I’m ploughing my way through the PDRs that I have to do (Performance and Development Reviews). Our company expects staff to engage in a PDR every year. A meeting is held at which targets are set, then teachers spend time working on their targets before a final meeting towards the end of the year when the progress made is assessed. A commin enough routine, but I notice that I am using words like ploughing through and have to.
They are hugely time-consuming. As well as the meetings themselves, time is required for typing up the notes of the meeting and even just trying to shoehorn the meetings into the rest of the job takes time. There have been varying levels of evidence that the time I spend preparing for the meetings is matched by the time spent by the teachers preparing for them. I sometimes wonder whether or not trying to create a more developmental atmosphere in the staffroom might not be too much of a Sisyphean task. If this blog had any readers, perhaps they would offer their perspectives?
There has been a desert of teacher development over the last few years for one reason or another. In my darkest moments, I wonder if the desertification started with my appointment to the post, but I like to think (but have no evidence to help me demonstrate) that I have been proactive in pushing the development side. But years of reliance upon a casualised workforce which is paid – at least from their perspective- to come in, teach, leave and which does not have the opportunity to form as a team has had an effect.
There is development going on – some people are pursuing postgraduate qualifications- but it is limited. We have always paid for people to go to IATEFL – the surprise is that nobody ever takes up the offer. We subscribe to journals that go unread. A number of developmental sessions are available through both internal and external sources, but the vast majority show no interest.
I read recently that this is typical of organisations where development is regarded as a secondary part of the main job. There was an implicit criticism of the workplace rather than the non-developing teachers. That encouraged me to change the focus of my despair and frustration. My target now is to create an environment where development is seen as a primary responsibility of the job. It is my hop that if I pull this off, competition for the developmental opportunities will be fierce and that if you want to find a teacher out of class, the library will be the second place you look after the staffroom.
A trap is waiting to be sprung for me, I can tell. I am receiving emails from a member of staff who feels aggrieved at the centre’s recent recruitment of staff on very old contracts. They have all been offered permanent posts while this teacher, on a newer less ambiguous contract, remains employed under very precarious terms and conditions. The emails are all info-gathering and one gets the impression that once the trigger information has been supplied, then the trap will fall.
The plight of the middle manager – neither fish nor fowl, ni chicha ni limonada. I understand entirely where the teacher is coming from but feel slightly resentful at the subterfuge. I have always tried to play it closer to the staff – growling and grimacing when I felt that the role demanded it, but always trying to keep a sense of perspective. Surely it’s obvious that I am the Teachers’ Friend?
On a management course I was told of the telescope perspective: middle managers tend to look down the telescope through the correct lens. This has the effect of making things seem much nearer than they really are. Teachers, on the other hand, look down the telescope through the bigger lens, making the manager seem further away than they really are.
I get frustrated by the hierarchy side of things. We’re all there doing a job. Given our rate of pay, there is a reasonable expectation that we view it as a job worth doing well. But teachers would probably take less umbrage at the rate of pay and more at the lack of conditions that support them. They have very little time for self-development, very little time for course development, very little space in which to develop one thing or another – there is a self-serving expectation that development should come within the teachers’ own time.
Were I more than a lowly middle manager, I would have greater emphasis on the conditions that Daniel Pink refers to in this sterling video. If you haven’t seen it yet, believe me when I tell you that it is worth setting aside the requisite 11 minutes. Block them out now in your agenda and come back and watch the film. That way, the stats on this blog should double!
A teacher comes to see me today, incensed. Not fragrantly. The comments I have written in their Performance Development Review do not chime with them. They have responded on the form in an indignant manner. Well…better said would be that they have reacted on the form. Because they are not responding to anything that I have said. Only what they have chosen to interpret from what I have said. Oh dear.
Commenting upon this with a colleague, we observe that people tend to blur the boundaries between a critical appraisal of a job done and a criticism of the person doing it. Does it need to be that way? Do we always need to think in terms of fault rather than responsibility? Do observations always have to be interpreted as criticisms. I might say that such and such a person has not been able to contribute very much to the team. This is a statement of fact – should it be read as the scribblings of one who is utterly oblivious to the reasons why such-and-such is unable to contribute?
I don’t think so. Criticism is not the same as critical appraisal – at least, I don’t think it is. Am I playing with semantics? Is this why my teachers are playing with semtext?
I am reminded today that it is not the done thing to address the negatives when we should accentuate the positives. I am further reminded that I don’t buy into this way of thinking. I manage a dysfunctional team. Some of us want to remedy this. Do we do it by focussing on what we do well? Or by focussing on areas where we are going wrong? I say the latter.
If I’m working as a member of a dysfunctional team, the last thing I need is to hear how great we all are. As fans of Manchester United should sing, We’re shit and we know we are! Give us suggestions for how we can improve. Don’t leave it to us to have to listen to what we regard as false platitudes – cosy little snuggles that might blind us to our faults- and then leave us gagging to hear what isn’t so good. Don’t make us have to guess what we’re doing so wrongly!
Help us see where we are going wrong and offer up some potential suggestions that we can mull over. Then we either deny that we are going wrong in these areas (reinforcing our sense of self-esteem) or we accept that they are indeed our weaknesses and start to address them (reinforcing our self-esteem).
I’ve spent the morning writing a procedure for what to do when students complain about their teachers. They tend to do this in a rather apologetic way to one of their teacher’s colleagues who is forced to listen in cringing embarrassment and a soupcon of schadenfreude. The important thing when writing such processes is to make sure that whatever circle is started, the loop gets closed. Otherwise we’re sliding down a spiral into hell.
I quite like the allure of processes and procedures. They impose a certainty upon the chaos. They are a straight path through the brambles. The only problem is that bandits know that the righteous tread the straight path. And bandits hide in the brambles to come and beat seven shades of excrement out of the righteous.
Processes and procedures can also lead to humanity being surpressed. To my shame I recall telling somebody that they had to take a day’s leave to attend the funeral of a close relative. What made me do such a thing? The code of practice on absence, that’s what. Shame! Shame! Shame!
This then is my lesson: allow processes and procedures to dictate the path that is to be trodden, but don’t let them blind you to the fanciful rollicks that are to be had in the undergrowth. There should always be more than brambles and paths.