With summer fast approaching teachers often have a laundry list of to-do’s, books to read, traveling to catch up on, and other tasks that typically get shelved during the busy school year. This is no different with school and district leaders, but this summer there are some things that they can keep in mind as they go through their summer months.
While teachers are the ones using formative assessment practices in their classrooms, school and district leaders play a substantial supporting role in making those practices systematic—and yes, it involves more than budgeting for professional development. Effective leaders understand the importance of formative assessment practice when it comes to continuous school improvement so it’s important to make a visible effort to show their commitment. When starting school back up this fall, here are three things they can incorporate into their leadership activities.
Be a learner and model: 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 can better understand the work of formative assessment and how you can support it. Model the strategies and techniques you’re learning. Demonstrate your use of formative assessment strategies when you can in meetings with your staff. Be transparent in how you collect data and use it to drive decisions on an ongoing basis (much like what you expect your teachers to do with formative data). While this may seem like a risk, it is no bigger risk than you are asking teachers to take, and it will go a long way toward building a shared organizational purpose and a culture that values formative assessment.
Conduct formative classroom walk-throughs: What would it take for your current walkthrough process to be more formative in nature? Moss & Brookhart explain that a formative walkthrough process should emphasize learning inside of practice and needs to combine four formative elements:
1. a professional learning target;
2. professional performances of understanding that enable the collection of evidence of professional growth;
3. clear and understandable look-fors (success criteria); and
4. feed-forward information. (Moss, Connie M., and Susan M. Brookhart. Formative Classroom Walkthroughs: How Principals and Teachers Collaborate to Raise Student Achievement. Alexandria: ASCD, 2015)
Plan for sustaining: What needs to be in place to make the use of formative assessment the way we teach and not just the latest initiative? Having an acknowledged change process to help guide this work can be important in meeting the adult learners where they are. Planning for collecting data (evidence of learning) and using the data formatively to inform the plan is important. Advocating for and creating systems of support is crucial for embedding and sustaining the work.
Envisioning a balanced assessment system that supports classrooms where cultures of learning are established leads to the establishment of systems and environments that allow both of those to happen. When that culture of learning is supported by teachers integrating formative assessment minute-to-minute and day-by-day, students begin to transform into learners by growing their ability to be self-directed and self-regulated. These transformations empower students and teachers to maximize the learning, supported by evidence so that students achieve more and efficacy increases for all.
Thinking about these leadership elements for successful formative assessment this summer will help position a great start of school this upcoming fall!