Changing teacher practice – improving pedagogy – takes time. When teachers get together to learn about ways to implement and refine formative assessment, we often call them professional learning or teacher learning communities (TLCs). TLCs have two things going for them that support this classroom change. First, there is the embedded nature of TLCs. They happen where teachers work, can be scheduled around teachers’ needs, and take place over the course of the year – or over a period of years. The combination of learning and support that occurs within a TLC make it a perfect vehicle to allow teachers to focus on formative assessment, or really any classroom initiative.
The sharing of practice and action planning are keys to the teachers’ success. When teachers reflect, share, give and get feedback, they are expanding their pedagogical practice. Add new learning to the mix, and change happens.
When I speak to teachers about what makes the TLCs successful, I often get these five traits:
- We met regularly. We had a regular date and time set aside each month. If the conversation was going well, sometimes the length of the meetings varied.
- We met in each other’s classrooms. Sometimes that meant driving from one end of town to the other. It also meant we got to see the artifacts (both teacher- and student-created) that supported the use of formative assessment.
- We communicated frequently. We exchanged emails throughout the month to share what was occurring in our classrooms and used Moodle to share files and pictures within the group.
- We established a routine each time we got together.
- We created a supportive space for professional learning. Teachers came because we wanted a support team of ‘like’ teachers that were also investing in this new formative assessment process in the classroom.
Getting started with a TLC in your school to implement effective formative assessment is never easy, but it doesn’t have to be hard, either. In addition to the five traits I hear from teachers, here are six ideas I always suggest:
- Make time – What time currently exists, or what good things are happening that could be given up for even better opportunities? Consider early release, late starts, and existing PLC or data team times and make sure there is plenty of time (90-120 minutes).
- Identify a focus for learning – Based on your school or district’s data, what professional learning would best support an increase in student achievement?
- Start with volunteers – Early adopters are ready to learn and can create synergy for change.
- Provide resources – Gather resources focused on the topic at hand to give the group fuel for learning and growth.
- Offer on-going support – Check in on a regular basis to see what might be needed by the TLC to move their learning forward.
- Monitor the progress – Find opportunities to see what is being learned and how it is being translated into the classroom. How are changes in teacher behaviors making changes in student learning?
Armed with these 11 ideas to keep in mind, chat with your fellow teachers and educators and see what you can do at your school to bring teacher leaders together. A TLC at your school might be just what’s needed to bring formative assessment (or any change) to your classroom and students.