Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Educational 'Performance Management' and its failings

Dear Reader,

Have you ever been 'Performance Managed'?  Do you have a regular appraisal at work?  How useful do you find it?

People work for organisations.  What people want doesn't always exactly align with what the organisation wants - therefore, to ensure that people develop AND the organisation develops, there are chains of command, hierarchies, accountabilities.  This we understand,  But why are the processes by which we measure our work output so outrageously inefficient?

Forgive me for focusing on teaching for a moment. If you've never been a teacher, you might imagine that the process of measuring a teacher's job may be fairly simple:  Teacher teaches children. Boss measures learning, usually by observing teacher teach and sometimes by looking at data.  Teacher is hailed as hero or sneered at as failure.  Repeat.  Repeat so many times in a year that said teacher's head spins.

Do you see the problem?  There are several:

1. Frequency.  You have to leave someone alone to do their job, yes? There is only so much 'telling someone how well you're doing your job' one can do without it seriously affecting your ability to actually do said job...

2. The Observer's Paradox: Teacher and children behave differently when being observed.  This is pushed up to the max when children are heavily influenced by SLT in the room, or decide to make life difficult for the teacher, or try to behave well and end up making the lesson articificial.  Almost all of the hundreds of lesson observations I have had over the years fall into one of these three categories.

3. Measuring learning is tricky.  Measuring in one lesson is often ludicrous.  If you're not a teacher, you might be wondering what the hell is going on - yes, you heard it right: more often than not teachers are judged on the amount of measurable learning they can get the children in the room - sometimes thirty of them - to demonstrate in less than an hour.  Calling this 'short-sighted' is a polite response.

4. Grading a teacher based on one lesson tells you virtually nothing.  Teaching is a job that, no matter how good you are, is filled with inconvenient inconsistencies called children. You might be great at building relationships but you have one tricky Year 11 class that think they are way too cool for you and will take longer to crack.  You might usually have a firm grasp on classroom behaviour with Year 7 but on this day a wasp flew into the room and they wouldn't calm down.  You might usually prepare your A-Level class meticulously but on this day your baby kept you up all night and you feel sluggish and the class can feel it.

5.  Looking at data, while better, is also pathetic.  We know that a massive amount of what constitutes good teaching isn't measurable and nor should it be. We also can't agree about progress and, instead of discussing it sensibly amongst ourselves - our PROFESSIONAL selves - we wait for Ofsted to tell us and then run around idiotically photocopying it.

6. Performance management in schools works one way - top down. If you have a terrible, unsupportive or simply incompetent manager - tough.  If they come and observe you and give you feedback (if you're lucky), you aren't necessarily entitled to go and see them doing it better (sometimes they can't, of course).  Let's face it: bad management is costing us brilliant teachers.

7. And why are those teachers leaving?  Because they're creative, innovative, interesting people who are sick of being told they are fantastic one day and shoddy the next; sick of being forced to tick boxes instead of teach; sick of being patronised and hounded in equal degree.  Management is about giving people autonomy with checks and support.  Without autonomy, the rest of it is punitive or controlling nonsense.

So what can we do differently?

If you consider the model of teaching and what it sets out to do, there is one inescapable conclusion: we should be asking the children.  Not in isolation - they don't know everything, and their judgement isn't always correct - but triangulated with reciprocal and peer-to-peer performance management that goes back to my first thoughts: ensuring both the person develops and the organisation develops.  Oh - and you can always ask the employee to self-evaluate.  In the right atmosphere of honesty and trust, they will be beautifully and helpfully critical.

Parents, teachers, employees: how should we measure our ability to do our jobs?


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