Let’s talk about… Striving for Excellence

One of our school values is ‘striving  for excellence’. As I was thinking about appraisal today, it occurred to me that appraisal should be all about striving for excellence, as should the practising teacher criteria.

I am privileged to be in a school that values and promotes the concept of agency and building learning partnerships. We have spent this year focusing on making the learning visible to our learners. It’s tempting to picture only students when we talk about learners, but the reality is everyone in the school is a learner. If making the learning visible by being transparent is good for student learners then it is also true for adult learners too. If we want our staff to continually improve then we have to work with them, alongside them, making professional development as transparent to them as their lessons are to the learners in their classes.

Our teachers are working hard to develop students’ ability to talk clearly and knowledgeably about their learning, but it is equally important that our teachers can articulate their own learning and goals, what they are doing in their classrooms, why they are doing it, and to be able to research and learn more about the impact of their practice on their students.  Our intention is that the appraisal system we have developed will enable this rich reflection and evaluation to take place. We haven’t got it right yet. It is still developing- very much an ongoing work in progress.

Being the new person in the school responsible for the overview and development of appraisal and appraisal systems is quite daunting. Add to that we were using technologies I not used before and then factor in that this year has seen changes to the appraisal  system across New Zealand  (and I’m not just talking about the change from registered teacher criteria to practising teacher criteria) and you’ll have an inkling as to why this journey has been both interesting and challenging.

It’s coming up to the end of this appraisal cycle and I’ve been reflecting on how far (or not!) I’ve come on my journey and what drives me to keep on wanting to improve appraisal. For me, appraisal is about improving and not just proving. No matter how good their practice every teacher has a responsibility to themselves and to their learners, to keep improving on their best.  Putting time into helping teachers improve practice and provide quality learning opportunities impacts on student outcomes.  Everything comes back to the students. They are the reason I do what I do, the reason I drive down the motorway five days a week.

I am disappointed not to have covered as much ground with the appraisal systems as I wanted. By the end of 2015 I wanted to have unpacked the practising teacher criteria with staff, and identified what good evidence looks like as well as what good practice looks like and how that may look different for different levels of experience. And once I stopped beating myself up over not having even started this aspect I could then start to think of the things I have achieved with it. As the new member of staff I’ve had to take time to build positive relationships with staff whose professional identities and roles are complex.  These relationships need to be nurtured and developed in order to build open and honest communication, mutual support and respect.  In addition to this I’m finally feeling confident using OneNote as the tool for recording and storing/ accessing and sharing our appraisal information. Yes, there were teething problems and my lack of knowledge about the digital side of things made messages less clear than they should have been.

Next year we’re going to unpack the criteria together and have the rich discussions about what they mean and what they look like; not because I think it’s important but because when we choose to be teachers we make a commitment to our students. They are the future. They are the ones who will go out into the world and make it a better place, or not, depending on the experiences we give them.  Every child deserves an excellent education and the highest possible quality of teaching and learning opportunities. It’s our job to give it to them. Until parents knock down the door demanding a satisfactory education over an excellent one, we will live our school value and ‘strive for excellence’.

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