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Karen Bontempo[1]

Shenton College
Deaf Education Centre

and Macquarie University, Australia


Bethel Hutchinson

College Deaf Education Centre, Australia

 Download PDF of article  (241 KB)

1.          Introduction

The broader context
of skill development and training for interpreters reaches far beyond the scope
of entry-level education programs for work in the profession. Ongoing training
for interpreters is critical to (a) mitigate the skills gap that exists for
many practitioners upon graduation from programs and (b) prevent the
fossilization of skills in more experienced practitioners (Bontempo &
Napier, 2007). An onus on interpreters to access ongoing training throughout
the duration of their career is a stipulated tenet of many ethical codes of
conduct and guidelines adopted by interpreter associations and is a condition
of maintaining interpreter certification and licensure in several countries
around the world. Providing suitable professional development opportunities to
practitioners to help them meet these requirements may be the remit of
interpreter associations, educational institutions, or the employers of
interpreters. In terms of employers, some may be more industrious than others
in creating training programs and skill development plans that are based on
individually identified skills gaps and a performance management process
catering to the needs of interpreters in the workplace. Regardless of employer
capacity to do this in an adequate fashion, it remains incumbent on individual
interpreters to maintain or advance skills and to participate in ongoing skills
assessment, self-evaluation and reflection, and professional learning
activities. This appears to be more straightforward for interpreters to comply
with when they work for larger employers, some of which provide this type of
ongoing performance management and training support to meet the needs of
individuals. In the case of signed language educational interpreters in
particular, however, this seems to be a rare practice. In this article, we
report on one exception to the rule—a best-practices project of diagnostic
skills analysis, performance management, and tailored ongoing training
opportunities initiated by an employer of Auslan[2]/English interpreters
at a public secondary school in Western Australia. The case study presented
here took place within an educational context. However, we believe that the
principles and process of performance management that we share here can be
applied to interpreters employed by any organization.

2.          Background and rationale

Shenton College
Deaf Education Centre (SCDEC) is a Western Australian (WA) public school that
caters to deaf or hard-of-hearing high school students, typically aged 12–17
years. SCDEC is fully funded by the state government’s Department of Education
and has a reputation as a “Centre of Excellence.” The school is situated within
one of the top public high schools in the state, Shenton College, with the
larger school population totaling more than 1,200 students. The 25 deaf and hard-of-hearing
students enrolled at SCDEC are supported by a mix of full-time and part-time
staff, including eight teaching staff and 20 nonteaching staff (e.g., interpreters,
note-takers, onsite captioners, and administration staff).

The Department of Education in WA requires
that each school link its school plan to the Department’s overall aim. The
stated aim of the Department is for all students to reach their learning and
skills potential and to contribute to society. To enable the Department’s aim
and the school plan to be implemented, teachers and nonteaching staff are
required to participate in professional learning activities that are linked to
the school plan. To identify the specific skills gaps and to determine what
type of professional learning is required for each staff member to assist them
in achieving the school plan, each staff member undergoes a mandatory performance
management process, overseen by the school principal. Given the Department’s
focus on the education of children, the professional learning that is made
available at school level across WA is largely geared toward the critical skill
development and maintenance needs of teaching staff rather than the training
needs of nonteaching staff.

This means that interpreters working in
schools are typically unable to access “ready-made” professional learning on
site in their workplace, suited specifically to their professional development
needs as interpreting practitioners. In recognition of this, in recent years
the WA Institute of Deaf Education (WAIDE), a statewide Department of Education
service for deaf and hard of hearing students, has provided increasing formal
support to individual interpreters working in mainstream school settings
throughout WA. Such support in schools from this centralized service has been
warmly welcomed by interpreters, particularly those working on a solitary basis
in a school, isolated from other interpreting colleagues. Interpreters are
employed at the local level by individual schools, not by WAIDE though, so
providing the range and extent of desirable support and professional learning
opportunities to these interpreters across many schools throughout the state
can be challenging. SCDEC however has a significant number of interpreters on
staff, indeed considerably more than any other school in WA, forming a critical
mass in one school. It was therefore important for SCDEC to provide an
effective performance management process on site for this substantial group of
employees with specialised skills and professional learning requirements.
Despite appreciating this need, there was no internal knowledge source or
expertise based within SCDEC to accurately evaluate the performance of the
interpreters on staff, identify gaps in skill, and develop professional learning
tailored to the needs of the interpreters. Consequently, to ensure that the
interpreters were properly supported to play their part in the implementation
of the SCDEC school plan, in 2008 the principal of SCDEC, Bethel Hutchinson,
sought out the professional expertise of an independent external consultant.
Karen Bontempo was the consultant appointed to conduct individual diagnostic
skills analyses of the interpreting team and to develop a professional learning
program suited to the needs of the individual interpreters on staff at SCDEC.

Educational interpreters in WA are employed
under the job title of “Education Assistant—Auslan” by the Department. Although
regarded differently from the typical “Education Assistant” assigned to
students with learning difficulties or disabilities, proper recognition of the
complexity of educational interpreters’ specialized work—and their employment status—is
still not as it should be. This is particularly apparent outside WA in other
parts of Australia. For example, it is not compulsory for interpreters to hold
qualifications in interpreting in order to work in a school; therefore, many interpreters
in primary and secondary schools in Australia have less than adequate Auslan
proficiency for the task required of them and hold no interpreter
certification. For a number of reasons outside the scope of this article, there
is a much more effective system and structure in place for educational
interpreters in WA than for those in other states of Australia (Bontempo &
Levitzke-Gray, 2009; Potter & Leigh, 2002), with Potter (2010) noting that
nearly 50% of educational interpreters in WA have completed an interpreter education
program and/or hold interpreter certification at the paraprofessional level
(entry-level interpreting certification in Australia, awarded by the National
Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters [NAATI]).

At SCDEC, a pleasing anomaly exists, with 90%
of the interpreting team holding interpreter accreditation and the remaining
interpreting staff enrolled in an interpreter education program at the time of
the project. This places SCDEC in a unique position in WA, let alone in
Australia. The process of interpreter evaluation and performance management
initiated at SCDEC was, therefore, underpinned from the start by an encouraging
organizational culture for interpreters.

A formal diagnostic skills analysis of this number of
interpreters in a school environment had never taken place before in Australia.
Formal school-based interpreter-specific performance evaluation opportunities appear
to be more widely available in the United States (e.g., the Educational
Interpreter Performance Assessment [EIPA] process) and have been applied to
community interpreters in WA at the initiative of the WA Deaf Society (Bontempo,
Goswell, Leneham, & Tsapazi, 2007), but an undertaking of this nature and
scale in an educational environment in Australia was a first to our knowledge.
Given the link between interpreter competence and outcomes for deaf students (Schick,
Williams, & Bolster, 1999; Winston, 2004), it was anticipated that taking a
proactive, performance-oriented approach toward developing interpreter skills
on the job should have positive effects in the classroom for deaf children and
their peers as well as healthy outcomes for practitioners, administrators,
teachers, and parents.

3.          Structure and process

Once the consultant
was appointed, it was vital that we obtain “buy–in” from the interpreters on
staff so they would appreciate that the process posed no threat—only the
potential for gains.
The school principal sent a notice to interpreters
in advance of the onsite visit by the consultant to clarify the structure and
process of the performance management project. Assurances were made regarding
the parameters of the project: The process was simply a way of trying to grow
the skills of individual interpreters. As part of this program, the
interpreters would engage in a one-on-one diagnostic skills evaluation,
analysis and discussion process; then, they would participate in a tailored
program of learning events over a period of time. Interpreters were advised
that employment contracts were not at risk as a result of the process and that
this was intended to be a supportive performance improvement exercise. Interpreters
were given the consultants’ contact details and were provided with the
performance evaluation rubric in advance. Participants were also advised that
they were welcome to contribute to the rubric if they felt that any aspects
were missing or if they felt that any section was inappropriate to include.

Participants completed a competency
self-evaluation form 2 weeks in advance of the consultant’s onsite visit.
purpose of this form was to assist interpreters in focusing on the range of
competencies central to their role and to encourage self-analysis of their
skills in advance of the monitoring period—a helpful exercise in terms of
reflective practice. The form also directed the consultants’ attention toward
aspects of performance that the individual interpreter identified as a concern.
Such identification included the appreciation that areas of priority may be
debated—for example, the area that an individual may identify as a weakness may
not be the most critical concern in regard to their performance; similarly,
some interpreters may be unconsciously competent and, therefore, unable to see
where they are doing particularly well.

The preliminary paperwork also served as a
reality check whereby the consultant could compare self-evaluation of
competency and reported skills gaps with actual performance as measured by the
consultant on site by showing the interpreter any variance between the forms.
The self-evaluation forms were returned to individuals at debriefing sessions.

 The consultant visited the school on stipulated
days/times of the week over a 2-week period in the middle of the school year in
order to observe and evaluate the work performance of individual interpreters
in classrooms—that is, observing them interpreting in their everyday work
setting. Each interpreter was observed for one class period (lasting up to 60
minutes, depending on whether the interpreter was working in the senior school
or the middle school), and the session was filmed. The evaluation did not focus
on the first 10 minutes of performance during the observation period, to allow the
interpreter time to warm up and to allow time for any initial performance
anxiety to subside. The consultant completed detailed notes and comments for
each individual on a specially designed rubric during the observation period
(see Appendix). The rubric provided the categories for the diagnostic skills
analysis and was informed by the findings of Bontempo and Napier (2007), which
highlighted a common range of skills gaps in interpreters. Observational data based
on performance was collected in written form, but in addition, footage of each
individual was captured to (a) provide evidence for personal evaluation and
debriefing later and (b) provide clear examples of work performance when
reviewed in conjunction with the rubric. The diagnostic skills analysis gave an
indication of current levels of occupational performance and identified
specific skills areas upon which the interpreter could improve. Strategies and
resources for self-development were outlined to individual interpreters in a
debriefing session held post observation.

The initial process in 2008 included 16 educational
interpreters at SCDEC. The favorable feedback received by the principal, and
the positive outcomes arising from the process in 2008, led to further external
review of the educational interpreters during the following year. In 2009, nine
interpreters participated in the performance management process. The format was
altered based on the 2008 experience. The 2009 project included the following
two additions: (a) interpreters were not able to choose the class in which they
were observed (in 2008 they were given a choice) and (b) filmed “modeling” took
place during a number of subjects (including Year 8 science, Year 11 English, Year
10 home economics, a Year 11 Deaf Center support class, and a senior school
assembly), whereby the consultant worked as the interpreter, thus allowing the
regular interpreter of that class to observe the consultant and then discuss
the interpreted session afterwards with the consultant. This modeling took
place after the initial observation and debriefing session with the individual
interpreters concerned. Modeling offered the opportunity for interpreters to
witness how specific linguistic features and effective coping strategies could
be integrated into interpretations in the classroom, rather than an exclusively
theoretical discussion with the interpreter about options they could implement
in the future.

Annual meetings
were held with SCDEC teachers in 2008 and 2009 to apprise them of the
performance management process. The purpose of these meetings was to gain their
support and to increase teachers’ awareness of the interpreters’ work.

4.          Data collection and analysis

As noted, interpreters
were directly observed and evaluated by the consultant from “within the space” in
order to capture performance in their authentic work environment. As the
consultant was not an employee of SCDEC at that time, this was particularly
useful in allowing the consultant to understand the bigger picture regarding
operations at the school level, to appreciate classroom dynamics, and to get a
better sense of the deaf students with whom the interpreters were working.
Relevant permissions were obtained to film the interpreters in classrooms, and
discussions were held with mainstream teachers in advance to explain the
purpose of the filming.

The DVD footage of each interpreter’s work
was collected and kept by the principal of SCDEC as part of performance
management records compliance, with copies made for the individual interpreter.
It was noted to the principal that all data collected and feedback
documented for the interpreters needed be treated with some caution in regard
to the following considerations:

        The performance measures were taken in a certain place, on a
certain date, and at a certain time. They were, therefore, frozen-in-time “snapshots”
of performance and could not be regarded as comprehensive indicators of
performance across other contexts, or with a different audience or altered
subject matter.

        Due to the aforementioned reason, it was also impossible to
compare the performance of one interpreter with that of another interpreter.
Unless two interpreters were undertaking the task of interpreting the same
event (which was the case with only two interpreters out of all the interpreted
events observed over the 2 years—and, even then, they interpreted different
parts of an interpreted event, not the same parts, so again, it was difficult
to “compare”), it should be understood that job events cannot be fairly
compared with one another because of the wide variety from classroom to
classroom: different students, different subject matter, different day,
different time, different teacher, different classroom environment, different
background knowledge, and so forth.

        It was noted that not all the interpreters were able to work in
their preferred classroom environment for the observation experience,
particularly in 2009. To be observed and evaluated in a less comforting
environment may have had a negative impact on interpreter performance.
Conversely, though, it was noted that practitioners who performed at only a
“just adequate” level of performance in a nominated class of their preference
should be monitored to ensure that they are not placed in classes, or with
children, that are beyond their skill levels.

        Typically, and due to the context, the consultant was largely
able to view only monologic instructional discourse interpreted from English
into Auslan. The performance evaluation records and feedback to interpreters
was, therefore, primarily reflective of skill and competence in one language
direction only.

Data collection was hampered, to an extent, by classroom
context, content, and teacher delivery style. Some classes contained more
teacher-centered instructional discourse than others, whereas other classes
were more interactive, particularly if the lesson was more practical in nature
or if a discussion-based activity was taking place. Some classes contained few
opportunities for data collection due to the independent-study nature of that
particular lesson. In the latter instances, if the interpreter was barely
working at all, the observation session was rescheduled.

Debriefing was scheduled for immediately after the
interpreted class to facilitate the most effective recollection of
decision-making processes; this allowed interpreters to reflect on these
processes and discuss them while also analyzing their interpretations, with the
consultant’s guidance. Overall strengths and weaknesses were
identified individually in the one-on-one debriefing sessions with interpreters;
recommendations for improvement were made, and suggestions for change were offered
to each interpreter. These sessions were typically 1 hour long. The footage
could be viewed during the session, and the completed performance evaluation
rubric was made available to each interpreter.
The interpreters’ self-evaluation
of their skills (submitted to the consultant 2 weeks prior) was also brought up
and discussed in the debriefing session in order to address any areas of
concern flagged by interpreters themselves and, where applicable, to apply
these concerns to the recently observed interpreted class.

During the debriefing sessions in 2008 and
2009, interpreters were asked several specific questions by the consultant
before walking through the details recorded on the rubric and analyzing the footage
with the interpreter. These preliminary questions included some or all of the
following: How do you feel? What were you happy with? What do you feel worked?
What could you do differently next time, and why? Do you think the teachers’
aims for the lesson were conveyed effectively via your interpretation? Did your
interpretation allow the student to participate in the lesson? The question presented
at the end of the debriefing session was: How do you feel about the evaluation
process you have just been through? The consultant found the interpreters to be
very forthright in their responses and generally conscious of areas of both
competence and incompetence in their performance.

5.          Training opportunities and professional
development action plans

designed and delivered professional learning sessions arising from the outcomes
of the self-evaluations, the observations of the consultant, and the resulting
discussions in the debriefing sessions. Training days targeted at the needs of
the educational interpreters were scheduled for the student-free days available
at the start of each quarterly term in the school year. The
professional learning days incorporated issues regarding performance that were
observed as being global in nature—that is, skills deficits or concerns noted
in most of the interpreters, or activities that could enhance the skills development
of all participants. These global issues are described in more detail in the
next section.

the professional learning sessions, where possible and appropriate, select
footage of individual interpreters demonstrating good practices was screened to
the group (with the permission of the interpreter). In addition, sample footage
of some of the modeled interpreting in classrooms by the consultant was viewed;
we showed this footage to exemplify features and practices that could be
adopted by other interpreters or to illustrate specific concepts under
discussion in the professional learning session.

In addition, the participants wrote their
own professional development plans during the first professional learning day
and revisited these plans at later sessions. When writing the plans,
participants bore in mind the overall goals of SCDEC and targets for the Department
of Education and were informed by (a) the self-competence evaluation conducted
by the interpreter prior to the performance evaluation; (b) the observation
experience, footage, and completed rubric written by the consultant; and (c)
the debriefing discussion that took place post observation. Goals for each
individual were developed and documented. Each interpreter submitted this
individual plan to the principal in 2008, and goals were evaluated, revised,
and reported on in 2009 after the second iteration of the performance
management process, with new plans written for either skills maintenance or
further development in 2010.

We encouraged interpreters to focus on
their specific goals when asking for future feedback on their work from mentors
(either formal or informal) and from team interpreters as well as from other
peers and consumers, where applicable.
The opportunity for interpreters
to self-determine their own professional development plan as part of the
performance management process was critical. They identified their own
particular goals that they felt were achievable and then developed strategies
and a time frame for attending to these goals. We encouraged interpreters to
seek out mentors (from within the SCDEC interpreting team, the Deaf community,
or the wider interpreting community) as part of their ongoing skills
development. In addition, we strongly recommended that they take up membership
of the local interpreting association, the Australian Sign Language
Interpreters Association (ASLIA), attend Deaf community events, and participate
in external training and professional development opportunities for signed
and/or spoken language interpreters in the local area.

6.          Performance and progress

Overall, based on the data collected
during the stipulated periods, interpreters employed at SCDEC generally met or
exceeded performance expectations in the observed sessions. It was evident that
a handful of interpreters on staff had more experience and skills to draw on
than did some other interpreters on staff, and these interpreters typically
delivered stronger performances during the evaluation period. The few
interpreters on staff who did not yet hold NAATI accreditation—as well as those
who could be described as “novice” practitioners holding recently awarded NAATI
accreditation—demonstrated more significant skills gaps, as might be expected,
and as supported by research in the field (Bontempo & Napier, 2007, 2009).

6.1.     Skills gaps

The following skills gaps were
observed at times in the various interpretations:

·       Lack
of discourse markers.

·       Issues
with discourse cohesion.

·       Insufficient
use of depicting signs, constructed dialogue, and constructed action.

·       Confusion
of space/placement properties.

·       Illocutionary
force not always conveyed.

·       Prosodic
features of Auslan not fully utilized—loss of speaker style and affect.

·       Inappropriate
positioning of interpreter in the classroom.

·       Incidental
communication in the environment not transmitted.

·       Translation
style leaning toward a dominant literal style with too much intrusion of
English source text features when classroom context really lent itself to a
more dynamic, or free, translation style.

·       Superficial
processing of information—operating at sentential level rather than discourse

·       Difficulties,
at times, in meeting the linguistic needs of students with minimal language.

Many of the aforementioned topics formed the basis of a
series of training days conducted with interpreters and were the focus of
professional development goals for individuals. Improvements were seen over
time regarding some of these issues, with fewer of these skills gaps appearing
in the later performance evaluations. Interpreters who delivered better
interpretations and had more sophisticated coping strategies tended to be NAATI-accredited
interpreters with several years of experience. A number of these interpreters,
although not all of them, had not only educational interpreting experience but
also community interpreting experience or had extensive experience interpreting
for native signers—which, they noted during debriefing sessions, had scaffolded
their skill sets for work with a range of deaf children in education settings.

6.2.     Positive aspects

Positive aspects of interpreter performance
and manner that were noteworthy and that appeared global in nature included the

·       Perceptive insight into skills gaps—self-evaluations were honest and
largely accurate when compared to the observed data.

·       Practitioners were extremely flexible and accommodating to requests
and changes.

·       Appropriate demeanor and interaction in the classroom and with
stakeholders was observed.

·       Interpreters generally represented the jargon associated with the
subject area well.

·       Strong evidence of preparation and background knowledge.

·       Good boundary management.

Generally, the participants demonstrated a
willingness to be challenged, and the vast majority of practitioners really
embraced the opportunity to be evaluated and to receive feedback on their
performance. Even those who were uncertain at the start appeared positive at
the end of the project and saw tangible benefits in the process.

6.3.     Concerns identified by interpreters

Many of the interpreters raised and shared
the following concerns in relation to their work:

        Time constraints—it is difficult to “unpack” concepts in the
limited time available in mainstream classes due to the pace and density of
most lessons.

        Mainstream teachers often lack awareness of the needs of deaf students.
This was felt to be an issue particularly in relation to compromised language
proficiency and fund-of-knowledge deficits faced by some of the SCDEC students.

        The role of the interpreter is not well understood by staff and
students. In addition, interpreters felt that there was little understanding and
recognition among the teaching staff regarding the complexity of the
interpreters’ work.

        At the time of performance evaluations in 2008 and 2009, with the
exception of a part-time Auslan teacher, SCDEC had no other deaf staff members
on site to support students and interpreters. This resulted in a project recommendation
to appoint full-time deaf staff members to valued roles in the classroom. A
full-time deaf mentor was appointed in 2010, and she quickly proved to be a
significant asset to SCDEC. In addition, the part-time Auslan teacher’s hours
were increased, and his role changed so that he became a more integral part of
the teaching team.

        Many of the deaf students lack confidence in asserting their
needs (to teachers and to interpreters).

        Little training is available for interpreters in regard to (a)
interpreting for students who have dysfluent language and (b) the linguistic
development (both typical and atypical) of deaf children.

        Interpreters felt that they were not working in
an “interpreter-ready” system (Patrie & Taylor, 2008). They all reported
that certain common issues have a significant impact on their work—issues
regarding role, employment status, pay, teacher–interpreter relationships,
school community awareness, and student’s “linguistic readiness” to work with
interpreters were all raised.

        There was perceived encouragement of “learned
helplessness” among deaf students, and perceived low teacher expectations of
deaf students, both of which frustrated the interpreters.

        Sometimes, there was visual confusion in the
classroom, with teachers learning Auslan occasionally trying to sign at the same
time as the interpreter. Interpreters appreciated that this was balanced with the
need for teachers to interact directly and to establish relationships with deaf
students; however, they did feel that this created some tension for them in
terms of doing their work effectively when attempts to sign persisted during
lessons, particularly if the signs used were incorrect.

6.4.     Progress

The original performance management
innovations occurred in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, the consultant started teaching
at SCDEC and was no longer able to conduct the performance evaluations of
interpreting staff as an independent external party. Therefore, with the
intention of interpreters taking increased ownership over their professional
growth and development, SCDEC purchased four flip cameras and mini-tripods to
enable the interpreters to film themselves and then reflect on their own work. We
anticipated that the interpreters would have the skills and knowledge to be
able to do this in a meaningful fashion themselves in 2010, having been through
a guided process previously. In addition to the previous learning experiences
with the consultant, interpreters were sponsored to participate in an external
professional development session in 2010 with Jemina Napier, a highly esteemed
Australian educator, researcher, and interpreting practitioner. The workshop
focus was on reflective evaluation and analysis of one’s own interpreting work.
Interpreters filmed samples of their work during 2010. Time was set aside during
the timetable and on professional learning days where the interpreters paired
up with one another, reflected on their performance, and critiqued their skills
within the successful evaluation framework established in 2008 and 2009.

Feedback from the interpreters on the
learning gained using the flip cameras in 2010 was extremely positive.
Indications of how beneficial the self-evaluation approach was in 2010 prompted
the decision to continue with self-reflective practice in 2011, with some
further adaptations to enhance the approach. In 2011, each interpreter gathered
at least two samples of interpretations from each term. These samples were from
two different classes; however, in each term, the same two classes (same
teacher, same group of students, etc.) were filmed to obtain a longitudinal
sample of work over the year. Interpreters analyzed his or her own performance
and nominated a colleague to conduct a critical peer review of the footage. At
the end of each term, time was given for the interpreters to view the footage
and analyze the work samples. The expectation is that by the end of 2011, the
samples will show evidence of interpreter improvement in areas of concern
identified in the first sample. An assumption is that samples can be more
fairly compared, considering that controls are in place for class environment,
teacher, and student over the year. Time was also allocated in 2011 for deaf
mentors on staff to review performance footage and to provide feedback to the
interpreters for skill enhancement purposes. 

In January 2011, interpreters attended the
“Supporting Deaf People Online Conference”, a virtual conference with themes
specific to Deaf education and educational interpreting. SCDEC sponsored their
attendance and encouraged staff to access a broad range of other external
professional learning experiences in 2011. In March 2011, Marty Taylor, of
Canada, an interpreter educator and scholar of international repute with a particular
interest and publication record in the field of educational interpreting, was
brought into the school by the principal of SCDEC to conduct training with the

In regard to 2012 and beyond, some thought
has been given to a hybrid internal/external evaluation, including increasing
the role of the deaf mentors in formally supporting interpreter skill
advancement. Further thoughts include the possibility of allowing for a wider feedback
loop and receiving input from teachers and students as well as from a peer or
an external consultant in the evaluation process. It is intuitive that an enhanced
understanding of language acquisition, teaching and learning principles, adolescent
development, and the linguistics of both Auslan and English could assist interpreters
in their work with deaf students. Professional learning addressing some of
these issues is planned for SCDEC interpreters in 2012. The agenda, as we move
forward, also includes implementing a more formalized mentoring program and increasing
opportunities for team interpreting. In addition, we intend to safely extend
the skills of interpreters by encouraging them to work outside their comfort
zone, providing support and training as needed. Finally, the intention in 2012
is to tackle some of the broader issues identified by interpreters in an effort
to make the school system more ‘interpreter-ready’.

7.          Recommendations, resources, and project

Detailed consultant reports provided to the principal in 2008 and
2009 noted overall levels of performance and included evaluations of
interpreted events for each interpreter as well as recommendations for future
development of interpreters’ skills. The following list details some of the
general recommendations in the reports:

·       Allow onsite access to DVDs, books, journal
articles, reference lists, and so forth, to encourage professional learning during
down time in the timetable or when students are absent.

·       Increase SCDEC and interpreter networks within
the Deaf community.

·       Employ more deaf staff in key roles.

·       Interpreters to seek out mentors (formal or
informal, internal or external).

·       Interpreters to network with interpreting peers
external to SCDEC.

·       Attend suitable external workshops and training,
not just the internal professional learning provided by SCDEC.

·       Read current literature regarding educational

·       Complete an interpreter education program (where

·       Become a member of ASLIA.

·       Participate in ongoing self-evaluation and
monitoring by peers.

·       Prepare/liaise more directly with teachers.

Interpreters were provided with extensive
resources as an outcome of the consultant’s report. SCDEC took the following
actions in response to the recommendations listed in this report:

·       Compiled a comprehensive list of skill
advancement suggestions and activities to work through.

·       Provided interpreters with a detailed list of relevant
reference material and reading suggestions (developed by Jemina Napier and
Karen Bontempo for ASLIA).

·       Purchased a range of DVD practice material,
textbooks and journals.

·       Arranged copies of journal articles, book
chapters, and websites to review during down time or to read during class times
in which students were mainly doing independent study or taking an examination.

·       Created an “interpreters resource room.” Interpreters
were given a dedicated separate learning space including bookshelves,
computers, TV/DVD equipment, chairs, desks, etc. This was designated a place to
prepare, reflect, review, and discuss work with colleagues. This was in addition
to the existing interpreters’ office located in the adjoining room, which is a
more social, open space where timetables are kept and team meetings are held.


Measures that we used
to evaluate the success of the project indicated extremely positive results;
these measures included the following:

·       Individual face-to-face feedback on the process.

·       Evaluation forms for all professional learning sessions.

·       Copies of the professional learning plans developed (and
respective timelines and goals met).

·       Principal and administrator evaluation of efficacy of the consultant’s

·       An evaluation form on which interpreters could rate and provide
feedback on the overall performance management process; the consultant’s conduct
and interactions with interpreters.

From 2010 forward, there was a great deal more ownership
over the performance management process by the interpreters, as they were
increasingly empowered to be reflective and reflexive practitioners.
Opportunities to give feedback in various ways to management were created
through the project. Interpreters were able to clearly stipulate their training
needs as practitioners and also to identify what proved helpful and effective
for them in the performance management process. In these ways, SCDEC is working
toward best practices in the performance management of interpreters.

8.          Conclusion

To enable effective
learning in a student, one looks for best practices surrounding the teaching
and learning experience. In this instance, part of that equation is ensuring
that (a) the interpreter’s work meets an appropriate standard and (b) that the
value of this work is properly recognized and reinforced within the
organizational system. Although the case study presented herein describes the
efforts of one school in trying to address issues of performance quality and
ongoing training of a cohort of interpreters, the latter notion of working
within a system that properly acknowledges and supports the complex work of
interpreters is a much bigger issue—and the larger system is much more
difficult to revolutionize from the ground up.

To assist in the understanding and
recognition of interpreters and to aid in creating an “interpreter-ready”
environment, there needs to be a more effective job description and employment
category that is specific to educational interpreters in Australia. There also
needs to be salary differentiation, recognizing the qualifications and
experience of those in the role. This, in turn, would offer incentives for educational
interpreters to complete interpreter education programs, participate in ongoing
professional learning and training, gain accreditation, and stay working in
schools as interpreters, highly valued for the multifaceted, challenging work
that they do. Patrie and Taylor readiness of the wider school community is
flagged by Patrie and Taylor (2008) as a key factor in creating an
interpreter-ready environment. Not only must administrators, parents, teachers,
and interpreters understand one another’s roles, but the students—deaf and
hearing—must also understand the interpreter’s role and how to work with the
interpreter for the best outcome. These interpreter-readiness issues are part
of the bigger picture and remain as areas needing improvement at SCDEC, within
the larger school community, and within the broader education system in

Ultimately, staff are the most valuable
resource of an organization. Every employee affects
productivity in the
workplace and has an impact on the organizational culture. SCDEC management
values interpreting staff and want to help continually improve interpreters’
skills, believing that improved performance by practitioners should support
better outcomes for deaf students. This performance management project sent a
clear message to staff that SCDEC considers interpreters worth the investment,
and SCDEC recognizes that it is indeed fortunate to employ so many interpreters
with appropriate credentials and good interpreting skills.

However, SCDEC still has much to learn and
improve upon in regard to various aspects of an interpreter-mediated education
experience for deaf students. Given the work described in this article, it
seems that SCDEC might score a “B” grade for effort and results in regard to
developing a meaningful performance management process and in offering skill
advancement opportunities to educational interpreters. However, until the
bigger and broader issue of creating an interpreter-ready system in education
settings can truly be addressed and rectified, SCDEC will need to keep striving
toward achieving that elusive “A” grade.

9.       Acknowledgments

We acknowledge
SCDEC interpreters for their receptiveness to the performance management
process, in its various iterations, from 2008 to the present. The interpreters
have been fully engaged and keen to understand their performance better—in
terms of skill gaps that may exist and the ways in which they work effectively.
Without the support of the interpreters—and their willingness to invest in the
process—this project would not have been so successful. The flexibility of
Shenton College staff is noted with sincere thanks, and we particularly
appreciate the teachers and students who accommodated our presence in
classrooms during observations. Finally, we are very grateful to the entire
SCDEC team for their support regarding the project and this article.


10.    References

Bontempo, K., Goswell, D., Leneham, M., & Tsapazi, R. (2007,
September). Diagnostic skills analysis: Intensive interpreter PD
. Unpublished conference paper presented at the ASLIA National
Interpreter Trainers’ Workshop, Sydney, Australia.

Bontempo, K., & Levitzke-Gray, P. (2009). Interpreting Down
Under: Signed language interpreter education and training in Australia. In J.
Napier (Ed.), International perspectives on signed language interpreter
(pp. 149–170). Washington, DC: Gallaudet
University Press.

Bontempo, K., & Napier, J. (2007). Mind
the gap! A skills analysis of sign language interpreters. The Sign Language
Translator and Interpreter,
1, 275–299.

Bontempo, K., & Napier, J. (2009). Getting it right from the
start: Program admission testing of signed language interpreters. In C. Angelelli
& H. E. Jacobson (Eds.), Testing and assessment in translation and interpreting
(pp. 247–295). Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.

Patrie, C., & Taylor, M. (2008). Outcomes for graduates of
baccalaureate interpreter preparation programs specializing in interpreting in
K–12th grade settings.
Retrieved from

Potter, L. (2010, July). Managing educational interpreters: New
roles for teachers of the deaf in 21st century inclusive education.
Unpublished conference paper presented at the International Congress
of Educators of the Deaf, Vancouver, Canada.

Potter, L., & Leigh, K. (2002) An investigation into issues
surrounding the efficacy and use of educational interpreters for deaf students
in the mainstream setting. Australian Journal of Education of the Deaf, 8,

Schick, B.,
Williams, K., & Bolster, L. (1999). Skill
levels of educational interpreters in public schools
. Journal of Deaf
Studies and Deaf Education, 4
, 144–155.

Winston, E. A. (Ed.). (2004). Educational interpreting: How it
can succeed.
Washington, DC: Gallaudet University



Educational Interpreter Performance Evaluation Rubric

Name: _____________ Date: __________________ Class setting/context:


to Consider


Interpreting Aspect

1.1   Equivalence of message
(appropriate for context? Contains textual integrity and fidelity? Info
exchange is successful, overall?)

1.2   Avoids distracting mannerisms
that impact on performance (whispering, vocalizations,
upper body shifts, inappropriate eye gaze, etc.)

1.3   Uses appropriate time lag to
allow concepts to be conveyed accurately

1.4   Miscues (omissions, additions,
substitutions, intrusions, anomalies)—any strategic?








Transmission accuracy: 1 2 3 4 5

= very accurate

Language Aspect

2.1   Comprehends source message
(English vocabulary, denotative/connotative meaning, Auslan

2.2   Paralinguistic elements (facial
expression, pace, size of signing space, mouth movements, etc.; English prosody/inflection)

2.3   Articulation (clear production
of signs, fingerspelling, numbers, etc., in Auslan. Clear production in
English at correct volume.)

2.4   Uses correct grammar and
structure in target message (complete thoughts in English and Auslan; use of
space, classifiers, tenses, indexing, etc., in Auslan)

2.5   Fluency (“smoothness,” control
and flow of language; comprehensibility/ease of viewing or listening to
target text—care taken not to overly smooth out rough source text)

2.6  Vocabulary and
register (using correct signs, right style of language, appropriate
vocabulary, idioms, strategies for unknown/key vocab., etc.)

Overall language skills: 1 2 3 4 5

= excellent


Interaction/Role Aspects

3.1   Roles specific to education
(classroom context adjustments; checking student comprehension; purpose and
intent of lesson made clear?)

3.2   Managing overlap, turn-taking (and
indicates speakers), questions, interruptions, clarifications, and

3.3   Handling ethical dilemmas and
demonstrating ethical behavior (e.g., apparent preparation for lesson took

3.4   Social/cultural/professional
sensitivity (use of appropriate strategies to gain attention; facilitation of
social interactions with peers; interpreter interaction with student/s and teacher/s)

Managing interaction/role: 1 2 3 4 5

= excellent

Professional Conduct

4.1   Environmental management (to
extent possible), appropriate positioning, accessibility of class/content in

4.2   Appearance/presentation,
demeanor, punctuality, posture, etc.

4.3   Response to errors/overall

4.4   General attitude, conduct, and
body language

Overall professionalism: 1 2 3 4 5

= excellent

General Comments


[1] Correspondence to:

[2] Auslan refers to Australian Sign