Hindrances and starting points: thoughts on performance management

Ahead of the Teacher Development Trust Summit on Tuesday, I thought it might be useful to share my thoughts around staff development, not only in a ‘business as usual’ state, but also where we can make considerations in response to the current climate for teachers. At a time where much of what we are doing is immeasurable, and in many cases, rightly so, I feel that this is a time where the revolution of continuing professional development is hugely possible. If you are currently reviewing your own policy, hopefully this blog will act as timely advice when plotting out next steps.

I will start with where current models of performance management are somewhat flawed, and how we started to think deeply about why that might be, so as to not replicate the same model but call it a different name, as is sometimes the case when we set out on a new roadmap in schools.

The term ‘performance management’ itself is entrenched in paradoxical language: the words do not appear to communicate the purpose. Instead, it asserts that performing is related to an act that the individual undertakes in the moment, as opposed to over time, and we look to aesthetics or outcomes when studying performance, as opposed to the process that that individual followed in order to reach the moment to perform. In short, performance is to view the end result and not form a dialogue in which the individual, absent of pressure or obligation could perhaps reflect upon the inevitable failures or investigations that led them to that point. Furthermore, as an individual, the outcome is the accomplishment of what will inevitably been a great deal of work, which would be hugely beneficial to unpack and yet under this sphere of thought, doesn’t get the airtime.

‘Management’ gives a hierarchy to the process which I would argue is unnecessary and unhelpful in this instance. This process needs to feel both beneficial and useful to the individual first and foremost, and in my experience, if we induct staff into a rolling cycle where they are managed, this carries implications that those higher up the line are complete, accomplished forms and those being managed by them take on an incredibly passive role within their own improvement.

In performance management, we wait to be told, then act upon the definition provided to our own capabilities. We complete CPD, we teach, we are watched in our performance, both within the classroom and on a spreadsheet, and if both measures are indicative of what the system regards as pleasing performance, we progress.

What’s wrong with this system?

– it implies that improvement is indicative predominantly from performance, not learning

– it implies that the individual is not the best person placed to make judgements of capability, when they are present for the entirety of the process

– it implies that improvement has an end point, indicative that success is only defined and determined through a hierarchical system

And yet, there is a wealth of research and exploratory study that shares the difference between learning and performance (Soderstrom & Bjork, 2015); we know that teacher autonomy over improvement is integral (Worth & Brande, 2020); we know that results have a vast array of variables and contributory factors, and that whilst teachers have previously been thought to plateau after an estimation of five years into their career, we now have sufficient evidence that suggests that working environment and conditions have a far greater influence here (Kraft & Papay, 2016).

This indicates that not only is the current traditional system unfit for purpose through terminology alone, but the process itself doesn’t accomplish what it was originally designed to do, surely? If performance management is to award pay over a sustained period of time for isolated episodes of performance, to give more of a dialogue to outcome than process, to imply that improvement in teaching is solely through result and not process, then yes. I would argue that in my role as a senior leader, I would like a strategy that achieves quite the opposite of these objectives- not just for the autonomy and involvement of the individual teacher, but in the hunt for a far more accurate way of ensuring teacher improvement, so that as Chris Moyse states, ‘get so good at something that it becomes impossible to not do it.’ I’m paraphrasing here.

Therefore, staff development and performance management are perhaps one and the same: one is the process and one is the dialogue that acts to reflect upon the process- and it is this allocation and space of time to be able to consider the efficacy of what we do in our classrooms that could do with work. Additionally, where do we want to move staff towards? Better at what? Teaching? And what enables them to do this, is perhaps establishing that balance between the teaching itself, the knowledge of what makes established teachers effective, and the reflection to be able to undertake and evaluate both of these contributory factors. Furthermore, and most importantly given the national picture, how are any changes made to the current model mindful of staff workload, and what needs to be removed in order for staff to recognise this as valuable and valued?

When designing a staff development model – the term feels like a far more astute fit- we may pose the following questions:

– what does the system communicate as success: the process or the outcome?

– where do we find a balance of autonomy and collective in regards to development?

– what support mechanisms do we provide alongside the model that develop staff knowledge of teaching, exposure to teaching and the process of reflection to be able to evaluate their efficacy of both?

In my next blog on this subject, I will share where we are up to on this journey, and what we intend to consider or reflect upon next as we continue.

References:

Cordingley P, Higgins S, Greany T et al. (2015) Developing great teaching: Lessons from the international reviews into effective professional development.

Papay JP & Kraft MA., The Myth of the Performance Plateau., Educational Leadership 73 (8), 36-42, 2016

Kennedy M (2016) How does professional development improve teaching? Review of Educational Research 86. DOI: 10.3102/0034654315626800.


Soderstrom, N. C., & Bjork, R. A. (2015). Learning versus performance: An integrative review. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10, 176–199.

Worth J and Van den Brande J (2020) Teacher autonomy: How does it relate to job satisfaction and retention? Slough: NFER. Available at: nfer.ac.uk/teacher-autonomy

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