Category Archives: Teacher Agency

Pick your own Appraisal Pathway

We are going through a bit of a review and revisioning of our appraisal system. One of the big drivers for me was to ensure that our appraisal approach was deeply rooted in our school’s vision:

Empowering agency, innovation and leadership.

Our vision is not just for our students learners, it is central to how we operate and learn as a community of learners and includes the board, staff and of course our students.

The seeds for change have been germinating for a while. If you have read any of my previous posts and reflections they are all about clarifying and acting on my commitment to a more personalised approach for professional learning that is rich in teacher voice and choice. That initiative is underway and parallel to the thinking behind that has been the thoughts of what if we took that philosophy and applied it to our appraisal process? What would it look like when we personalised this for staff and incorporated choice?

Let’s wind back the clock for a second… our appraisal system is not currently broken, it serves it’s purpose in supporting staff to grow in their capability and effectiveness, provides evidence to supports the renewal of their practicing certificate, has teacher inquiry as its foundation and includes a 1-1 coaching element. It ticks off the ‘requirements’ from the Ministry for Performance Management in Schools and the Education Council’s Requirements for the Appraisal of Teachers.

However, when one listens to the voices of the staff one hears murmurings that improvements can be made, especially after the leadership team had completed the ‘mid-year’ appraisals in 2017. As such the leadership team sat down and reviewed the process and the drivers for doing what we do. Some of the main learnings from the process were that there was no opportunity to staff be truely agentic, for the process to be personalised and there was not choice – it was very much a top down approach – and thus the seeds were sown…

It was around this time that I discovered the thinking of Katie Martin and in particular her thoughts on personalised professional learning. Her post Create Your Own Adventure (Professional Learning That Shifts Practice Part 5) really got me thinking and has also influenced my thinking around our PLD approach. The create your own adventure approach, or as I refer to it, a pick-a-path approach – just great! So, how could this planning be applied to appraisal?

So from here the planning began and initially I was thinking all circles rather than the table a like Katie’s. If you could imagine the first ring was the why, the second ring was the how etc. and they were moveable so you rotated each ring until your pathway was in a straight line. But time got the best of me and a table it was.

Below is version 2 (link to Google Doc). Probably a good time to reinforce that the approach is first and foremost about supporting teacher growth. Accountability is important but not a key driver. The headings explained:

  • Career Pathway: Long/short term goal for staff to consider, and may indicate potential goal around leadership or curriculum area etc to build in to appraisal.
  • Vision: Which element of our school vision do you perhaps need to strengthen in your own practice?
  • Values: Which one of our school values do you know you need to deepen your understanding of?
  • Standard: The compliance aspect. Either which one do you need to get better at, or, which one/ones relate to my emerging appraisal goals?
  • Who: Who would you like to appraise you?
  • How: What approach or approaches would you like to be incorporated into your appraisal?
  • When: How often, how responsive?

I presented this to staff at our retreat. The reaction was favourable and certainly initiated some great dialogue. When we explored the pathway, I asked them to choose just one from each column but that is not at all how I would envisage it rolling out.

After our initial discussion staff then planned it out and what it could look like over the year – a timeline of what appraisal looks like when it is personalised and embraces a personalised pathway. More to come on that.

I think this is pretty exciting stuff and really look forward to what the system will look like after I have collated the planning from teachers and we mould it into a workable system that:

  1. helps teachers grow
  2. meets all requirements/expectations for appraisal.

Final thoughts… if you drew a picture of your appraisal approach would it be hierarchal or networked? Which one allows for personalisation and agency?

Hierarchal Networked 


Time to decide: Personalised PLD

Now the the 2018 school year is underway it is time to put the theory into practice and get the personalised PLD up and running.

Step 1 was to invite staff to present their ideas about what our inquiry streams would be. This took place at our staff retreat prior to the school year starting up. Ideas were presented in a ‘smackdown’ style (those of you who have attended an Educamp will be pretty familiar with this approach). If not, it is all outlined further in the slide show embedded below.

There were guidelines that presenters had to follow and some key reminders for their inquiry stream concept;

  • Your inquiry stream concept needs to relate directly back to the school vision and values.
  • It is an active inquiry, inquiring into an area of need that will result in improved outcomes for our learners.
  • You don’t need to have all the answers! If you share an idea it is not expected that you are the leader/member of the stream.
  • A little hunch could be all that is required for some great professional learning…

Staff embraced the opportunity to share their thoughts on what the professional learning context/s could be with 20 slides created and shared.

The next phase of the process took the next couple of days of the retreat to process and ended at the last session where staff had to make an indiction of which stream they wanted to be part of.  This length of time was crucially important where everyone took the opportunity to consider the themes presented and reflect on which one they would like to be a part of. There were further conversations between the presenters and interested staff as they probed, questions and clarified the idea further and where it may potentially head.

Perhaps the biggest voice over this time were the comments related to;

  • how hard it was going to be to choose between the streams;
  • the similarities between some of the streams and the potential for some of them to be blended into one; e.g. the ones related to agency;
  • that some of the streams would happen anyway as part of the charter/annual plan goals and outcomes e.g. reviewing the reporting to parents approach so didn’t need to be there.

As such when it came to the last session, where everyone had to choose an option the list had gone from 20 to ???.

My observations/reflections so far…

  1. Asking staff a question a simple as “What would you like to learn?” provides such a richness to the potential learning and an extra level of engagement. Effective teachers are always learning and embrace the opportunity for any PLD but I think that when they are in the driver’s seat, the engagement steps up another level. Maybe kind of related to this this…

    Source: Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning
  2. The more I think about it the more pleased I am of how this approach is so in tune with out vision of Empowering Agency, Innovation and Leadership. I really do think it ticks them all.
  3. As I consider the next step, I am wondering how prescribed it needs to be. Do I let the reigns go or do I put in place some guidelines. Firstly I know that whatever the next step looks like, it will be differentiated for different streams, just like a classroom. As i ponder this I refer back to a post by Katie Martin:

    When professional learning is too standardized:

    1. Learning is designed for one size to fit all
    2. Focus on fidelity to programs, not learners
    3. Designed for the “average”, meets the needs of few
    4. Externally designed path and pace
    5. Lack opportunities to for voice and choice of the learners

    When professional learning is too open-ended:

    1. Lack of clear learning goals
    2. Passion runs high for some and others become paralyzed by too many choices
    3. No one is really sure what is expected of them
    4. Many left to figure it out on their own
    5. Little follow through and lack of cohesion on a team or staff
  4.  My professional curiosity is running high. I am so interested to see where this approach goes and how;
    • staff react to/embrace etc the process once it’s underway;
    • the impact on learning
    • how each stream manage their own PLD and use theri resourcing
    • ahhh so much to look forward to!

Working Towards Personalised PLD – Part 2

Right oh, so in the last post I shared some of the underpinning thinking behind an emerging approach to professional learning for staff. To quickly summarise, I would like professional learning to:

  • is personalised (voice, choice, interests, passions, ownership…)
  • incorporates ‘play’
  • moves towards smaller self-directed groups
  • mirrors what we want to see happening for our learners
  • empowers teachers
  • provides conditions for innovation and creativity
  • aligns to our school vision.

As I started thinking about this more I started sketching out a diagram of where my thinking was headed. This is what shape it started taking.

I will attempt to explain what is going on.

  1. Central to the approach is the school vision & values. This drives everything we do.
  2. Stemming out from the vision are inquiry streams. These relate directly back to the vision and values. The streams are co-constructed by the staff and could be a new approach or idea they want to investigate further, an extension of one of our strategic goals, a passion or interest area, a hunch, known review area…
  3. Each stream has staff members who opt in to it. This group of teachers is currently referred to as a professional learning group (PLG). These are characterised by:
    • being self chosen
    • having their own budget with which they can spend as they decide (e.g. to release teachers, to engage outside expertise, going on school visits, purchasing professional texts)
    • defining their own structure/approach (e.g. the roles within the group, responsibilities, protocols and expectations, professional inquiry model, where and when they meet)
    • having a coach assigned to them to work 1-1 with each PLG member
  4. Each PLG develops a set of agreed upon expected outcomes. These clearly show how they see their inquiry impacting on the group, the members, and the learners, and will serve as a review & monitoring baseline for measuring the impact of the inquiry.
  5. It is anticipated that the members of the group will:
    • be in control
    • be active and engaged
    • highly value the professional trust placed in them
    • engage in rich professional dialogue.
  6. The coach assigned to the PLG will:
    • respond to individual and group needs
    • make links to vision and values, effective pedagogy
    • promote deeper thought and reflection
    • guide and scaffold thinking
    • not be a subject expert
    • be supported in their own development as a coach.
  7. The idea of flexible membership is explored. By this I mean the ability to be a member of more than one PLG, or the ability to drop out of one PLG and join another if you are no longer gaining anything from it.
  8. The time line for an inquiry stream is noted. At this stage this is deliberately open ended to remove any constraints of either having to start/finish within set dates. If a PLG is in the flow I want them just to keep to on inquiring to when the cycle has a natural end point.

That’s it in a nutshell. I have shared this concept with my own principal PLG, the leadership team, the staff and the Board. I have drawn it on the wall in my office so I can ponder more over the structure and implications.

In doing so what has emerged are ongoing thoughts re the place of the learner agency tool (described in Part 1) as a possible tool for supporting any measure of the impact of the streams.

When sharing the concept, there are plenty of questions thrown about and interestingly no matter what the audience the questions are the same. Some of these are shown in the image on the right. These have been great and have helped clarify how the whole approach could work.

Perhaps one of the biggest ah ha moments has been the perceptions of what leadership is all about in a school. I think that there is still a string voice that outlines how school leaders are all about managing and administration. I challenge this notion and see developing people to be the most effective they can be as the core job of a leader. Question 4 below is a reflection of this.

We are revisiting the concept as a whole staff in a couple of weeks. In the interim I have asked them to reflect and have a think re the following questions:

  1. What questions do you have?
  2. What fears do you have
  3. What development streams do you think there should be for next year?
  4. How does the concept of leadership being about coaching others first, rather than the more traditional role of admin and organisation?
  5. If you could design your own professional learning pathway, what would it look like? How would you spend your money?

The general feeling though is one of excitement and support. Looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds.

Working Towards Personalised PLD – Part 1

One of my goals for next year is to promote teacher agency through the implementation of a personalised approach to professional learning and development. This is an area that I have increasingly felt strongly about as I have read and reflected and had my thinking prompted by some key people.

When the goal was set we outlined the following expected outcomes.

  • PLD is personalised & involves teacher choice and voice
  • Teachers have more ownership over their own learning
  • Teachers ability to coach & facilitate conversations with each other is enhanced
  • Teacher collaboration is enhanced
  • The opportunities for teacher creativity and innovation are increased
  • Teachers articulate that their professionalism has been valued & that high trust exists
  • Outcomes from inquiry contexts will inform the focus for 2019

And while these have been set relatively recently, I am already wanting to add in another to acknowledge the relationship between classroom learning and professional learning. Something like:

  • PLD mirrors our beliefs about learning and teaching in our school.

This one is perhaps more of an underpinning philosophy, where the beliefs that drive what learning looks like for our student learners should be the same beliefs that drive learning for our adult learners.

Right let’s move on… the purpose of this post is to outline all of the influences that currently guide my thinking.

  1. The school’s vision
  2. Learner agency
  3. Personalised learning
  4. Conditions for innovation & creativity
  5. Personalised pathways
  6. Whole staff → Group→ 1-1
  7. Play based

The School Vision

Our school vision is;

Empowering agency, innovation and leadership.

This is the starting point for all that we do; reviewing, decision making, strategic direction, resourcing, budgeting, appointing staff… and as such must be a driver for and be reflected in our approach to professional learning. Thus empowered teachers, the conditions for innovation and the opportunities for for staff to lead their own learning must be present in any approach to professional learning.

Learner Agency

Our school was privileged to recently lead a Teacher Led Innovation Fund (TLIF) project  which focused on developing learner agency. One of the outcomes was the development of a learner agency self-assessment tool, derived from a matrix, which outlined the skills and dispositions of agency.

As we discussed how we could use this tool to capture data about our learners  to show progress of groups or individuals, and also review how we were providing the conditions for agency to flourish; (after all, this is critical, it is one of the key strands in our vision), I kept asking myself and then later my colleagues a question. Could this tool also be used for teachers to measure their own agency? If we change the RSS Kids in the middle to RSS Learners, would the characteristics of agency be the same for both students and adult learners?

Personalised Learning

I have found Make Learning Personal: The What, Who, WOW, Where and Why a great read. Particularly useful has been the table on the inside cover that outlines the differences between Personalisation, Differentiation and Individualisation which looks a little like this:

As a principal I don’t have a class of learners but I do have a staff of learners. So rather than looking at this through a teacher’s lens, I am looking at it through the lens of a principal. That changes it up a bit and puts me in a position where I ask myself a range of reflective questions.

For example, with a desire to personalise learning for my staff, am I providing the conditions where:

  1. Teachers are driving their own learning?
  2. Teachers are connecting learning with their interests, talents, passions and aspirations?
  3. Teachers actively participate in the design of their learning? etc

Conditions for Innovation & Creativity

Another book I am constantly going back to is George Couros’s The Innovator’s Mindset; Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. There is a whole lot of material in here that is influencing my thinking and personal learning. Let’s take this graphic for instance that outlines the 8 things to look for in today’s classrooms.

Once again I don my principal’s hat and ask myself a similar range of questions related to what I should be looking for in our school for my teachers;

  1. Do they have voice and choice?
  2. Are there opportunities for them to be innovative?
  3. Do I give value to and provide time for reflection? etc.

Also, recently George posted about the 4 Questions for Administrators to Promote a Culture of Innovation. The first question struck me as it is almost a carbon copy of my own underpinning philosophy recorded above.

1. Are your professional learning opportunities mirroring what you want to see in the classroom?

Often we ask teachers to do something different in the classroom, while we continue to do the same thing in professional learning. The best way for teaching practice to change in the classroom is for professional learning to look different as well. We create what we experience. If teachers are not excited about the learning opportunities that are offered, why would we expect them to create engaging and empowering environments for students?

Model what you seek.

Personalised Pathways

A recently new discovery of mine has been the work and thinking of Katie Martin who has a wealth of work been writing about a personalised professional learning approach. There is some great stuff on her blog that I encourage you to check out such as her 5 part series on the 10 Characteristics of Professional Learning that Shifts Practice. In Part 5 she outlines where professional learning has clear goals and allows for personal pathways:

  1. Develops skills and knowledge based on the needs of the learner
  2. Builds on strengths and interests
  3. Allows for creativity and passion to drive diverse learning experiences
  4. Honours individuals and allows them to progress from where they are
  5. Models desired teaching and learning

If you have taken note of everything else above then you can see how easily the points here dovetail with the other influences on my thinking re professional learning. Additionally when you do look at the full 10 characteristics there are many other ideas that align with my thinking including; inquiry based, collaborative, personalised and purposeful. Also I am really interested in investigating further the Create Your Own Adventure approach – that appears to have great potential and value.

Whole staff → Group→ 1-1

My thinking in this area has been influenced strongly by my own involvement in smaller more intimate professional learning groups supported by 1-1 coaching. I know that this has a much greater impact on my personal development than attending a large group professional learning opportunity. Based on this premise then my belief is that staff will also greatly benefit from small group professional learning supported by 1-1 coaching.

Play Based

I have previously reflected on my thoughts in this area as it also compliments my current thinking in personalising PLD. Again, looking at the approach from a principal’s perspective as I attempt to create an environment where the professional learning is personalised for teachers.

So what now?

OK so that is a quick overview of what is influencing my thinking. I have a plan forming in my mind about what shape it might make which I will describe soon after I have talked it through with a couple of key people.

Learning Maps and Professional Inquiry

I have been a bit of a fan of Learning Maps ever since I was first introduced to the concept 4 or 5 years ago. They were introduced alongside the concept of student agency and putting the students in the driver’s seat of learning. I reflected on the use of the maps then and after recently attending a workshop with Infinity Learning, have appreciated how the concept has grown and developed over the years as teachers and Infinity have fine tuned the approach and worked on how to make them as effective as possible in contributing to the agentic learning we all strive for.

Attending the workshop also made me ponder how this could also be used with teachers and support their developing agency, as well support them to identify an area to work on in terms of an appraisal/professional inquiry goal. When using learning maps with the students we ask them to identify an area for change, what they will do to make these changes, and who will support them in this change. This is the very same process that teachers to go through as the initial part of their inquiry, after they have identified their target students.

So a plan was hatched and I asked teachers to create a learning map that was focused on how they meets the needs of their priority learners to help them identify what they do, what resources and tools they use, and who they seek out support from. Prior to them drawing the maps, teachers had already collected a range of assessment data to identify a group of target /priority learners. The process I used with teachers was the same as what we would use with students which is outlined via a link at the bottom of the post.

Here are some examples from teachers, complete with a few blurred out bits to make them as anonymous as possible. We used a template from Infinity which provides the prompts and scaffolds to support creating the maps and the conversation that need to be had.

The arrows are important to show the interactions between people, tools and places. After attending the workshop earlier in the year we starting using a new arrow, the zig zagging challenge arrow, which we also used when working with students. The challenge areas lead the way to identifying next steps and areas to work on. This is how we have encouraged the use of arrows to add more meaning to the maps.

A little bit of learning =
A lot of learning =
Learning comes in to me, and I give it back =
A challenge in my learning =  

Once the maps were created, they were shared with a colleague prompted by; What is the same? What is different? What are their challenges? before identifying an area for change.

  • What would you like to change to help you in your learning?
  • What would you want to do differently?

This is followed up by a conversations with me to clarify the area for change (not to change it as this takes away from the teacher owning the goal and the process). This in turn helps to identify the expected outcomes/indicators for their professional inquiry goal included in their appraisal.

I guess you could argue that it is quicker just to skip the map and go straight to the conversation to identify the goals and expected outcomes. However I think there is huge value in creating the maps; it puts the teacher in the driving seat, recording how they see their learning and the interactions, or lack of between all the different areas, and from that identifying areas for change. The visual nature of the process and outcome makes seeing gaps and successes straightforward. When two teachers/learners share their map and discuss the similarities and differences, and expand on their challenges together, the collaborative nature of inquiry is highlighted and utilised. The conversation with me just formalises the decisions that have already been made.

We have also used this process with the leadership team in terms of helping to clarify their leadership inquiry goal, although in our case, these had already been set with our external facilitator. The process for me was still worthwhile, it helped to clarify the people, networks and tools that currently supporting my learning in this area and most importantly reinforce what I new are the challenges – an ever growing list. I find the process of drawing very reflective in itself and once completed provides a great source for reflection and conversations. Here is my map, related to my goal of getting to know my learners.

So what next? Like with our students, we will revisit our maps and add to them throughout the year so they are a living record of how we progress and adapt to catering for our priority learners. These updates will again be shared and discussed with colleagues, referenced in our PLGs, and used as a resource for appraisal purposes.

For those who may be interested, here is the guide we developed when creating maps with our students, feel free to use as required, however I really do encourage you to go to a workshop or have one completed in your school by the gurus at Infinity Learning. It will provide you with all the missing theory and pedagogy behind the maps which has only been skimmed over here.