The Use of Digital Tools in Effective Primary School Teacher Appraisal
Braithwaite, Dawn Marie
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In New Zealand schools, appraisal for teachers and leaders is a complex process involving Professional Standards (Ministry of Education, 1998) and Practicing Teacher Criteria (Education Council, 2015) that are measured and observed within a performance management cycle. The balance between accountability and development functions within the appraisal process requires the establishment of an effective, robust appraisal system. The use of digital tools within appraisal in schools is a relatively new phenomenon internationally and within New Zealand. The use of digital tools and platforms in schools is becoming a standard method of gathering evidence of professional practice to attest against Practicing Teacher Criteria (Education Council, 2015). Recently, specialized digital platforms have been designed to complement appraisal activities and include not only evidence of practice but also tools for reflection and discussion such as blogs, webpages and diaries. It is important to investigate how this new phenomenon has changed the appraisal context and process and, furthermore, the expectations that are placed on teachers and leaders to be ‘digitally engaged’. Although the use of such digital tools and platforms for appraisal can create efficient systems for accountability, the purpose of this research is to explore how digital tools are used to build teacher capacity and promote reflection on professional practice, as well as how such tools influence the professional relationships and productive dialogue between appraisers and the appraisees within schools in New Zealand. The two research questions guiding this study were: How does the use of digital communication tools and platforms influence effective appraisal practices in New Zealand primary schools? What factors contribute to the perceived effective use of digital tools and platforms in appraisal? In this qualitative study nine educators (principals, deputy principals and teachers) participated in semi-structured interviews regarding the influence of digital tools and platforms within their schools’ appraisal system and practices. Using an interpretive approach, the findings of this research indicate that the overall effectiveness of digital tools and platforms in appraisal is dependent upon an established appraisal system with embedded practices of reflection and productive dialogue. Digital tools and platforms support the compliance driven accountability measures of appraisal by providing easy to access tools that make the gathering of professional evidence more efficient. When appraisal systems and practices are embedded throughout all professional interactions and engagements, digital tools and platforms are beginning to support the practices of reflection and productive dialogue. This research emphasises the need for schools to establish the processes, practices and behaviours required to engage effectively in the twenty first century workplace prior to adding a new digital platform into their appraisal system. Digital tools and platforms only support effective professional practices; they do not create them.