Palgrave Teaching and Learning

by Sally Brown (Series Editor)

Appraisals and performance review

In many nations, it is a contractual expectation that university teachers periodically review their teaching and other competences in dialogue with their managers as part of a performance review process. When this was first widely introduced in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s, concerns were expressed at this being solely a managerial tool of control, but experience in subsequent decades has demonstrated that, when designed and implemented effectively, appraisals can provide reflective opportunities for focused discussion on how to enhance teaching, at any stage of the academic’s career from novice to ‘old hand’.

Well organised universities offer training not only for those undertaking appraisals but also those being appraised, to establish a positive appraisal climate in which the process is seen as being about quality enhancement rather than just quality assurance or, at worst, quality control. It’s really helpful if there are agreed ground rules and clear expectations about the format, timing, context and location of appraisals. It can, for example, be very annoying for an appraisee to have undertaken detailed preparation for annual review if the appraiser is fitting in a 15-minute conversation between meetings as part of a box-ticking exercise. It can be equally irritating for the appraiser if the appraisee turns up for the appraisal having down no preparation and expecting the appraiser to do all the hard work.

Advice for preparing for appraisals/performance review:
  • Preparation for review if it is annual, for example, should be a year-long process, with the appraisee keeping records and reflections, which can be used to focus the appraisal discussion, rather than leaving everything to the last minute.
  • Appraisals work best when there is a concentration on reflection and future planning rather than bald judgment of performance, so a key element is likely to be target setting for the future and creating action points prior to the next appraisal.
  • It’s useful to have on hand evidence of your teaching performance, for example, records from programme, course or module evaluations, external examiners’ comments and outcomes of student focus groups. If your country undertakes national student surveys, this data can help you compare your achievements against those of teachers in benchmark institutions or against other subject areas in your own university, as well as reviewing your own data longitudinally over time.

Useful reading

Brown, S. and Race, P. (1995) Assess your own Teaching Quality: A handbook for self assessment of teaching, London: Kogan Page.

Haslam, C., Bryman, A. and Webb, A.L. (1993) The function of performance appraisal in UK universities, Higher Education, 25(4), pp. 473–86.

Brookfield, S. (1995) The getting of wisdom: what critically reflective teaching is and why it's important, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, pp. 1–28.