Alex Masters

How my hour-long appraisal nearly destroyed me

Appraisals can truly make or break a person, as Alex Masters discovered. Use these expert tips to ensure your feedback is always constructive.

It was an hour of pure hell. I was in the English department office, two pupils (who had just been sent out of a nearby classroom owing to disruptive behaviour) were working at the desk behind me, and my appraiser was dishing out stream after stream of criticism. 

I won’t lie: by the 55th minute my eyes were smarting. Ten minutes later I was hiding in the ladies’ toilets, sobbing. My main thoughts were: ‘An hour of criticism? Not one positive word? I am definitely in the wrong job.’

I mulled setting up a coffee shop, adopting distressed hedgehogs, digging wells in the depths of Mongolia… anything but being a teacher.

Clearly I wasn't cut out for this.

Thankfully, I had some wonderful, supportive colleagues who talked me into believing that it was the fault of the appraiser and not me; that I did have bundles of positive qualities, and a promising teaching career ahead of me.

I managed to dust myself off and, with a lot of self-will, stepped back into the classroom to begin again.

Suffice to say, this is how not to give a staff appraisal.

I genuinely hope that this appraiser (who shall remain anonymous) is an exception to the rule. However, it’s fair to say that the appraisal process can be a murky and emotional one so, to save future tears in the cubicles, we’ve collated a list of what not to do.

Don't make your feedback a public affair

I still cringe at the humiliation of being critiqued in front of two pupils. Any feedback should be completely discreet and confidential.

You should also hold the meeting in an appropriate, specified place (this also applies to tip 2).

Don’t rush!

On another occasion my appraiser decided to hold my appraisal in the school canteen during her break duty. ‘Sorry, I just haven’t got any other time to do this’ she said with a shrug. And so my appraisal was conducted in a harried, distracted manner as I tried to hear her over the din and duck the flying chicken nuggets.

Suffice to say that all appraisals need to take place in an appropriate, private environment. And you need to set aside a fixed time (at least an hour) rather than rushing and making the appraisee feel that you’re wasting their time. 

Don't just criticise

I often wryly think that it’s quite impressive that my appraiser managed to give an hour’s worth of criticism without one positive piece of feedback. That in itself is quite an achievement.

If your appraisals look anything like this, you're doing it wrong (Whiplash, 2014. Picture credit: BagoGames

Of course, constructive criticism can be hugely beneficial but it has to be presented within a wider discussion of experiences and recognition of achievement.

Be tactful, diplomatic, positive and encouraging.

Don’t just talk

Talking at someone for any considerable length of time creates a certain kind of tension: there is a sense of imbalance and a lack of open discussion. Ensure you ask questions and listen!

Open and probing questions are often the best: How did they achieve their targets? Were there any barriers? How do they feel about their progress? If they felt they didn’t progress, why not?

Talking at someone for any considerable length of time creates a certain kind of tension

By encouraging an open discussion you will empower the appraisee and, by listening attentively, you show your empathy.

The appraiser can then ask: ‘What can I do to help make things even better?’ While the appraisee can focus on: ‘What can I do to build on my strengths and develop further?’ Then the two of you can analyse this discussion and consider the weaknesses as well as strengths to be developed. 

Don’t leave the meeting open-ended

Rushing off to cry in the toilets was hardly the ideal end to a meeting. I was left with a mountain of doubt hanging over me rather than solid, achievable goals. Set clear objectives – which should be discussed and agreed on rather than instructed.

Then give a copy of the appraisal to the staff member to approve and sign. Plan a mini-review in six months (a year is too long). This gives a real sense of analysis, reflection and progress.

And always, always end on a positive note.

 

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