Do's And Don'ts for Participation in Evaluation Conferences
To prepare NJEA members for performance evaluation conferences to be held between supervisors and staff members.
To help you...
- Understand that what is critical is what ends up in the written report. What is said back and forth is not as important as what is on record. It's what is on record, in writing, that counts.
- Prevent inclusion of written statements that someday might be cited as evidence for disciplinary action (i.e., withholding of increment, involuntary transfer, removal from position, etc.)
- Avoid confrontations with supervisor over issues that may have no basis for future disciplinary action.
- Approach a conference by analyzing in advance (1) the purpose the conference serves (2) evaluation reports in your personnel file (3) the style of the supervisor and (4) performance information you want placed on the record.
- Recognize and respond to issues that may lead to disciplinary action.
- Take full advantage, where trust and mutual support with supervisor are clearly established, of thorough, nonthreatening discussion to enhance your own professional excellence and skill development.
- It is reasonable to expect a conference date to be set in advance at a mutually convenient time. If it is not, you may wish to request postponement to a later date.
- Check your contract: In many districts, the time when conferences are scheduled and the amount of advance notice required are covered by the contract.
- Stay rational and cool.
- Guide discussion toward favorable issues. Steer away from negatives.
- Be prepared to discuss the positive aspects of your performance. Insist that they be included in the written report.
- Don't evaluate yourself.
- Be sure you and your supervisor have established a clear distinction between what is discussed and what goes on the record.
- Not everything has to be concluded in one session. If you sense that the discussion is getting overly complicated, you may request postponement of the discussion until another time.
- If during the course of the conference you believe that you are being threatened with disciplinary action, or that what is being discussed could lead to disciplinary action, you have the right to stop the conference and insist that a representative be present with you.
- Before every conference, assemble and review the following materials:
Consult with your local association representative (A/R) about types of evaluations previously conducted for other staff. Is there a pattern with regard to:
How supervisors conduct conferences.
What types of recommendations are proposed.
How supervisors write up evaluation reports.
- District's evaluation policy and procedures
- Association contract provisions on evaluation
- Your job description
- Previous performance evaluation reports
- Letters of commendation, SAVE ALL PRAISE
- Positive examples of what you are doing
- Other data on which you want to focus.
- Come to the meeting having clearly in mind what you want to accomplish.
- Keep notes . . . "openly" or "mentally" . . . depending on the nature of the situation, especially important positives and negatives.
- Situate yourself physically so you are comfortable.
- Guide the discussion with your supervisor when appropriate. For example:
- "Shall we . . .
Establish the "initial premise" early in the proceedings. There ought to be an early indication of what the supervisor will conclude. If not, establish this premise yourself by stating (for example), "I assume that, overall, my performance continues to be highly satisfactory… and I assume that is your conclusion too." At this point, allow the supervisor to take the lead. If you feel that the supervisor will basically write up the evaluation in a favorable manner, then it may be appropriate for you to agree with supporting statements.
Ask for and expect positive comments when making positive statements about yourself. Conclude by: "I assume you agree."
When you make positive comments about yourself and the supervisor doesn't contradict you, make a note.
Clarify by questioning -- when desired, when necessary.
- Review some of the strong points of this past year as indicated in my performance reports…?"
- Comment on any other positive activities since my last evaluation…?"
- Together see how we might sum them up?"
If the conference turns negative:
Open-ended bail out:
- Try to shift gears and interject: "Before I get into that, I would like to make some observations - or raise a point -- of my own." It is better for the interviewee at this point to take the lead in the discussion.
- If the supervisor brings up negative material, refocus discussion. Use such phrases as: "Perhaps you are not aware of... I'd like to bring some other information to your attention."
- If a negative comment appears to be a misstatement of fact, inform supervisor immediately at the conference of the correct facts.
- When you have an opinion, state your case clearly. Substantiate with evidence. Remain confident, stay cool, and avoid emotional responses.
- Do not agree to or admit deficiencies.
- Stop the conference and insist that your representative be present if, in your opinion, the discussion may result in disciplinary action.
- If necessary, do not hesitate to ask for a break in the discussion. Indicate:
- "I cannot respond at this moment."
- "I'd like to think more about that before responding."
- "I'd like to review data and get back to you later on that."
- Postpone further discussion and schedule a specific date and time for continuation of the meeting. (Note: You are interrupting one evaluation conference, not scheduling a second one.)
- As soon as conference is interrupted, you may wish to draft an "It's my understanding" memo to clarify for the record points already reviewed.
Occasionally in staff evaluation, a supervisor will raise a question or criticism based on an alleged complaint from parents or students.
You are in a sensitive occupation, occasionally subjected to misinterpretation by those served.
For this reason, your evaluation should not include hearsay or information from second-hand sources. Judgment should be based on the supervisor's own observations and professional analysis of any situation.
Should the supervisor bring up parent or student complaints during the course of the evaluation conference, consider this response:
- Ask for identification of the source.
- If the supervisor refuses to name any parent or student, indicate that it is impossible to assess the validity of such criticism and that it should not be included as part of the record.
- If the supervisor does give names, bring forth any of your own information including related materials.
- Ask when the complaint was received.
- Establish whether it was brought to your attention in a timely fashion.
- Review how the supervisor handled the complaint at the time it was received.
- "Stale" complaints should be considered moot.
As a general rule, good management dictates that complaints be brought to the immediate attention of employees in order to be resolved. Complaints should be reviewed and resolved, not used for punitive purposes - and not remain on the record.
Performance improvement plan:
- Be prepared to introduce your own observations (have past memos and work orders available) on limitations imposed by the school system:
- Lack of supplies
- Bad scheduling
- Other interference
Formal training away from the job is not the only approach to professional development and may not always be the best one. Self-study works better for some individuals. Demonstration and informal assistance by a supervisor or colleague may work better for others. Direct assistance and demonstration by the supervisor should be encouraged as the primary form of in-service.
Signing the written report:
In many districts, contracts require a receipt and signed acknowledgment by the staff member prior to filing.
Signing the report does not indicate agreement, although the staff member may wish to add notation:
"Receipt acknowledged (and date)."
"My signature denotes awareness, not necessarily agreement."
"I anticipate adding comments in a timely fashion."
Check your contract and district evaluation policy for timelines for signing and adding your comments to written evaluation reports.
Putting additional comments into the record:
Contract permitting, the staff member may add additional performance data to the report. Your association representative should be consulted for advice prior to the filing of any rebuttal or additional comments. Check your contract for timelines and guidance on adding comments to a written evaluation report.
Concluding the conference:
Post-conference activities:Be sure to write your notes on what happened immediately while it's fresh in your mind. Note positives, disagreements, negatives, and include supportive data.
- Ask the supervisor: "Are there any further questions?"
- In order to help make a graceful and advantageous exit, perhaps it would be good to summarize the conference by saying: "Let me see if I can summarize what we have said here today." Outline in your own words your understanding. "Is that basically what you meant?" Perhaps you might read positive comments aloud for agreement. By the end of the interview, there is nothing wrong if you are summarizing in your own way of saying it and asking the supervisor if there is agreement on that summation of the evaluation.
Next step on problems:
- If a problem develops during the conference or/in written report, consult your local association to determine whether grounds exist for:
- Negotiating modification
- Action before PERC
- Action before Commissioner of Education
- Other appropriate advocacy action
- Local associations should carefully monitor evaluations and be prepared to assist members in:
- Preparing for conferences
- Reviewing performance reports
- Filing rebuttals or additional comments
- Dealing with improper actions or undocumented findings and criticisms
- Recognizing and influencing changes in evaluation criteria and procedures
- Members should proceed with great care before responding in writing to an evaluation report. Filing a grievance or writing a rebuttal may be very important -- and very necessary. But anything written should be done with great care and in consultation with your local association.
- Members are entitled to request that a representative be present at any conference which may lead to disciplinary action.
- NJEA will assist local leaders, upon request, by providing additional representation training and information in all aspects of staff evaluation.