Performance Appraisal: A Tool for Learning

Learner Mindset vs. Judger Mindset…this past week my goal was to focus on actively choosing my Learner Mindset – activating this mindset in all aspects of my life – my thoughts, my feelings and the circumstances in which I found myself.  What I realized was that it actually saved me time- which for me, was significant.  Interesting…the time that perhaps may have been spent “venting” (as we often refer to it) or listening to others “vent” was redirected to simply skip over that vent and to move the dialogue immediately into the Learner Mindset – to make thoughtful choices, to be solution oriented and to focus on win-win relating (Adams, 2013, pg. 22).   I found that when the questions that I chose were Learner Mindset in nature, the vent moved away from being unproductive, to actually resolving the issue in a positive manner.  Here are the questions that I used from Adams (2013):

  • What happened? What do I want for both myself and others? What can I learn?
  • What assumptions am I making? What are the facts?
  • What are they thinking, feeling and wanting? Am I being responsible?
  • What’s possible? What are my choices? What’s best to do now?

The Learner Mindset has also forced me to rethink Appraisal Processes.  We know that appraisal processes are growth oriented and intended to improve instruction when used as they were originally envisioned (in Ontario anyway).  Fullan (2014), in The Principal addresses the challenges with performance appraisals when they are done in isolation, when the process is simply to visit a classroom and write a report, when the people simply “go through the motions” (pg 31). He argues that “performance appraisal can be useful (and should be incorporated in any organization) but is not intensive enough to “cause” deep learning” (pg. 89).  However, as part of a “collaborative culture” whereby the school culture is one “that build(s) in learning every day and that use appraisal to supplement and strengthen the learning (and indeed take action in relation to persistent low performers) (pg. 30), they can have an impact.

So am thinking that when the performance appraisal is used in a compliance manner (just do what needs to be done as I have to send this document in at the end of the school year), as opposed to embedding the process in an authentic and genuine manner into the actual school improvement culture that provides teachers with continuous feedback for improvement, that it forces a Judger Mindset.   As a “silo” process, it is usually artificial and has little to no impact on improvement.

What does it mean to take these Ontario appraisal processes (so think Long Term Occasional, Support Staff, Teacher, Principal, Supervisory Officer) and make them worthwhile – ensuring that the appraisee and appraiser can measure the improvement; that there is significant growth in the identified areas of need, that true learning (remember the definition – it is a permanent change in thinking and behaviour) is actually happening?  If these appraisal processes are truly about learning, then I would argue that we need to keep our understanding of the Assessment for and as Learning cycle and our Conditions for Learning as the foundational approach to the technical requirements of the process, as a reference point for us to return to as we approach every stage of the process. I acknowledge and respect the “rules” of the appraisal process however I believe that each stage of this process can be enhanced to support the learning-for-all culture of the school (and of our board) in a mutually agreeable way.

Think about the Assessment for and as Learning components and our Conditions for Learning:

1.  Condition for Learning:  Conducting the appraisal WITH the appraisee, rather than TO the appraisee.  The movement to the appraiser and appraisee becoming learning partners in this process is foundational to its success (and reminds me of our Conditions for Learning – Collaboration vs Cooperation). For learning to occur, ongoing collaborative conversations that analyse the evidence (observations, conversation, products) of the impact on the learner are critical.  I would suggest co-learning with the appraisee in PLCs; being at the table with the appraisee, engaging in the same research materials that the appraisee is studying as part of their Annual Growth Plan, and in reflecting on the evidence of impact of this new learning (on the learners).

2.  Self-Assessment Leading to Goal Setting: The Annual Learning/Growth Plan     This is the foundation to the entire process. The creation of this document needs to be done carefully in order to fully understand the learning that the appraisee has identified as their area of greatest need. The appraisee needs to engage in their own personal self-assessment of their practice to determine this area of need. The research by Katz and Dack comes into play here – where they argue that “student learning needs are a proxy to adult learning needs” (Intentional Interruptions, 2012); thus, the appraisee should consider their student learning needs in addition to recommendations made in their previous appraisal.  This piece is often lost or forgotten in this process and is one that needs to be followed through on by both the appraisee and the appraiser; returning to the most recent appraisal Summative Document  to revisit the previously identified areas for growth/goals to create an ongoing cycle for improvement and to increase accountability.

3.  Co-Created Success Criteria: The Annual Learning/Growth Plan    The collaborative growth plan conversations (and there should be more than one!) between the appraiser and the appraisee should help to narrow the focus for the learning, encourage the creation of specific criteria for success, help the “team” to identify the linkages of this work to the School Learning Plan or Board Learning Plan, and determine the framework of the learning.  As the goals for improvement become fleshed out (remember this is a conversation), the team could consider engaging in the co-construction of the success criteria for the goals as a way of providing some diagnostic information regarding their mutual understanding of the results of the goals.  This list of criteria could form the basis for ongoing dialogue as the appraisee explores the goal further – as they research, try out specific approaches, and return to analyze their evidence.  Enhancements are made to the criteria as more learning happens for the appraisee.

 4.  Feedback: The Reflective Log       The evidence of impact is documented by the appraisee in their reflective log, a tool with is critically important in this process. Without reflection (which includes the analysis of the evidence) through the lens of the identified success criteria, little growth can occur.  This reflection is also the basis for the ongoing conversations with the appraiser about the success criteria – the opportunity for feedback! The ongoing feedback between the appraiser and the appraisee is what makes this a learning process.  When feedback is given during the first meeting and the final summative meeting, a significant learning opportunity is lost.  When feedback is given over time throughout the process, the goals of the appraisal can be narrowed and growth over time can be observed.

(the Ontario Teacher Log can be found at

I want to stress again that throughout this approach, the appraiser must be cognizant of the technical requirements of this process.  However, I believe that, if the culture of the school is truly one that values learning-for-all, then many will prefer that this process be “done with them, not done to them”.  Ultimately, the appraisee has control over their goals, their actions, their level of engagement in this process, etc., and we know that the approach has to change when the rating is “unsatisfactory”.  It is my hope that our ethical belief in ongoing professional learning (that exists for most of the groups who are participating in this process) is the driving force behind how we engage in this process – that the Learner Mindset, which we are beginning to realize saves us all time, is how we choose to approach these appraisal processes. Simply put, if learning is at the heart of these processes, then we need to do more than what the technical manual requires us to do – it is more than having a goal setting meeting and writing a summative report. 

Finally, we recognize that the shift towards the learning-for-all culture is one that takes time.  I wonder if performance appraisals would increasingly become another tool to support the learning culture of a school if we align them (and leaders choose to model it) as a process that follows the learning agenda of the school (assessment for and as learning and Conditions for Learning)?

Until Next Week…please make your thinking visible…

2 responses

  1. The learner mindset is one that requires an energy as we embark on the learning journey. I find myself in a learner mindset role (because I believe it is about our kids) and have to muster energy when getting derailed by circumstances that emerge and although I want to keep learning I feel somewhat deflated and have to reflect and re-calculate as to the next steps in learning as part of a collective team. I do believe that as far as our learning journey each year and also performance appraisals years our learning needs to be grounded in our annual learning plan. As a practitioner we need to be strategic in our learning and how this will impact the learner! Know thy impact!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. George Drazenovich | Reply

    I am not familiar enough with the performance appraisal process between principal/teacher to comment specifically on this dynamic. I do think the reflective logs are a good idea and I hope that we all take times to engage in reflection on our work regularly (hard I know!),

    On the point of supervision though, I am reminded of a friend of mine who was a “clinical supervisor” in the mental health field.(this would be similar, I think, to the idea of teachers who are professionals in terms of their teaching practice and getting feedback on that in a supervisory setting by a senior person). He attended management training and shared that one of the valuable things he learned about was this whole concept of clinical supervision. He shared that in the training, the facilitator said if you are talking to a staff around how they are working with a client, what is working, not working, techniques that might be applied, adaptation, etc. – that is not “clinical supervision” that is “case management”. If you are talking about how this particular case or situation is impacting YOU, what is happening within you as you engage in this – THAT is “clinical supervision”. Not that supervision is therapy but that encouraging to reflect on practice insofar as it impacts you is an important part of growing in professional effectiveness.

    Ultimately it is all about student achievement and grow but an integral component is teacher growth and I like to think that those of us who are more distal to the classroom setting like my role still see our role as supporting students even if not directly so our growth is also important in terms of enhancing student achievement and well-being (PS my pet peeve is how professionals (not in our board) sometimes see these things as somehow different from each other). Achievement will help in a student’s well being and vice versa. I think we all intuitively understand this but as I attend different events you hear this articulate as two different things from time to time..


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