Staff Appraisal: hints and tips

Having been on the receiving end of several appraisal systems (both good and bad) I thought I'd pen a few thoughts about what makes for effective appraisal in schools.

Firstly let me set my stall out clearly against the pernicious target culture which has infected some much of the modern work place and has had disastrous unintended consequences in some cases. Schools deal with human beings, not with sales figures or spreadsheets. Any attempt to persuade people otherwise - however well meaning - must be robustly repudiated. That said, the era in which teachers could close their classroom doors and expect to be left to their own devices throughout a 40-year career has, quite rightly, come to an end.

But appraisal in schools is still fraught with difficulty:

  1. how do school leaders accurately and fairly measure teacher performance?
  2. how big a role should data play in the system?
  3. how should appraisers leverage the (often much more useful) anecdotal evidence of performance?
  4. to what extent should the appraisal system be linked to pay?

By no means all these conundrums have been fully addressed at Oswestry (I have yet to work in a school where they have), but I will make it my business to blog about them in due course as and when I find solutions. For the meantime I though I would share this advice which was given to be some time ago and which I have found useful to refer back to periodically before conducting an appraisal with someone:


Key points:

Get people to open up

Establish an informal unhurried atmosphere

Seating arrangements matter - there should be no barriers - and the two chairs must be the same height so that one person is not looking down on the other. Rapport building is very important, particularly with shy people. The ritual cup of coffee and some unthreatening, casual chat are important scene-setting activities.

Praise and encourage

Some people convince themselves that appraisal is going to be an unpleasant experience. It is important to change their perception early on by congratulating them for their good work.

Probe and listen

Good appraisers ask open (“how”, “what” and “why”) questions to get the person talking, then probe for more information (“tell me a bit more about”) and finally ask closed questions to confirm agreement and understanding.

Give time to talk

Don’t be in too much of a hurry. People, particularly shy ones, need time to think. Silence, a friendly facial expression and, if necessary, encouraging prompts (“take your time”) will produce answers which rushing the appraisee will not.

Face up to the problem:

Performance not personalities

Appraisal is not therapy and you are not a psychiatrist! Whatever we think about someone’s personality, we are unlikely to be able to change it in one relatively short discussion. What we can change is behaviour which means concentrating on performance.

Watch out for the word “attitude”. Before you criticise someone’s attitude you must be quite clear what specifically you don’t like and how that shows up in practice, with examples.

Use positive language

If a person’s performance was universally awful, you would be having a disciplinary interview with them, rather than appraising them. So find a way to make your criticisms positive.

Encourage self-appraisal

It is much less threatening to ask people what they think about their performance than simply telling them what you think. Of course, they will want your opinion. But if you have heard what they have to say first, you will often find that, when it is your turn, you can put a positive slant on what they have said.

No surprises!

At least, no negative ones. If something is going wrong with an individual’s performance it must be addressed at the time. Appraisers can certainly review progress on areas of improvement at appraisal time, but saving up bad news is simply asking for trouble.

Agree a plan for the future:

Structure the interview something like this:

Rapport building, agenda setting

Start by setting a relaxed unhurried tone. Outline what the discussion will cover. Find out if the appraisee agrees. Explain the order. Stress that the appraisal is a discussion - you want to hear the appraisee’s opinion and ideas.

Opening the discussion

Ask a general open question to get the ball rolling

Performance areas one by one

Try to focus on one area at a time, rather than jumping around. Summarise at the end of each section before moving on to the next. Don’t be afraid to take notes.

Training and development

Remember that formal training courses are only one way of developing people. So ask “what additional skills and knowledge do you need in this area?” and then “ How do you think we could best provide that?” Avoid asking, “what courses would you like to go next year?”


Boss and job-holder. It’s not just the discussion that is supposed to be two-way. The actions are as well. For example, if you are the boss, is there some coaching that you can give the appraisee? Should you delegate more work to him/her? Can you help sort out his/her working relationship with one of your colleagues?

Is the appraisee satisfied?

Don’t end the discussion until you are sure that the appraisee has said everything he or she wants to say. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything the appraisee says.

Focus on the facts

This means two things. First, resisting the temptation to get sucked into irrelevant discussions. Second, nailing down generalisations.

Agree measurable targets

Often hard to do when focusing on the nebulous aspects of most teacher's jobs, but try.

Set review dates

Appraisal is not supposed to be merely a once a year chore. Have regular review sessions say once a term - they don’t need to take long but they will much improve the overall process and make the formal once a year session much easier.

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