Meaningful Staff Appraisals

Staff appraisals… in most cases it sends shivers down spines. That one day where your whole year is reviewed. I have worked in some services where the appraisal was done by someone who didn’t work in the service with you on a day-to-day basis and based it all on feedback and paperwork. I have worked in services where staff appraisals were almost a blood sport and if you didn’t come out crying then management had failed.

I have also worked in leadership and management roles where I have had educators who were so lacking in self confidence and nervous about the whole experience that it was traumatic for everyone involved. When you look at the requirements they state:

  • Element 4.2.1 – Professional standards guide practice, interactions and relationships.
  • Element 4.2.2 – Educators, co-ordinators and staff members work collaboratively and affirm, challenge, support and learn from each other to further develop their skills and to improve practice and relationships.
  • Element 4.2.3 – Interactions convey mutual respect, equity and recognition of each other’s strengths and skills.
  • Element 7.2.2 – The performance of educators, co-ordinators and staff members is evaluated and individual development plans are in place to support performance improvement.

Nowhere does it say we need to have annual appraisals. Just that educators have their performance evaluated and individual plans are in place. Now, for me, I found it difficult to establish goals for educators when they might achieve them in 3 months, so they were “goal-less” until the next appraisal 9 months later.

I started doing small, regular, less formal, chats with each educator and each educator had a journal. In that journal we documented what success they had identified since the last meeting, what struggles they were having, and we created a goal. The time frame of the next meeting depended on the goal and how they were coping overall. The meetings were anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months apart.

I say meeting… really, it was a chat. Some took place in the sun outside, some in the room in a quiet corner, some in the kitchen, rarely in the office (because this was the place that caused anxiety and made me appear assertive as I sat on one side of the desk and them the other). These chats served many purposes. They allowed for:

  • the above NQS elements to be met
  • me to build a relationship with my educators (something we sometimes get too busy for)
  • me to create an opportunity to train my educators to reflect on themselves both positively and negatively (as often we are good at seeing the weakness and not the strengths in ourselves)
  • each educator to always be working towards a goal
  • educators to work collaboratively on reaching their goals as some chose to share their goals with others to seek support


As with everything in your service or scheme, if something isn’t working, check the requirements, make sure you stay within them, but don’t be afraid to make changes.

I have created a printable PDF of this system, with instructions and explanations of which requirements are met by using this system, that is available from my online store if you would like to save time and use something that already exists, or you can create your own. The one for sale is available by clicking here, it is only 3 pages long but the last page can be printed as many times as you would like to make a booklet for each educator and keep all their plans and reflections and goals in one place. The cost covers the ongoing licence to use the document in your service/scheme/organisation for all your educators.

Don’t forget if you would like specific support with anything in your team please feel free to contact RARE to discuss your needs as mentoring, consulting and training can be provided.

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Taking the child’s lead

Today I was doing a little photo shoot for some of next year’s webinars and I had the perfect opportunity to make a choice. My “model” was a 2 year old named Jordan and he was curious about everything when it came to the paint. We started painting with sticks, then fingers, then brushes. He was quick to put the painting sticks into the different coloured paint pots to see what would happen. I didn’t stop him as it was just paint and he was exploring, that was the point of the experience.


The choice came when Jordan started to paint the paint brush. Do I stop and explain that is not what we are meant to be doing and clean up the brushes and paint and pack it away? Or do I take his lead and let go of control? Observe what he is doing and how I can extend on this in safe and appropriate ways?


I decided to ask Jordan if he wanted to paint a stick, instead of the paint brush (which by this stage was all white). We went for a search down in the garden and I selected a range of sticks for Jordan to choose from. He chose a piece of wood and on the way back to the painting also picked up a rock he liked.


When we got back to the table Jordan started to use the rock as a stamp, transferring black paint onto the paper using the rock.


He then went to use the large piece of wood to paint with, and after a while (and some suggestions), he chose to use the brushes to paint ON the piece of wood.

This experience was a perfect reminder that when doing activities with children it isn’t about us, and our needs, it is about them and their learning. Jordan was busy exploring, investigating and connecting with his world through the different media he was presented with. We all have choices throughout the day as to whether we need to control the situation or choose to connect with the children and take their lead, giving them control over the program.

Focusing on learning and education

Often I hear people complain about how little we get paid, and how we are not taken seriously, unlike school teachers. I think there are many reasons behind this, some that will take generations to overcome, but one that I talk about a lot in my training is the image we present in our documentation and interactions with families.

Whether it is intentional or not, driven by a lack of self confidence or years of the “child minding” stigma, we, as a profession, seem to focus our conversations about children on fun. We call our services “Happy clowns fun land” and have tv time across the week. We have parents ask how their children’s day was and we talk about what fun they had and the funny thing they did at lunch time.

If you think about schools, most teachers only talk to the parents when it is about the child’s progress. We see the families a lot more than the school and we want to build these partnerships with them, but sometimes we can forget what we are there for in the first place. I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk about our relationships with the children and a funny thing that happened that day, but we also need to focus on the learning and education.

Our documentation can pick up the same thread as the conversations we have, that “fun focused” theme, and our daily diary might look something like this:


Where is the learning? Where is the education? It might be documentation like this that leads parents to panic in the last 6 months of the year before school that we do not focus on school readiness and where are the structured activities that demonstrate the learning?

This piece of documentation also does nothing to advocate for the skills, knowledge and experience of the educator who wrote it. They weren’t even there, they were called over at the end. Image the message we would send the families in our services if we wrote documentation like this….


There is assessment of learning, there is the role of the educator, there is a clear understanding that it is learning outcome 4 because of the language used. This highlights the skills and abilities of the educator who wrote it and their understanding of the learning that occurred.

Even if you are just having a photo based daily diary of what occurred that day with some captions in it, this can focus on learning too. Instead of “fun playing with water” what about “exploring the properties of water”, or “some beautiful flower paintings” how about “creative representations of nature”.

I’m not saying children shouldn’t have fun, of course they should, but it should be a by-product of the play-based learning.  Parents can see the fun, it is in their children’s happy faces, their dirty clothes, their endless chatter about their day, their eagerness to get back the next day. We might need to give them some help in seeing the learning in our conversations and our documentation because sometimes it isn’t that obvious.


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Yes Miss

This post might be seen as controversial, because what I am about to say goes against a practice  that has been around in services for a long time. I would like to take a look at the practice of having children in early childhood education and care settings refer to the educators with a prefix such as Miss or Mister.

Early childhood is a key time in children’s lives. Children are sent to early childhood settings to form bonds, build relationships and with these as a basis, develop skills that will help them transition into formal schooling and also through life. There is a whole section in the NQS on relationships with children. It is so important in forming a secure emotional base from which children can explore (ECA, 2012). A lot of children also spend more time during a working week in an early childhood setting than they do in the family home, which is a ongoing trend as the price of living continues to grow and the financial pressures on the family increase. Children are also starting care a lot younger than they historically used to, as a direct result of not only the financial pressure but the employment pressure on mothers to resume work quickly so they do not jeopardise their career.

Calling adults Miss or Mister is a sign of respect and authority that (either consciously or subconsciously) builds a barrier between children and adults. Historically it was tradition for children to address adults, including neighbours and family friends, in this fashion. Schools use it because a lot of schools employed a structured, top down teaching style in which children are expected to follow instructions and adhere to the rules and systems of the school. Some view this sign of respect, keeping children at arm’s length to make the teacher and student lines very clear. Some adults employ this technique in a workplace to assert authority and demand respect in the hierarchy.

Having said this, there are a number of schools that are dropping the Miss or Mister title and moving to allowing the students to call their teachers by their first name as they value the relationships it helps build and the flow on effect there is in the student’s work if they feel connected and included. This is also reflective of the modern society where is is less common to expect this tradition to be upheld when engaging with adults. “The president of the Victorian Principals’ Association, Gabrielle Leigh, tells me that it is increasingly common in primary schools in particular for students to address teachers by their first names – she reckons it would be standard practice at about one in 10 schools.” (Dunn, 2015).

Respect is something that should be earned through the way we interact with each other as human beings, not through a title that is thrust upon us. Babies have limited language skills and if we would like them to call us by a 2 word title then that is developmentally more challenging for them than a 1 word title. It can take up to 12 months for infants to go from 1 word to 2 word sentences, which is a period of time that they cannot respond to you by your correct title (DiProperzio, 2013).

I, personally, have worked in the majority of services without the title and I found it does not mean you get less respect from children or families, it means you can build meaningful relationships that come from mutual respect and understanding, not from a title. If we use the prefix as a sign of respect then should we not refer to parents and Mr and Mrs Smith instead of Jack and Kate? I have actually work at a service 10 years ago that transitioned from using the prefix to using first names for educators based on some reflection and there was only positive changes.

Please take a minute or two to reflect on the following:

  • Who decided what children should call the educators at your service?
  • How long ago was this decision made?
  • Is it reflective of current societal shifts?
  • Is it meaningful and purposeful, or just something that we have always done?
  • Is using a title for educators done for the benefit of the educators or the children?
  • Do educators form relationships that are reciprocal, allow for children’s voices and therefore result in respect, or do they assume respect because of the title?
  • Is using a prefix and a 2 word title inclusive of all children regardless of their language development?

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DiProperzio. L (2013). Language development milestones: Ages 1-4. Parents.

Dunn, M. (2015). What’s in a name? Quite a bit for pupils addressing teachers. Sydney Morning Herald.

Early Childhood Australia (2012). Relationships with Children. NQSPLP Newsletter No.36.