Individualising staff performance development

doorway, Oia, 2008

This year at my school we are trialling a different approach to performance development and review processes. Historically, we have had a range of processes and each year staff have been assigned to the process they are ‘up for’ based on a chronological cycle. This has tended to mean that in the first year of employment at the school, staff go through a probation process. The next three years have involved a linear cycle of two years of coaching around teaching practice, followed by a year in which the staff member engages in reflection and performance review with their line manager around their role. And so on. Each year staff also have a reflection and goal-setting conversation with their line manager, which functions as an important check-in for the manager and a key feedback process for the staff member.

These processes aim to engender trust, build capacity, and provide support, while also facilitating a relationship between person and manager around performance, development, and needs. They are founded on a belief that our staff are capable professionals who have the capacity and the will to grow professionally; and an expectation that they will endeavour to improve, no matter how good they already are. Data, research, coaching, collaboration, mentoring, and self-reflection are all tools embedded into these processes.

Yet, despite the best intentions of these processes, and their basis in research, some staff have felt that the school-based development processes have not met their needs, or have not been meaningful. It has had me wondering:

How might school-based performance development be differentiated to meet the needs, aspirations and career stages of staff?

So this year we are trialling a non-linear, more individualised approach to our performance development. Teachers, for instance, will negotiate with their manager a choice from a number of options. Options for teaching staff include:

  • Coaching around practice with a teacher trained as a Cognitive Coach; involves using low-inference data for reflection and capacity building within a confidential and trusting space; leaders can opt to be coached by a peer or other leader
  • Working with an expert teacher who acts as a kind of classroom consultant; might include team teaching and mentoring with specific advice around classroom practice.
  • A reflection and feedback process with their line manager (which needs to happen every 3-4 years)
  • An internally-designed leadership development program for aspirant or early career leaders; includes leadership profiles, school leaders running sessions
  • A professional learning group, bringing staff together from across the school to engage in scholarly literature, reflection, and shared practice.
    • Teaching best practice
    • Pedagogies of learning spaces
    • ICT for teaching and learning
    • Post-graduate study

All staff will continue to complete their yearly reflection and goal setting conversation with their line manager. In order to support this work, all our school leaders, many of whom have previously completed the Cognitive Coaching Foundation course, are undertaking GROWTH Coaching training. This training will help them to guide and enhance the goal setting of the people they manage, and it supports our organisational belief (based in research and knowledge of our own context) that coaching is a powerful vehicle for building individual, collaborative and organisational capacity. We will also continue to provide additional leadership support and development.

The above options do not cover everything that educators do to develop themselves and others. All managers regularly check-in on the performance of their staff; they do not wait until the rigorous formal process rolls around. We have staff who mentor pre-service teachers, contribute to professional associations, present at conferences, write textbooks, or complete post-graduate study. The above school-based options do, however, provide a more flexible suite of alternatives that honour where our staff are at in their career journeys. As always, we will ask for honest feedback from staff as we seek to find ways to serve our students, staff, and the shared purpose of the organisation.


12 thoughts on “Individualising staff performance development

  1. You might not be able to say on here Deborah, but how do those colleagues, for whom the previous system didn’t meet their needs, think ‘school-based performance development’ *should* meet their needs?


    • Ian, an example is that some staff who have been allocated a coach for the year have felt that they would have liked more directed feedback on practice (e.g. via an experienced teacher or a manager). We have teachers who are very experienced and at a stage in their careers where they would like to give back to their colleagues and the profession by sharing their own expertise with others, rather than perhaps being coached on their own practice. Managers, too, have wanted to be able to work together with staff to support them in ways best suited to their performance, need, and career stage. I’m interested to see who chooses what when given the option!

      I’m also particularly excited about the post-graduate study group, as I think studying a Masters or doctorate can be quite isolating. Coming together around research methods, dissertations, and research projects should provide support, connections, and growth opportunities, for those who opt-in.


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  5. Hi Deb, good to hear you’re still pushing the boundaries. Would love to schedule a chat if you’re up for it as discussing something similar with a number of the schools I’m working with including the use of Blockchain to map their learning outside of the formal processes.


  6. Hi Deborah,

    I am very interested in your approach. I read your thesis document also. I am involved in design for professional development for teachers in Ireland, as we are undergoing curricular reform. I would love to chat,



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