A World Without Appraisal

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In a world without teacher appraisal would you care any less about the children you teach ? Would you no longer stay after school to support the struggling student?  Would you decide that the school play or the Year 8 football team no longer mattered?  Would the work on evenings,  at weekends and in holidays suddenly come to a halt? Would you stop trying your best? Would you cease to reflect about on teaching?

Appraisal and performance management tend to have little or no bearing on how much we care about students or how hard we try to get it right for them. It can be said that, most teachers try hard in spite of appraisal. They keep giving their time up after school for revision despite the fact that they know some students won’t meet their targets, they continue to contribute to extra-curricular activities even though it isn’t explicit in their appraisal documentation, they come in on a Saturday to contribute to the school community, not to tick a box. Teachers never give up. Even when they know they are not going to meet targets through no fault of their own. Even when every effort is futile, they never lose heart.

So why are we desperately trying to fit passion, enthusiasm and altruism into a box of a system designed with failure and accountability in mind? Paperwork which gets looked at twice a year if we’re lucky? A system where meetings can have detrimental impact on relationships between colleagues rather than strengthen them?

How different would a world without teacher appraisal be?

Perhaps in a world without teacher appraisal there could be honest discussions where teachers don’t waste time communicating between the lines in the fear of venturing into the mine field of capability and unions? Perhaps in a world without appraisal and performance related pay we would nurture intrinsic motivation within staff rather than dangling the carrot or following with a stick? Perhaps in a world without narrow focused targets colleagues would take responsibility for the bigger picture? Perhaps in a world without accountability teachers would be more willing to listen to honest feedback whose soul purpose was to improve the provision for students and nothing more? Perhaps in a world without appraisal teachers would work together to improve outcomes for all students in all aspects of school life? Perhaps in a world without tick boxes we could create a community based on a collective approach rather than being in a culture where an individual need only be concerned with their own class? Perhaps it’s time to take a view through different eyes?

What would you do if, on the first day back the headteacher showed you the school priorities and declared “It’s not about history/maths/English* (*add or delete as appropriate) getting their grades up, it’s about everyone working together to improve the outcomes for students at this school? What can you do to support these subjects in their journey whilst improving the provision for students in your own? What can we all do to develop character in our young people so that they are the change society is crying out for?”
What if the rally cry was genuine and authentic backed up with action to prove it wasn’t just disingenuous rhetoric? The response from every member of the team would be positive. You would sense a feeling of empowerment; of loyalty and dedication to the school and its students; of  determination and motivation; of a continual and collective approach to improving teaching and learning.
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The reality is that most teachers go above and beyond to improve student life chances despite their appraisal targets. Targets which are based on the premise of extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation and have been developed with the worst case scenario in mind. How many teachers do you know that are motivated by money? How many worst case scenarios have you come across in your career? Is there any teacher (good or bad) that you have met who doesnt possess the desire to improve their practice? And for those very negligible few who aren’t cut out for this noble profession, is appraisal and performance management really the best way to address the inadequacies of their personal motivation?

Perhaps it’s time that someone took a view through different eyes? Perhaps it’s time that we caught ’em being good rather than catching ’em being bad? Perhaps it’s time that we shifted the culture from personal accountability (I and you) to collective responsibility  (we and us)?

Perhaps we are entering a time where some leaders are brave enought to say “I already have…..”

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Another post about mobile phones and behaviour (and book covers)

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Upon first glance, the headlines associated with Tom Bennett’s recent comments regarding the use of mobile phones in the classroom are likely to send any self-confessed progressive into meltdown. At the very least, it would provoke a sharply tapped 140 characters, defending the use of technology. However, upon further inspection of one of the said articles, what becomes apparent is that Tom is not making any outrageous statements, he is merely stating common sense. The use of technology in the classroom being done so sparingly and only when it is appropriate to do so. Statements which anyone would find difficult to disagree with. His musings being a great deal less controversial than the numerous headlines might suggest. Hence why you should never judge a book by its cover or a story by its headline.

Mobile phones are a wonder of the modern age, most of us use them throughout our day but exactly how much of that time is our use of productive? Human beings welcome distraction. How many of us have whiled away hours of our lives watching funny cat videos or playing Minesweeper and Solitaire in the days before reliable internet connection when we should have been typing up our dissertations? It’s clear that the benefits of technology both in professional settings and in our personal life far outweigh the disadvantages but like anything, surely too much of a good thing can be bad for us?

Where schools have epidemic problems with inappropriate use of handheld devices there is a tendency to rush for a blanket ban, which is understandable. In schools where this is the case, perhaps it is more pertinent to ask how did the problem get to this stage? It is more likely to be just the tip of the behaviour iceberg. When the decision is made to apply a strict blanket ban, there is a need for consistency of approach across all staff which can sometimes be as difficult to enforce as the expectation itself. Schools need to be fully prepared for the battles which may lie ahead as potentially innocuous situations could very quickly escalate and move up the food chain to SLT intervention on a large scale. Friday night SLT detentions may need to be moved to the all-weather pitch in preparation for the mass of phone addicts who will be joining the regular suspects. Additionally, do these policies impact effectively on the students they are designed to serve? Does this approach curtail the persistent offenders or catch the more compliant middle ground? After all, is the odd tweet to a classmate not just the twenty first century version of passing a note around and which of us haven’t done that in our school days? Occasionally, this can have adverse effects on the relationships teachers have with the largest body within the student demographic. These are the students who are precisely the ones we are trying to get on side as they are the quiet revolution.

More generally though, issues with inappropriate use of technology are isolated ones; either certain students or in certain classrooms. Working together with the teachers and students where this happens can sometimes be more effective than enforcing a ban that may be counter-productive to what a colleague in the next classroom is trying to achieve. It is important for senior leadership teams to consider all perspectives when a policy is implemented and always much more empowering to give the decision-making over to class teachers in their classrooms with guidance and support in place. The rider should always be as long as it contributes to the students’ learning. As Tom suggested, if there’s a low tech way of approaching the task then use it; young people get enough of Google in their diet, let’s give them a taste of something different.

Expectations of students is important, taking lessons, assemblies and form time early on in the school year to set out the stall can be invaluable. Listening to a talk from the erudite Martin Robinson last year, I experienced a light-bulb moment. He talked about choice and opinion. There was a suggestion that sometimes teachers give students choice and allow them to express opinion too early on in their school career when they are not fully equipped to make informed judgements. Expectations from a teacher or school don’t need to be justified to students all of the time, they simply need to be set out and followed through. Authentic is the word that leaders tend to use.

What superficially seems an archaic response to mobile phones from Tom Bennett is actually a very well-founded common sense approach to behaviour management which all teachers would do well to follow. It’s proof that you should never judge a book by its cover, a story by its headline and always be willing to take a view through different eyes.

New Year’s Resolutions and Happy Habits versus #Teachers5aday

Being someone who is relatively new to the world of blogging and Twitter, I’m still trying to understand the nuances and etiquette of social media. This summer, my timeline has been filled with tweets from eager educationalists containing #Teachers5aday, the sight of this prompted me to investigate a little further. Using my limited research methods (scrolling through timelines), I found that the are a lot of teachers who make a desperate effort over summer to make up for lost time and catch up on the life they have missed out on. Is this really what #Teachers5aday set out to achieve? Does all the rushing around during the six week break in an effort to relax actually do what it says on the tin? Do we manage to recharge our batteries or just serve to exhaust ourselves further? Is there a better way that we can look after our physical and mental health as well as spending time with the people we love without causing ourselves further unnecessary stress in the holidays by putting yet more items on our to-do list? I hope to offer an alternative approach to maintaining teacher well-being than the feast or famine attitude that most of us adopt.

After reading my blog 30 snippets of advice I’d give my NQT self , my best friend (who is also a teacher) told me that I’d missed something; the need to set goals in your personal life as well as your working one. Since teaching is currently so target driven, our energy tends to be on meeting the demands of those targets hence narrowing the focus to one area of our life. This can be detrimental to our emotional well-being as well as our own self worth, particularly if things are not going as well as we would like them to, which, in turn has a negative effect on everything else, including work. I’m incredibly fortunate, a headteacher who encourages a work/life balance is something that not everyone is blessed with. The leadership of your school is beyond your control, so it is important that you take steps to manage the factors which are down to you.  My friend is right. Having goals outside of teaching help you to stay balanced and maintain perspective. Personal development in other interests can also give you a get out plan if you decide education is not for you!

I have listened to the advice of my friend and this time around I am going to do things differently. September is a teacher’s New Year so I have decided to give myself some small, achievable resolutions at the start of the new term. During the holidays I spent time with family and friends discussing our plans for the next twelve months. Together we have pledged that more effort will be afforded to fulfilling resolutions and happy habits throughout the year, rather than making a desperate scramble during holidays to complete our #Teachers5aday, which in itself becomes a source of anxiety. We have all agreed to take a self-first (not to be confused with selfish) approach. We asked ourselves what is it that we, as people need to continually keep in mind in order to be the best version of us that we can be? When I asked this question of myself in an effort to make sensible and maintainable resolutions, I thought what are the most influential factors in my life that will have bearing on my personal motivation, happiness, well-being and self worth?

In true Blue Peter style, I came up with the following doodle:
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When I considered my colour-coding, the correlation between how much work contributes to my happiness and the time spent focusing on it is very much a negative one. I’m not saying that teaching doesn’t make me happy because it does, I have the best job in the world and I’m committed to working long hours in order to complete my role and support the school to the best of my abilities. Yet at times in my career (particularly when I was a head of department), school has consumed me at a cost to everything else, especially my family relationships. Ultimately, this has had an impact on my own personal happiness.

The beautiful John Tomsett article found here about putting family first sums this up perfectly. I must admit to feeling pangs of guilt as I navigated the words of his blog, sadly, identifying with so many of his mistakes. His quiet aphorisms have been the driving force in my shift over the last few years to a family first approach.

I am hoping that happy habits in my work life are also going to make a big difference this year. I already feel that I use my time effectively but know that there is always room for improvement! As mentioned in previous blogs, a happy habit is a routine that you adopt professionally to help you use your time better leading to more worthwhile outcomes and increased well-being.

Key happy habits for me this year include:

  • Starting the day mindfully;
  • Sticking to planned time as much as possible;
  • No work emails an hour before bed;
  • Continue to put people first;
  • Spend some time everyday around school;
  • Read more, listen more, watch morethat way I’ll never stop learning;
  • Use the internet to network morelike minded people can be my salvation in what can be a lonely job at times, those with opposing views/settings can help me grow!

Over summer I had the first break away with my mum in nearly twenty years, she’s a wonderful woman and we laughed from start to finish. I was surprised at how much fun we both had and how good it was for me as a person to spend time with her (my parents have always kept me grounded). She is one of the most influential people in my life and yet often gets neglected the most, I realised that this must change for both our sakes. Time with my parents, who are getting older now, as well as the rest of my family is definitely top of the resolution list!
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As I’ve matured, I’ve realised that I need to take time to recharge my own emotional batteries in order to give the other aspects of my life 100%. This year I’ve continued to develop this further by enlisting the services of a coach and have found that it’s the best money I have ever spent! Time with her helps me to maintain perspective, consider what really makes me happy and continually work on being a better me. Working with someone who has no links to my personal or professional life ensures that I get two hours a week which is devoted solely to my personal development and needs. As a result of this the time that I spend in other areas of my life is not bogged down with irrelevant minutiae that can sometimes divert my attentions away from the moment. Investing in ourselves is something that we as teachers don’t do enough of. Whether it be a massage, facial, personal training session, haircut, retreat, etc. spending relatively small amounts of money regularly that contribute to your well-being is a much wiser approach than going deep into overdraft during the summer break!

Creativity is not one of my strong points, well that’s a lie, it’s not something I have devoted a great deal of my time to so is an aspect of self-development which I approach with a little trepidation. It is certainly a resolution I’m adopting a growth mindset with! I will try to spend ten minutes every day doing something with the right side of my brain. Whether that be doodling in one of the many colouring books or learning to play an instrument, there are lots of options out there; just letting go and being in the moment will be good for my soul.


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Having holidays, seeing live music or performances are also great ways of keeping happy. Even the timing of when you go through the physicality of booking them can make a huge difference to your state of mind. Setting time aside to book treats during the toughest school months is a way of reminding you that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Mid-November, my partner and I will book a trip to somewhere hot and sunny for Easter or summer, weekend breaks will be planned and theatre brochures will be thumbed to make sure we get through the winter months intact! Not only do I get something to look forward to but it forces me to maintain that work-life balance during the months when it’s the easy to let this aspect of our lives slide.

Reading is good for you! If I’ve heard this once, I heard it a hundred times. It’s taken me thirty-something years to learn to agree. Making more time for professional and personal reading has unlocked interests that I didn’t know I had. In whatever form I can get them, words are rapidly becoming my nectar so every day, even if it’s for a couple of minutes,I will endeavour to read something new!

My final resolution is to be more tolerant of myself. I am my harshest critic and one which will never be satisfied. This year I’m going to go a little easy on myself in every aspect of my life. There are certain expectations I have to meet, however, it is ok to set a challenge which I occasionally fail to meet as it’s more about the experience along the way than the end result. Last Christmas (I feel there’s a song in there somewhere), I gave myself the target of twelve competitive runs (of varying length and format) in twelve months. In reality I will probably only complete eight before Christmas 2015. Previously, I’d have been disappointed for not hitting the target but, if I reflect on the experience of my runs so far I can see that Ive achieved an awful lot. I’ve run as part of a team in a triathlon, I’ve jumped off a galleon into the Tees and I even managed to compete together with one of my crazy dogs. Taking a more relaxed approach means that I can enjoy being in the moment rather than forging ahead forgetting the reason for setting the goals in the first place.

image#Teachers5aday has been a great starting point for me and can be an useful reminder to colleagues to maintain balance. However, the little and often approach of resolutions and happy habits is going to be my chosen pathway this year rather than an all you can eat buffet of cramming “fun” into my holidays in an effort to make up for lost time. I’m vowing to be in the moment more rather than uploading it real-time for the world to see, it’ll just have to be patient or perhaps the internet really isn’t interested in my fairly ordinary life? Maybe this opinion comes with age or perhaps the rumours are true, pottering and spending time with the people you love really is back in fashion.