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Leading Professional Learning on Student-Engaged Assessment

"We believe in student-engaged assessment; we believe in teacher-engaged assessment" says Cherisse Campbell, Principal of Amana Academy in Alpharetta, GA, as she describes the mindsets and structures that foster and sustain continuous improvement of student-engaged assessment practices. The video features four types of adult professional learning: data informed professional development, coaching teachers, walkthroughs, and learning walks. "The research says, that if these things are done with integrity, and with an understanding of the specific needs of your community, then together those understandings can make a change for kids."


- Our school was established in 2005 as an EL school. These were the days when, to be EL, meant that you had the design principles, and go, and do amazing things. As we’ve grown in our journey, we found that we have to return back to some of those fundamental things. Over time your staff grows, or transitions on to different roles, but, even some of our staff members that have been here for the entire journey, just need to be regrounded in what we do, and why we do it. The things that make this work challenging are the same things that make teaching in a classroom challenging. When you’re working with kids, they’re not widgets, you don’t just, you know, flip a switch and say you’re gonna do this. When you are teaching adults, not only do you have to have all of the instructional moves that you have with children, you have to be very very mindful of how we integrate and respect their previous experiences, that may be different, philosophically, from some of the things that we have, especially when we’re welcoming someone new into our learning community.

- Secondly, I also could have potentially given them an opportunity--

- ‘Cause you know we have all kinds of different learners in our building, some of our learners would love to hear our instructional coach sit down one on one and tell ‘em about it. Some like the large group format, some would rather go with a book and process the information that way and then come back and discuss it with a colleague later, so you’re really taking the time to use the research and tell them, this is why we’re doing this. It’s about the kids, it’s about creating change makers.

- Me too. Students need to interact more with each other, and learn to give feedback to each other.

- Leaders of Their Own Learning is a staple here. It’s standard issue when someone comes on to our school, at the beginning of the year, so we use it in pre-planning and do a lot of deep diving with the text, with new teachers, but also with returning teachers. We kicked off the year just checking for understanding. We’ve been doing checking understanding for years, but it’s good to reemphasize why we do it, but continuously add to their toolkit.

- Can I have a few people popcorn out a strategy that you’re willing to try.

- I like the glass, bugs, and mud, because we’re talking about trees and nature.

- [Woman] That’s perfect.

- I’m thinking like make a little tree for them where they can have the glass part, the bug part and the mud part, and when they’re doing their self evaluation they can control where it’s at.

- Walks are an important part of recognizing what our strengths are, and where we might want to focus our energies and resources a little more.

- Discuss, trends that you noticed with the treks here, okay. Hand up, find a buddy.

- Today’s walk, we had our instructional coach, our school designer, and one of our classroom teachers. And we really like having that diverse set of viewpoints with us, we spend about seven minutes in each classroom. Zooming in on a couple things that are in our work plan, around checking for understanding, and not only the presence of the learning targets but how they’re being used within the classroom by the teacher and by the students. We find it really beneficial to have teachers on our walk teams. Having every voice at the table is really important. We believe in student engaged instruction, we believe in teacher engaged instruction. For example, today when we were talking through our debrief we were wondering why we weren’t seeing as many debriefs as we’d expected.

- [Woman] Debrief would be an area of growth for us, when we’re bringing students back together at the end of the lesson, to revisit the learning target and revisit the purpose of the learning for the day. We have that at about 25% of the classrooms that we visited today.

- So I kind of have a wondering about that, why do you think that’s so low? Of course as administrators, we can speculate about why we think that’s happening, but to have a teacher at the table that can really tell us, you know, this is the structural or systematic barrier that’s getting in the way. ‘Cause we all know the value of the debrief, and summarizing and all those things, so what structurally, possibly, do we need to look at, that’s keeping our teachers from doing that?

- I think we need to consider looking at pacing and times of the lessons, and in my conversations with teachers, this has been a theme that keeps coming up, is that they need to focus more on their pacing and timing throughout the lesson. So it’s not that they don’t want to do it, it’s just a matter of sometimes the time is up for that lesson, and then the debrief is the one, is that thing that gets put on the back burner.

- Yeah. That’s definitely for me as a teacher, if I’m missing it it’s because I went over longer with either classroom discussions or in a whole group, lesson before they go into collaborative groups, and so that would be the time that would get cut short.

- It’s helpful for our teachers to have that data in a really nonthreatening way, because we’re really specific not to call out specific things happening in classrooms. They see that summary letter that comes across. We’re just looking for, as a community, this is who we are or where we are, right now, and this is how we can support each other going forward. We sometimes do learning walks where we take the entire day and take grade levels into different grade levels. At the end we come back and they have individual noticings and wonderings. But what’s so powerful is we take all those anchor charts and we ask our staff to find those trends. So instead of us, as a leadership team, going and making judgment around the data we’re seeing, we ask them to look for, what do you see as a strength, what do you see as the growth areas. They can see, this is who we are, and we have the power to improve this together. Also they could look at, you know what, there are some practices that are happening in this building that I can adopt in my classroom, and I know what resource to go to. I can go to this classroom and see a fantastic debrief. I can go to this classroom and see a learning target unpacked masterfully. It’s amazing for them to be able to appreciate the expertise they have right at their own store. Every day, we come in and we hope that we’re a little better than we were yesterday. And to have that guidebook, the research says that if these things are done with integrity, and with an understanding of the specific needs of your community, then together those understandings can make a change for kids.

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