10 Ways Leaders can Support Teachers Use of Formative Assessment (part 1)

10 Ways Leaders can Support Teachers Use of Formative Assessment (part 1)If formative assessment has so much potential, why aren’t school leaders making it happen? In a blog post, Justin Baeder posed this question, which I use often in working with school and district leaders. What are schools and districts doing on an ongoing basis to support teachers in getter better at what they do? Dylan Wiliam says, Every teacher needs to be getting better—not because they’re not good enough, but because they can be even better—but every teacher needs to be getting better at something that will make a difference to their students . . . . As leaders, what are you doing?

Formative assessment is the what will make a difference . . . to increase student achievement and learner efficacy, as well as teacher efficacy, and the how is the support leaders provide to teachers to make that happen. In this blog we’ve talked before about five core elements that support teachers learning: choice, flexibility, small steps, collegial support, and accountability and resources. John Hattie (2009), recommends these professional learning opportunities extend over time, involve external experts, engage teachers sufficiently in learning, and include processes with an effect on student learning such that teachers’ discourse and ideas about learning are challenged and supported by school leadership. Professional learning groups transform instructional practice and foster a culture of learning and student achievement within a school. Particularly in the arena of formative assessment, structured collaboration with colleagues on an ongoing and regular basis is important to help teachers expand their thinking, change their practice and provide some cognitive dissonance and an appropriate tension regarding instructional practice.

In a recent webinar the question came up about what could leaders do to support teachers in improving their formative assessment practice. There are 10 considerations that I feel make a difference from a leader perspective.

  • Learn about formative assessment: How often do you get to participate in book studies or professional learning focused on a specific topic with your staff? Be the lead learner. Make time to learn with and from your staff so you know what the work of formative assessment is to better support it.
  • Model what you learn: What better way to support your staff in integrating new practices than to be the leader learner? Demonstrate your use of formative assessment strategies whenever you can in meetings with your staff. Be transparent in the use of the data (evidence elicited). (More on this later)
  • Establish time: What structures exist to support the time elements for teacher learning and change? What structures might need to be adjusted or created?
  • Build an implementation plan: How will participation in this change effort be determined? Is it voluntary or mandatory? When will it happen?
  • Select teacher leaders: Who might be the teacher leaders for the teacher learning communities or PLCs? What do they need to know before accepting the role? Will you recruit, select or invite?
  • Establish PLCs/TLCs: Based on your context, what configuration makes sense for your PLCs/TLCs – existing, grade level, content, cross-grade, multi-disciplinary?
  • Build teacher interest: What will be the tipping point for this effort in your school or district?
  • Provide resources: What materials and resources does each participant need to be successful?
  • Set success criteria: How will you know the effort has been successful? How will you celebrate success?
  • Plan for sustaining: What needs to be in place to make the use of formative assessment the way we teach and not an initiative?

How are you building these considerations into your professional learning plan? We’d welcome your thoughts on how you’re integrating sound formative assessment support for your teachers and educators. For additional resources on this subject, please visit:


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