PART 3 – Building Trust in a Culture of Skepticism – PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT

This piece is part of a leadership archive from one of the most authentic school leaders I have met, Jeremy Hannay. Jeremy is currently headteacher of Three Bridges Primary School, and his work can also be found here.

If you have read PART 1 on Leading the Instructional Program
(Synopsis: If you want to get rid of the BS, the first step is collaboratively building your instructional program for coherence, clarity and confidence so that every member of staff can articulate how learners learn and how you teach – this is often the key to driving up results, too!) 

and you managed your way through PART 2 on MONITORING & SCRUTINY

(Synopsis: there are much better ways to build commitment and confidence once you have collaborated on instructional design – often those things we need to monitor and scrutinse become obsolete after collective agreement and collaborative development)

then you are ready for the third instalment of my series on Building Trust in a Culture of Skepticism.  This blog will focus on what is often referred to as Performance Management – what I refer to as Professional Growth & Development.

The first thing that’s important is we speak the same language.  What does performance management look like in practice in most schools?  It is often a combination (or triangulation) of a few aspects.
1 – data: usually from pupils’ attainment and progress, including end of key stage and national tests as well as internal school data.
2 – books: some level of information about the progress/quality/contents of your pupil’s books
3 – observation/learning walks: information from your most recent (or series of) observations, learning walks, etc.

There is also a target setting and evaluation component – often heavily revolving around pupil data (attainment and/or progress).

The next aspect to consider is WHY we have such a corporate approach to performance.  Really, it is the overly simplistic view that there are two types of teachers: good ones and bad ones.  Good ones have a deep impact on pupil achievement and bad ones have little, no, or a negative impact.  Therefore, if we can measure what they do, we can find, celebrate and curate the good ones and get rid of the bad ones.  The trouble is, teaching is a lot more complex than that.  As are our schools.  One only needs to look as far as the United States to see the damning reports of the invisible impact of trying to improve teaching through narrow performance measures.

There is a place in every school to discuss pupil data – where did they start, where have they been, where are they going and what can we do more or less of to help?  Are there patterns – generalisations – we can see? Any surprises with groups of pupils?  Data is a great servant, but a poor master.

There is also scope to discuss books and professional practice – but that was the topic of PARTS 1 & 2.  There is a place for everything – but these things should rarely be at the centre.

So let’s think more deeply – what is required to ensure every child succeeds?  Surely that is at the heart of performance management – student success as a result of teacher development.  The answer to that question is not simply a ‘good teacher’.  Pupils don’t succeed because of one strong teacher – they succeed because they have a series of teachers that are great.  And we cannot improve the group by focussing solely on individuals.  Performance Management is really about supporting the growth and development of both the individual teacher AND the collective group.  This requires teachers that are intelligent, committed, inspired – coupled with intentional social structures that facilitate professional learning – completed by the ability to use that professional learning to make decisions that impact directly on learners and learning.  Simply put, we need the best people working together to learn, with the agency to enact decisions for the school, their classrooms and individual children.

With this in mind – we need to focus less on managing our professionals and more on developing them.  Imagine trying to grow the very best plant – you can measure the individual seeds, monitor them, scrutinse them, collect data on them, observe them – but if you neglect the soil, they’ll never flourish.  They will forever be a fraction of what they could have been.  We have spent too much time enthralled with the seed at the expense of the soil.  We need to be Soil People.

With this in mind – in order to truly impact upon student achievement and success – we need to develop incredible teachers that have a deep interest in their own growth.  They must feel aligned to both the school’s priorities and their own professional interests.  There is a body of positive research developing around Teacher Led Learning Projects (Dr Carol Campbell) and teacher led research and its impact on teacher development and student achievement.  At Three Bridges, teachers are in control of their professional learning.

Every teacher has an Annual Learning Plan.  This is characterised by lines of enquiry that form micro-research for the year.  The teachers create 2-3 questions – one of which is directly related to a school development priority and the other (1-2) are more personalised professional development questions.  Teachers carve out their rationale for formulating each question, their growth strategy and timelines with a Professional Growth Partner.  This is a middle level leader that is not their phase/team leader. They meet half termly with their growth partner to have a coaching conversation – to support them on their journey and keep them on the right track.  There is no better way to get fit than to commit to going to the gym or for a run with someone else.  They meet termly with me (aaaahhhhhh!!! The terror!!) for another coaching conversation, exploring their views on the impact that answering their questions is having on both themselves as a professional and (depending on their position in the school) their children, their phase, the whole school and/or other professionals.  This helps keep a focus on professional growth and student success.

And guess what – they love it.  We have teachers examining the impact of Philosophy for Children, the fine arts, reading for pleasure, early reading strategies.   They’ve been looking at the impact of Forest School on writing.  It is remarkable.  We have also funded a third of the staff to pursue master’s degrees at their request.  We have created wider research groups exploring metacognition and reading for meaning.  The teachers see growth and impact beyond the immediate data – actually, they are highly skeptical of immediate impact.  They are in it for the long look – beyond today or this term.  They are interested in the indicators of long term, sustainable impact. Our results – never been stronger.  Our children get a series of incredible teachers – they move from strength to strength – rather than from the nervously compliant to constrained creative.

Our teachers have Annual Growth Plans, Professional Growth Partners, Coaching Conversations, Micro-Research – they’ve got Learning & Lesson Study, Open Lessons, Teacher Research Groups and a series of unconstrained opportunities to lead their own learning, disseminate that information to others and – most importantly – infinite room to grow. We’re not interested in one tall, strong, beautiful flower.  We’re Soil People – we want a Great Garden.

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