Sunday, February 28, 2010

Appraising the Appraisor

I had my final appraisal meeting of the year on Friday - it took place in Starbucks and lasted for 2 hours. I have been appraised by the Assistant Principal, who is new to this position himself this year, having arrived at the beginning of the school year the same time that I did. He was interested to know how I saw the procedure, as it is the first time he has been involved in appraising teachers. This has been such an interesting procedure for me - certainly the best appraisal process I have ever gone through - and so I thought I'd like to write about how it was done.

To start with back in the Autumn I was given a self-appraisal form to fill in. This form started with two questions:
  • Which parts of your job give you the greatest satisfaction?
  • Which have given you the least satisfaction?
It was great to be able to start this process with a reflection of how I thought I was doing - this would then set the tone for the 3 observations that would follow. I was able to identify the things that I love about teaching such as interacting with the students, designing curriculum, coaching and mentoring teachers. It also gave me a channel to identify - before the formal observations - the challenges I was facing, for example having to solve the hardware and network issues that get in the way of student learning, being lab-based as opposed to classroom-based, having too many classes spread among too many grade levels and not having enough time to really do a good job teaching them, being unable to really differentiate and being unable to give students much of a choice in how they use the IT. Perhaps my biggest challenge was to change the way teachers looked on IT - they wanted to bring the students to the lab one lesson a week for what was basically a skills-driven lesson. I, on the other hand, only wanted students to come when they had something they could usefully do to support the units of inquiry, the maths or the literacy that was being done in class. I think at the beginning of the appraisal process my feelings could be summarised as follows: I have a lot of offer and I am not really offering much right now.

The next question on the self-appraisal was an interesting one: How could these be made more satisfying? I loved this question. It allowed me to not just identify the problems that were getting in the way of me being an effective teacher, but to come up with solutions to these problems. One of the things I asked for here was a proper job description that actually reflects what I am doing.

The self-appraisal asked many other interesting questions such as:
  • Have there been any constraints on your work which have hindered you in carrying out your job?
  • How might these be removed?
  • What changes in the school's organisation would help to improve your performance?
  • In what ways do you think the work of the school could be improved?
  • What contribution would you like to make towards these improvements?
Right from the very beginning, therefore, I had the idea that the Assistant Principal wanted to work with me in a partnership, identifying what was going well, what needed to be improved and how this could be done. I was amazed: this was the first time I had ever started an appraisal process with all of these questions and ideas laid out on the table for discussion.

Having discussed these questions and answers, we were then ready to start the classroom observations. I was given the choice of which classes I wanted to be observed formally. Again before each observation there was a questionnaire to fill in and a pre-observation meeting where we discussed the students in the class including any that had special needs, the learning outcomes for the students for the lesson, how these learning outcomes reflected the PYP, how I planned to engage the students in the lesson, what difficulties the students might experience and how I would plan to anticipate these difficulties, what resources I would use and how would I assess the student achievement of the learning outcomes and provide feedback.

All of the observations went as expected and each time, following the observation, we had another meeting where we discussed what had happened. I wanted to be observed across many grade levels so chose one Kindergarten class, one Grade 2 class and one Grade 4 class. I wanted to be observed in a lesson where I knew there were going to be lots of technical difficulties as I wanted feedback and suggestions as to how these issues could be improved. In each case, following each observation, I received verbal and written comments on my areas of strength and suggestions for areas of growth. These observations took place in November, December and February and in addition to these there were short drop-ins to see what else was going on.

Last Friday it was time to wrap up and do the final meeting. We decided to do this in Starbucks as there was no real need to do it on the school premises. This raised a few eyebrows as I imagine it was quite a departure from the more formal end-of-appraisal meetings the school may have done in the past. It was very relaxing and very positive. We returned to the initial self-appraisal questionnaire I had completed in November and we discussed any changes that had taken place since those comments. Certainly there had been some changes, for example I am now on a flexible schedule which does address some of the issues I'd identified earlier. I was also given the opportunity to discuss professional development and what I wanted to do in the future.

Appraisal, which contains the word "praise", is different from evaluation and should be a very positive experience. Therefore I was also asked to give feedback on the entire appraisal process. For me I only had positive comments to make as it was an extremely helpful and empowering process. During the past 3 months I had probably had about 7 hours of conversations with the Assistant Principal about the job, my performance, what was going well and what needed to be improved. I definitely feel I have come out of this with more insight into myself as a teacher and more ideas about how I can make a difference at this school.

Photo Credit: Good Things by StarbuckGuy


  1. This sounds like a really rich experience for reflecting on your teaching and practice. I need to pass along these ideas to our admin. Our observation time feels very superficial and shallow. It happens once a year and is revisited in one 15 min. meeting. It isn't valuable right now. Your experiences sounds much more valuable for true growth and reflection. Thank you for sharing this, I was just wondering how other schools approached it.

  2. This has given me some really good ideas on how I can restructure my upcoming appraisal of faculty - I want it to be a process that is focused on self-reflection and growth for the faculty. Thank you for sharing.