. The exercise will help you assess whether your performance management approach is in good health and plays a part in school improvement.

The key principles are:

  • balance
  • precision
  • culture
  • transparency
  • time.

Balance

Any performance management process must help teachers develop self-awareness of their professional skills and needs. This is vital if they are to make a real contribution to school improvement and build their careers. Making sure that performance management meetings are balanced and open will help you identify your colleagues’ professional strengths, challenges and enthusiasms. This, in turn, will help you to match these to the school improvement objectives outlined in your plan.

Precision

The process should encourage teachers to be precise and informed about their continuing professional development (CPD) requirements. Any professional development needs identified during the performance management process should be scrutinised to check that they fulfil a number of key criteria. The most important of these is whether the CPD will help the teacher meet a key performance objective relating to student outcomes while, at the same time, helping them to make a tangible contribution to the fulfilment of a school improvement objective. If the first principle of balance is adhered to then that’s a given. To avoid wasting money and time, do not agree to training before subjecting it to these checks and ensuring that it makes a direct contribution to your school improvement goals.

Culture

The process can only operate effectively in a culture that encourages meaningful professional development and evaluation. It is up to the school’s leadership to set this. In any organisation, the vision – the overall aims and objectives – will have a far better chance of being achieved if it is shared across the team. Your colleagues need to know exactly how they can contribute to the bigger picture, and they need to be able to join in and celebrate the success. If you don’t let people know where you want to be, don’t expect them to help you get there. In practical terms, sharing the vision means having an all-inclusive dynamic action plan and making sure everyone interacts with it – regularly!

Transparency

A culture that encourages meaningful professional development and evaluation needs openness and a shared vision. The same principles can be applied to the performance management process itself. Any performance management policy should include details of the processes for setting, agreeing, monitoring and evaluating performance criteria. Each person must be fully aware of what is expected of them in relation to the vision and in the context of their role. Your expectations of each member of the team must be clearly defined, realistic and agreed. Avoid being vague, but do not give so much detail that any creative thinking is extinguished. In practical terms, start with the school’s vision, break it down for each member of staff and define what, how and when that person might contribute to the vision. Keep it simple, but clearly state the evidence you would hope for. Clarity and transparency at this stage will reduce the risk of a misunderstanding later on.

Time

Don’t rush things. Give everyone time to reflect on his or her contribution to the shared vision. It cannot be crammed into an already overflowing workload. At least termly, preferably half-termly, schedule some ‘performance reflection’ time into the timetable. Follow this up with some ‘performance feedback’ time. If people know these events are fixed in the diary, they will be more likely to contribute. Make sure that you timetable the complete process for the whole year. Everyone should be aware of what is expected of them and when.

Performance management: a suggested timeline

The performance management process starts in the autumn term and runs right through to the summer term, when performance pay appraisals take place. What should you be doing and when? Here’s Keith Wright’s advice:

  1. Weeks 0–4: Set the timeframe. Make sure that all of your team know what is happening in the performance management cycle and when. When is the objective-setting meeting? When is the six-month review? Set out a clear timeline for everyone.
  2. Weeks 4–8: Share the vision. Map your improvement strategy through clearly defined plans and projects. Give everyone access to these plans and projects and give them responsibility for an area. This can also become a performance management objective.
  3. Weeks 8–16: Agree performance expectations. Establish realistic expectations for your team and ensure that they are a good fit for each individual. Also make sure that these expectations map directly to the Professional Standards.
  4. Weeks 16–48: Engage, interact and manage. Make sure that each person has a mechanism by which they can easily feed back their achievements and evidence. Use this as the monitoring and review tool and use it regularly.

Further information

Toolkit

Use the following items in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

About the author

Keith Wright is managing director of school improvement planning specialists Bluewave Education (www.bluewaveeducation.com).

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