Former headmaster Neil Short examines the first stage of the PM cycle – planning.

The role of the practitioner and her team leader

Both participants in the performance management (PM) process have a vital role to play. It is important that the practitioner comes into the planning meeting with an open mind and is well prepared. As outlined below, she should (1) have undertaken some form of self-review and (2) have some idea of the developments she wishes to make in the nursery room or the classroom where she works and as part of the whole school or setting team.

The team leader should be the person who knows the practitioner best. For many, the role of team leader will be their first experience of this type of people management activity. They will need to fully understand their part in the process and the skills required to enable them to complete this task successfully. Not only should they have knowledge of the practitioner, they should also have a grasp of whole setting issues. They also need to have experience of observing their colleagues carrying out their professional duties, together with information relating to the training opportunities available for the practitioner.

Many settings recognise the value of training their team leaders and have been able to use the services of a PM consultant for this purpose. This is most effective when carried out as part of a whole setting training event as this allows all staff to have an insight into the role of the team leader. Whatever the source of training, it is vital that the team leader is given as much assistance and encouragement as possible to ensure the success of their role.

Preparing for the planning meeting

1. Self review. For practitioners, self-review should be used as the basis for a preliminary discussion about their previous performance. Many settings already use some form of self-review and have identified this practice as a crucial and beneficial element in performance management. The team leaders may have to carry out the performance management of more than one team member, and it therefore makes sense for the self-reviews to follow a consistent pattern. The same questions can then be asked of each participant. Self review procedures are more effective if all the participants have been part of the discussion to agree the format and identify the questions to be used.

Some examples of questions which might form part of a self review could be:

  • What are my strengths?
  • What have I achieved in the past year with the children in my care?
  • What contributions have I made to the whole setting?
  • What are my areas for development?
  • How can I be supported in these areas?

2. Setting development or improvement plan. This plan details the priorities for the setting in the coming one to three years. It outlines what the setting wishes to achieve and allocates areas of responsibility to specific members of staff, indicates the financial commitment required, together with the implications for training and development. Such plans are usually the result of careful and considered discussion between members of staff and agreed by all. Objectives for practitioners within the PM cycle should be based upon priorities identified in the plan.

The planning meeting

The planning meeting between the practitioner and the team leader is the most important part of the planning process. Here, the programme for the cycle is established. Sufficient time should be allowed for the meeting, which ideally should take place early within the academic year. This will allow time during the year for the objectives set at the meeting to be completed.

Ideally the planning meeting:

  • should be a professional discussion between the practitioner and the team leader
  • will include self review by the practitioner
  • should start from the job description of the practitioner
  • should relate to the setting’s development/improvement plan
  • should concentrate upon the priorities for the practitioner within the time span of the cycle
  • should focus upon the children’s progress and how the practitioner can achieve this
  • should result in the setting of  three objectives.

The objectives should include:

  • one aimed at the progress of a group of children
  • one that identifies areas for professional development within the setting’s priorities for development
  • one that is relevant to the practitioner’s own professional development pathway

The objectives should be:

  • appropriate to the responsibilities of the practitioner
  • clear and precise to allow measurement
  • based upon knowledge of the prior attainment of the children
  • relate to particular ways in which the practitioner can help thechildren
  • SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time related)
    capable of adaptation should circumstances change 

They should also:

  • include an  agreement between the team leader and the practitioner on the timetable for monitoring
  • include identification of the support available to the practitioner in order for the objectives to be met through the setting’s own  in-service provision and funding arrangements.

At the end of the meeting, an individual plan will have been agreed between the two participants. This should include:

  • details of the objectives
  • details and dates of the monitoring programme
  • details of the support that will be available.

This plan will then be signed by both parties and remains a confidential document. Only the head of the setting is allowed to see the document but he/she may not interfere in the agreed results of the meeting.

If these examples of good practice are followed carefully then the first stage of the performance management cycle will have been completed successfully and lead onto the two remaining stages.

You can read about stages two and three of the cycle by clicking here.