Self-assessment review (SAR) can be a right yawn. The meetings can involve ploughing through reams of data, where you can’t see the wood for the trees, dry superficial commentary and flairless, vague action points. Despite wanting to respect the process, you can end up losing the will to live and the ability to focus, quite early on. Many managers dread those excruciating meetings where your SAR is interrogated, you feel a desire to defend weak aspects and hide things that may get you a slap on the wrist. It can feel like being hauled in to see the Headmaster when you have misbehaved.
On the other end of the spectrum, I have read some SARS that exist in a fantasy realm, so far from the real issues within that area, that they are pure whitewash. Statements of so called “evidence” and related “action points” are so general as to be meaningless. And I have seen them go unchallenged through weak SAR review skills and processes.
So, you gather I am not a fan of SAR, in its common incarnations. Imagine the dilemma when a favourite client asked me to facilitate their SAR review meeting with around 20 managers attending, for a full day. Gulp! Initially I just wanted to run for the hills and I almost said no. Then, I had a re-think. Surely SAR review meetings didn’t HAVE to be tense, game playing, furtive affairs? If we re-focused the process on its main purpose, to assess progress and identify actions for improvement, maybe we could salvage SAR and actually make it engaging, focused and useful….after a series of phone calls and several drafts for the day, we came up with a model for SAR review that had potential. It involved:
1. An external reviewer reading ALL the SARS- assisted by a great deal of caffeine and chocolate- and noting good practice and questions for reflection or challenge for each manager. The reviewer would also facilitate the day, to provide focus, challenge and depth of reflection or actual suggestions, as required. As a coach, project manager and CPD trainer, I felt I could take on that role feeling comfortable and useful.
2. Managers then spent some time reflecting on the written feedback on their SAR and answering the questions before discussing next steps with a peer. These conversations were about solution focused thinking and action focused dialogue with a colleague in a collaborative style. It was professional dialogue, with managers being asked to support each other to produce the best possible action steps. This was SAR as a springboard to action, not a document to file away and neglect… then there was another slot of quiet time for individualised action planning before lunch.
3. Later in the day, groups of managers presented their action plans to colleagues, took questions, challenges and suggestions, so their plan was the sum of many reflections. I often note how managers (and teachers) are powerful, creative problem solvers, when given the time and space to reflect well together. And in most colleges, there is effective practice in one area that could be useful food for thought in another IF ONLY the two areas connected.
4. At the end of the day, the Vice Principal helped close the loop by identifying when the SARS would be reviewed in their final form, giving people time to update online using their thoughts from the day. A great addition to this could be individual follow up by the Quality team, to talk through progress, support developments etc, via regular 1:1s with the managers. This works well to make the SAR a live working document, in its Quality Improvement Plan dimension.
Managers responded to the day with great engagement, plenty of professional respect and worked hard to support each other. There was a buzz of creative thought and ideas being exchanged and some healthy challenging going on too. Feedback comments showed that they had found the new format helpful and valued the chance to share expertise with colleagues during this process.
I have definitely reviewed my stance on SAR review meetings and would work happily with other colleges to overhaul their processes for this. SAR review meetings can be an opportunity for collaboration, sharing of practice and galvanizing people to move forward with actions, if creative thought goes into their planning and execution.
Joanne worked with Sparsholt College in a way that really helped this year’s annual self-assessment reports to be very focused on improving teaching, learning and assessment. Her facilitative manner enabled curriculum managers to work collegiately to tease out the underlying causes of any poor performance and to work collaboratively to write creative and durable improvement plans.
Vice Principal | Sparsholt College Hampshire (incorporating Andover College Campus)