Are you (and your team) getting the most from your appraisals?

Sam Holyman shares some of her top tips for constructive, productive appraisal conversations, drawing on her own positive early career experience when preparing for the appraisals she now gives.

When I first started teaching, I used to meet with my line manager for performance management meetings.  It felt like an informal chat over a cuppa, talking about how I had found the year and what I wanted to focus on next.  I remember these meetings fondly as I felt that I was being recognised for the successes that I had had the year before and listened to about what I wanted to do going forward.  It also made me understand that I aspired to be like my bosses, and I strived to gain the knowledge and skills that they showed.  We then sorted out targets for the year ahead, weaving links between my focus, the department’s development plan and the Ofsted targets that the school was trying to meet. And then, we had the rest of Teacher Training Day as PPA!  If I did not meet a target, it was OK, we would pass it over to the following year or modify it. 

But, in 2012 things changed.  Now schools have moved to system of annual appraisals, which may or may not be with your line manager.  The outcome of an appraisal is linked to pay progression and the assessment of the performance of a teacher against the teachers’ standards.

Although the appraisal process is designed to be a supportive and developmental process which helps to ensure that all teachers have the skills and support that they need to carry out their role effectively, not everyone feels that it is supportive.  Some staff find that it is an uncomfortable process as they are asked to share data about themselves and discuss their success or otherwise with a member of staff that they might not usually have anything to do with.  This lack of relationship can make the appraisal feel like it is a process that needs to be completed rather than something of value. 

Appraisal should be supportive.
Appraisals should be supportive and help with development.

Top tips for valuable appraisals

As a second in department, appraisal is one aspect of my role.  My aim is to make the process as positive as possible, trying to capture the positive feeling that I was given in my performance management meetings in my early career.  So, these are my top tips:

  • Give advance notice

Send out an email a week in advance, collecting the paperwork together and outlining the timeline of the appraisal process as well as the meeting time.  This helps the appraisee as everything is in one place.

  • Make the environment comfortable and conducive to a good discussion

At the start of the meeting make sure refreshments are available. This makes the staff member feel cared for and allows you to take a drink throughout ― personally, I often feel hoarse as I am talking so much in one day! 

  • Take time to celebrate success

Put a sign on the door, so people do not keep disturbing the meeting and therefore the flow of discussions.

Review the targets from the previous year, discussing them and sharing stories about how the staff member has had an impact on your own practice. Outline benefits to their department or a case study of a student that has benefitted because of the work, time and care of the member of staff.  The aim of this is to ensure that the teacher feels valued and to celebrate their success and contribution to the school community. 

Ensure that you have open body language and make eye contact throughout as this should feel like a conversation, not a document filling exercise.

  • Ask the teacher if they have any passions that they want to follow. 

I often prompt and suggest courses such as First Aid, Mental Health First Aid, and minibus licences, as I have often found people aspire to at least one of these.  This usually gets the conversation flowing, and the appraisal document can be used as evidence to use some of the CPD budget to help them improve professional practice and to develop as teachers.  We then try to place this into the appraisal form and think about the steps needed to meet this target.

  • Set priorities and targets together

Discuss the department and school priorities in order to decide on targets for the rest of the document.  I think about steps to reach the target and try to find a narrative through the targets that allows the teacher to meet more than one target with the same task – I phrase this as “killing a flock of birds with one stone!” 

Often, as a department, we have already had some meetings and highlighted some tasks that we would like to complete collectively e.g. homework booklets, making differentiated worksheets for the science required practicals or schemes of work, and we try to use these tasks as a method to reach the target.

Targets set in the appraisal meeting should be fair, reasonable and SMART targets.
Targets set in the appraisal meeting should be fair, reasonable and SMART targets.
  • Encourage conversation about ambitions: what do they want from their career?

Most importantly, think about the stage of their career that the teacher is in and encourage them to talk about their aspirations.  Are they at the start of their career and ambitious, are they looking to wind down as they have other interests outside school, or are they waiting for a career break due to family circumstances?  Try to be mindful of this and ensure that targets are rooted in the staff member’s interests while still meeting the needs of the department and school.

  • Check you are both happy with the discussion and paperwork

At the end of the meeting, don’t forget to thank staff, make sure they are happy with everything and give them the forms to consider (away from the pressure of the meeting) before you both sign them. 

I then re-visit the staff before the end of the day to see how they are getting on, and often we end up in another 20 minute or so chat about topics that the appraisal has brought up, while we both sign the document.

I think it is important to build relationships with colleagues to get the best from them.  So, as the year goes by, I keep my eyes open for things that I think might be of interest, such as emails for courses, articles in magazines, or lesson resources, and I send them on to them.  I also encourage staff to celebrate their success in the school newsletter or via the Twitter account, as this too can be used as evidence for meeting their targets and generates more celebration of their success from other staff, students and parents.

Whether you are in the midst of appraisals now, or yet to have them, I hope they are positive and useful for all parties.

For more information and guidance on appraisals see:

The Education (School Teachers’ Appraisal) (England) Regulations 2012 (PDF) Teacher appraisal and capability: model policy  

The National Education Union documents

Sam Holyman is Second in Science at Aylesford School in Warwick, and formerly West Midlands ASE President. She is also author of a number of best-selling science textbooks for KS3 and GCSE (including the AQA GCSE Foundation: Combined Science Trilogy and Entry Level Certificate Student Book), and a keen advocate of innovative teaching and learning. She was nominated in the Teacher Scientist category for the Science Council’s 100 leading practicing scientists, is a Chartered Science Teacher, and has recently been awarded a CPD Quality mark.