In January, we identified hallmarks of a structure that we use when working with a system or school over time. The following is the third of seven posts that serve to illuminate those hallmarks.
As people who love words, we appreciate and extend metaphors.
It takes a village to raise a child.
It takes a school to teach a child.
We know that it takes teachers and leaders working in alignment to make a difference in the lives of children. In our planning, we consider the needs and actions of both teachers and leaders, including those at the school and system level. Just as classroom teachers plan for the range of students they find before them each year, leaders of schools and systems plan for diverse and rich professional learning. As a result, whether in a large district-wide session, or one with many districts represented, we share both classroom and leadership examples to illustrate the application of the principles of assessment regardless of one’s role. In the absence of considering school and system-based strategies, the promise of assessment for learning is not fully realized. And, as research clearly indicates, it is this alignment that propels systems into deep implementation and achievement gains.
In a district working on writing over the course of three years, sessions were planned for teachers and leaders together, but also apart. In this way, each could apply the principles and structures of assessment to their own practice in the company of colleagues in a similar role. And so, while teachers were being guided and supported to create rich, meaningful learning destinations for students about what it means to be a writer, school-based leaders considered their school writing goal in terms of a learning destination for students, a learning destination for teachers, and a learning destination for themselves. As teachers identified conversations, observations, and products they and students might collect as evidence of learning, the leaders planned to triangulate the evidence of student and teacher learning, as well as their own. And finally, as teachers considered the modelling, shared writing, and co-constructed criteria students might need to reach these writing goals, principals and vice-principals discussed the descriptions of quality teachers might need – observing during a lesson study week, planning learning destinations as a team, or co-teaching with a colleague - and how they as leaders could help make that happen. They also discussed the samples of quality they might need to grow their own leadership practice, including visits to a hub school in a nearby district, professional reading, and practicing giving feedback with other school leaders.
In another district, teachers focused on learning about providing specific and descriptive feedback to their students. They examined the connection of criteria to feedback and the cycle of gradual release of responsibility that is required so that students build their capacity to give feedback to themselves and their classmates. These conversations took teachers into classrooms to practise what they were learning and to identify next steps for their practice. Simultaneously, all of the principals and vice-principals were inquiring into ways to provide feedback to their teachers and, in particular, they were designing structures to keep their teachers at the centre of the feedback cycle. More specifically, these leaders worked to keep their feedback at very high levels. Instead of feedback that included suggestions by the school leader, they learned about ways to use what they had noticed in the classroom, along with a mediative question, to allow the teacher to reprocess and identify his/her own next instructional step. Principals and vice-principals first practiced creating this type of feedback together…without providing it to the teacher. In other words, the school leaders were doing exactly as the classroom teachers were - they needed to rehearse, make mistakes, adjust and refine. They were co-learners; however these leaders were learning about feedback through the lens of their role and leadership action.
In our next post, we will further examine the fourth hallmark that we outlined in January 2017 - We build in opportunities to learn in the presence of students, by risking our own significance and demonstrating instructional cycles.