Penelope Monger welcomes performance reviews in any profession…though she feels the risk of teachers not benefiting from them needs to be considered.
Queensland’s recent decision to mandate annual performance reviews is a positive step for both the teachers and the students they teach. This decision will bring Queensland teachers in the government sector into line with other states and territories, including Victoria and NSW, which already have annual review systems in place.
Performance reviews can be daunting but, in any industry, they should be seen as an opportunity for goal-setting and growth. As Cavendish Road State High School principal Corrine McMillan says, performance reviews are an appropriate process for teacher reform, feedback and, perhaps most important, reflection. The process should be one that includes the opportunity for teachers to engage in self-reflection about their own practices during the year; followed by further reflection in discussion with a peer or leader. It should be as much about recognising achievements as it is about acknowledging weaknesses and areas for growth. It should be as much about performance as it is about identifying opportunities for development.
Without a mandated review process, teachers may never be given the opportunity – that is, the time – to actually reflect on their practices. In the harried school year, teachers are so consumed by their day-to-day work that they may be unable to give due consideration to this reflection. However, such reflection is vital for the education industry. There are numerous studies showing that teacher-effectiveness has the greatest impact on student learning. Providing annual, internal performance reviews ultimately, then, recognises and values the teachers and the work they do.
It should be as much about performance as it is about identifying opportunities for development.
However, the review process is not without its stresses, particularly in the current political climate. Firstly, there seems little point to a review if the teacher is not offered or provided professional development opportunities. Failing to provide such opportunities undermines the purpose of the review and it undoubtedly undermines the teacher’s feelings of value or worth. This may in turn affect their effectiveness in the classroom. In these situations, the review process must surely be considered just one more hoop that the teacher must jump through, serving little or no purpose.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the current rhetoric being heard in the corridors of power promises, or threatens (depending on your perspective), to link teacher performance with pay. This link will inherently compromise the purpose of internal reviews. Rather than reflecting holistically on the year past, and acknowledging successes and failures to themselves, teachers will now be at pains to prove their performance to others. I would question the extent to which one can actually quantify the effects of teachers on students. But even if the effects could be measured, the proposal of performance pay threatens to negate the value of providing space and time to allow teachers to reflect on their teaching practices, and to equip them with the tools required to develop those practices.