… and why they don’t work
Why does this expensive and time consuming process have very little effect in most cases? How many times have I heard principals of schools point out that there is little correlation between the teachers who do the most professional development and the ones who are the most effective? Why are the targets that are set always well within reach of person agreeing to them?
The problem is that trying to do the same thing a bit better doesn’t work. Nobody changes direction if they are still trying to get to the same place. We need to look more deeply into the motivators for change. Often these drivers for change are divided into the extrinsic and the intrinsic. We all know that intrinsic motivation will have much more influence on a teacher’s desire to change and improve their practice. The problem is that, as leaders, the easy things to change are extrinsic. We can look at performance measures and we can set targets. The difficult thing is to influence those intrinsic drivers. We need to look at ways in which this is possible.
The problem with setting targets
We love to set targets. Interestingly, few competent people object to having targets set for them. This is such a ubiquitous part of school appraisal systems that we need to look at it a bit more closely. There are three types of targets that are usually set in the discussion and negotiation process. The first is basically a list of tasks that the person is going to do anyway, an elaboration of what their job description should be. The second are aspirational targets about new skills that require training. These are usually areas of interest that the teacher already has and amount to a description of the areas that the teacher is going to explore anyway. The third is often more imposed by the leadership and is related to “whole school targets”. These have to be carefully described so as not to be threatening, and end up being rather anodyne if they are to be agreed.
I am not suggesting all target setting is like this, but the vast majority is, whether it is described by acronyms like SMART or not. I can certainly say that all of the targets that I have ever been set come under these three headings. I do not believe that any target setting session has ever actually changed the way in which I operate in the coming year. That is not to say the sessions have not been valuable, as they have been rich discussions of my agenda and my school’s agenda. The targets themselves have just not been instruments for change.