Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Performance management review

I had a really good PMR last year. The manager who did it actually got the fact that focusing a large part of the meeting on setting me a data based target wasn't constructive or motivational. They actually understood the fact that the end result is an abstract and that it is more important to focus on the now and the how, then the end result. I have to say, this degree of understanding is a rare thing.

Signing up to data targets is a bit like trying to guarantee you'll be home at a certain time in rush hour traffic. No one is going to set out not to get home ask quick as they can but it's the unknowable nature of the targets, set against national averages which have yet to be set and dependent entirely on other people's physical and mental well-being which makes them ludicrous.

It's a bit like being Jack Lemmon's character in Glengary Glenross but without the ability to try and find new leads.

'Improve high grades by x %'
'Um... I don't think this year group is as strong as last year - look at the target grades!'
'Don't make excuses - Just do it'
'Er... how?'
'Y'know, teaching or something, we're not here to discuss that for heaven's sake!'

It's not just that the data/target culture is alienating learners and turning them into mere punchbags for the flailing and often desperately misguided blows of various intervention strategies, it's that so many people in education just aren't very good with data. It's taken long enough in my workplace for people to wake up to the fact that setting targets based on 'last year' is nonsense. That to preach that every class and child is its own unique snowflake but to set blanket targets which take no notice of the data we already have about that group's individual performance is insane.

So is the practice of looking at ever smaller subsets of data. It might just be me, but I thought the bigger the numbers, the relevant the study. Why then slice up data by cohort, then by class? Do you really think I went in to one classroom and tried to teach them 'less well?' Honestly?

I get the point of reflecting on data. I get that. I learn from it. I monitor it daily, it IS useful to me. I'm not advocating some kind of hippy paradise where we pick a colour to represent our feelings for the year ahead and do a dance of optimism together to try to please the great god OCR. I just want to have some time to discuss my practise, to reflect with others as an equal and to self reflect on what has gone and what will come.

I want to discuss teaching (an ancient human skill, an innate facet of life) with people who revere and respect it, who find it as intriguing and fascinating and fabulous as I do. I don't want to be told 'focus on Jonny Cottonsocks as he'll make a bigger difference to the VA score than Monica and Kevin.' These learners aren't just data. They aren't sales units or productivity figures. I know them. I like most of them. I tell them I'll do my best and I point blank refuse to prioritise one above another on the basis that they suit the data better.

I'm honestly not sure it's healthy to force 'help' on kids who don't want it and deny help to kids who need it according to some secret data set. I wouldn't trust anyone who managed me in that way. I wouldn't develop a very healthy view of merit and value. I expect my manager to form a human judgement of me and my support and development needs, based on a range of factors and not simply one unit of performance data and I want to treat learners the same way.

There's a reason I didn't go into marketing.

To that end, here are my PMR targets. These are the real ones I will live by.

- Create a series of digital skills based tutorials learners can access anytime. If I do one per week, I'll have an amazing resource by the end of the year.
- Make better use of online testing where apt to ensure technical language is engaged with
- Return to some previously successful strategies where technology enabled deeper discussion and greater leaner involvement
- More variety in the teaching of the more able learners. Expect more from them and ensure there is more interesting, provocative material available to challenge them.
- Flip more lessons, not because it's hip, but because it makes more sense and because it's genuinely useful as it makes more time to coach 1:1 or small group.
- Give learners more voice. Consult them more. Let them tell me what they do/don't understand. Do this well. Basically do AFL better. Make sure the learners understand this concept.
- Make better use silence in the classroom. Individual work can be very useful and I default to pairs/groups too often.
- Make learners reflect more on the work they've done. Do it, even though it seems to be wasting time at the time. The gains can be spectacular when they realise for themselves what I've wasted 6 months writing on their work but them ignoring. Set more work but mark the same amount (or even less) providing I can give a meaningful feedback experience. (ugh... feedback experience wtf?)
- Have more varied tasks where learners learn from each other. Well managed these have worked very well for me previously but I seem to have returned subconsciously to one size fits all and a bit of differentiation on top. I don't know why?
- Let learners experience the material and make their own mistakes. Being an experienced teacher shouldn't mean trying to prevent any learner mistakes. It means being ready to give the students the tools to learn from them. Stop getting in the way of learning by trying to prevent mistakes.
- Brook no bullshit from anyone. Colleagues included. I haven't got the time.

My data target:

Do the best I can for each learner according to their need. What will be will be.

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