In the past, I’ve shared 10 Ways Leaders Can Support Teachers’ Use of Formative Assessment. Since the topic struck a chord, I’d like to share some more tips — this time from school and district leaders who have changed the culture in their district as it relates to professional learning focused on classroom formative assessment practice.
These leaders come from across the country, from large, medium, and small districts, located in urban, suburban, and rural areas, and they gave us these tips at our Fusion conference. Consider which of their tips might work best for your school or district.
- Build a long-term professional learning plan: Systemic change doesn’t happen overnight. Changing culture (process) and instructional practices (as well as student behaviors) takes time. Make a plan that allows for growth and change to occur over three to five years. Some of us need time to develop new and better habits. Debbie Kerrigan from Texas shared that the power of keeping learning going for teachers is important for supporting pedagogical change.
- Invest in and build leadership support: Taking time to invest in leadership buy-in up front and having leaders learn alongside staff makes a big difference. Having leaders who understand what the learning is and who try implementing it themselves makes it easier for them to support the work that staff are doing. Keep in mind that leadership needs to have a voice and choice in the learning, just like staff do.
- Distribute leadership: Any new initiative requires buy-in and support at multiple levels. When districts and schools build leadership capacity among teachers, it becomes more clear as to who owns the learning environment and who owns the learning. Empowering teachers as leaders increases the opportunity for teacher voice and choice to impact professional learning.
- Amplify teacher voice and choice: Let schools and their teacher leaders volunteer to adopt and integrate new formative instructional practices. All of us like to have options. Choice in what we learn and how we learn is key in supporting a culture of learning at the district, school, and classroom level. Beth Cobb from Vermont highlighted that teacher choice in what they work on is motivating for teachers to change their practice.
- It’s about content and process: Both content and process are important. The content here is formative instructional practice. To support teachers in getting better at what they do, a process needs to be put in place for teacher collaboration to occur focused on this topic. Time is critical to this process. Identifying places where time currently exists to support teacher collaboration or expanding time opportunities needs to be part of the plan. This process piece also includes considering how to extend the learning so that teachers continue their professional development of this topic for several years.
- Provide a collaboration structure: Some districts and schools have structures in place to support teacher collaboration; some don’t. Some organizations use protocols or other processes and tools to help promote conversations and support change. In some schools and districts, monthly time is held sacrosanct for the purpose of promoting professional learning. Led by teacher leaders, these learning communities provide a place to share what’s happening in individual practice, giving and receiving feedback, and learning new things.
- Ask teachers what they need: Teacher voice and choice come up often when we plan effective professional learning. Pausing to ask teachers about what they need to move their practice to the next level opens conversations about professional learning that has impact on their growth.
- Support teacher leaders and early adopters: Distributing leadership means you need to support it. Starting something new or moving forward in a new direction means that some will be early adopters (Gladwell, 2000). Supporting those early adopters is what will help an organization reach that tipping point when an innovation spreads wildly and truly becomes a way of being – part of the culture – in the organization.
- Build culture: Trust and risk-taking are key ingredients for changing teacher practice. Establishing or deepening a culture where both are celebrated enhances teachers’ ideas about taking chances with something new or different in their instructional practice. At the district level, once you have leadership buy-in, continuing to support school leaders as they support their staff is important.
- Make it manageable: To paraphrase Dylan Wiliam (2011), What good things are teachers doing today that they are willing to give up in order to do even better things for students? When teachers collaborate, they support one another in learning new ideas, picking one idea on which to focus, and then applying it in their classroom. Learning and application happen in small, manageable pieces for teachers, just like it does for kids. So leaders set reasonable expectations for their learners, just like teachers do for their students.
Leaders at all levels are the best resources in helping staff make connections to learning that has gone on in the past and learning that is happening now. With formative instructional practices, teachers are making pedagogical shifts that raise student engagement and achievement and make instruction more responsive to the needs of learners. What work has your school or district done in the past that had the same goals? How does that work connect to integrating more formative instructional practices, deepening the responsiveness of both learners and teachers? What can you do as a leader to help staff see that formative instructional practices and responsiveness are truly a way of being in the classroom and not just something else to do?
- Outline a plan for professional learning that includes: 3-5 years, choice options for learning and then integrating the learning, and a structure to support teachers regularly (monthly) in the risks they are taking in their practice.
- Identify ways to distribute leadership and support leaders at all levels as they support staff working in the classrooms. What structures currently exist and what might need to be added?
- Develop a mantra – voice and choice and content and process. What questions need to asked about all four? What will success look like for each?
- When you need tips and inspiration for getting it done, share these district leaders’ stories with your staff. And feel free to reach out to us at NWEA if you would like the support to refine your organization’s formative instructional practices in a formal and sustained
This post is the fourth in a series of blogs on the specific ways in which school and district leaders can support teachers in implementing formative instructional practices. Read the first three posts here: Three Reasons Savvy Leaders Prioritize Formative Instructional Practices; Four Formative Instructional Practices that Drive Student Growth; and Formative Instructional Practice: What Leaders Can Do to Help Teachers Succeed.