Goals and directions: Using midyear staff evaluations to drive momentum to June

Staff evaluations are a great tool. I’m just finishing up the typed eval forms for my sports magazine staff, and will start one-on-one conversations with individuals beginning tomorrow (see sample below).

I’ve been using a mid-year evaluation for the past three years or so, and it has worked well.

One of my current editors had an older sibling on staff several years ago: the “baby brother” told me he remembers seeing the evaluation of his sibling. Other former staffers have told me they still have their evals, and that it seemed ‘professional’.

A caveat: while these seem to be really effective and helpful for staff members, the “narrative descriptions” I have chosen to write take a whole lot of time to create.

I don’t use “meets/exceeds”, and there is no ‘checklist’, only categories for comments. Our eval is completely narrative-based. (see below)

Editors are part of the process, both because it’s part of their job to be motivators and facilitators of the staff’s momentum, and because the editors’ perspective often has a more nuanced perspective than the one I can see as the teacher/adviser.

Here’s what we do, for what it’s worth:

  1. I sit down with the current editors during lunch/after school.  It often requires two or three meetings.We’re on meeting number three today.  I have the computer. They talk (and so do I). We set a timer to stay on track — otherwise this goes on for hours and hours. (Six minutes works well for us.)
  2. While the editors and I describe the strengths or concerns of a staff member in terms of focus, production of work for the magazine, and general “sportsmanlike behavior,” I draft comments and type them into a table I made. (See below for sample.) One of the best comments for a staff member on a big staff that usually gets big love the works-hard-but-doesn’t-make-a-fuss-type is, “The editors have noticed all of the work that you’re doing, and how you have been stepping up quietly. Keep it up.”
  3. After the discussion, I read back the notes. Usually the editors (who can sound pretty tough on the first go-around) ask me to “lighten” something or make it more positively-focused than they had first stated. I happily re-draft, re-write, and re-read. They get a great lesson in what “being harsh” sounds like when it’s being read back to you.
  4. After this process is done, I print out the feedback and meet privately one-on-one with each staffer for a 5-10 minute conference. Editors do not get to be part of that moment: it puts too much implied power in student-to-student interaction. For some reason, editor “input” seems to be felt as very fair, but the individual student like the conversation about that feedback to be teacher-student based.

This is a sample of what it looks like, from a previous year:

It’s not only good for the staff members overall: it’s also a great way for young leaders to go through this, to see what it “sounds like” when they’re being critical or supportive with their feedback.

Invisibly, of course, I’m also “shaping” the feedback from my spot as adviser, and crafting a comment sheet that will be fair and (hopefully) empowering for each person who gets it.

It’s also a good tool to nudge kids who are falling off, and also provides clear written documentation that a meeting has taken place (if there are concerns).

For editors, I have previously asked the other “leadership team” (managing eds, photo eds, business managers, etc) to give feedback.

I also do ask for a private “reflection” every semester from every staff member, and part of that process asks them to look at how they might have done better — and how the organization overall could have done better. Those comments tend to “aggregate” around the same ideas in terms of leadership suggestions, so I compile them in the narrative I draft for the EICs.

Also, I usually have a strong viewpoint of the editors, because of the time and discussions we have together over the year.

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