Collaboration Empowers PLC Process
We received an inquiry from a teacher who was attempting to lead the implementation of the PLC process in her school. She wanted to provide each of the teams in her elementary school with possible common assessments that teams could use. Her hope was to lighten the teachers’ workload and convince more reluctant teachers to participate. She asked where she might go to gather common assessments. Here is my response.
First of all, thanks for your willingness to assume a leadership role in implementing the PLC process in your school. I have great admiration and affection for teachers who are willing to impact the culture of their school beyond the classroom. So again, thank you.
In terms of your inquiry about providing teachers with examples of common assessments, I want to stress two things. First, there is nothing magical or different in the appearance of an assessment created by a team of teachers versus one created by an individual teacher or by the district. If you provide teachers with examples of common assessments, those assessments will not look substantially different than those teachers have created individually. The magic is not in the product, but in the process of colleagues working together to create a common assessment. In doing so, the team must grapple with the question, "Assess what?" The team must become crystal clear on what they want students to learn and agree to common pacing that allows them to assess student learning at the same time. The team must also become clear on the questions: "How will we know if students are learning?" "What is the best evidence to gather?" "How will students demonstrate their learning?" "What criteria will we use in assessing the quality of student work?" and "Can we apply the criteria consistently?"
It is the process of exploring these questions collaboratively that brings power to the PLC process. If you shortcut the process by providing teams with assessments, you shortcut the opportunity for the deep professional dialogue essential to improved student learning. Furthermore, when a team is engaged in this dialogue, has agreed that certain things are essential for students to learn, and has agreed on what members consider is a valid instrument or process to assess learning, they are much more likely to take an interest in and responsibility for results.
So my advice is, don’t bother showing teams examples of common assessments. They won’t serve to inform the team or generate ownership. The state assessment is a common assessment. District benchmark assessments are common assessments. They do not provide timely and relevant feedback essential to student learning nor do they generate teacher ownership in results. A key to the successful implementation of the PLC process is team-developed common assessments. Once again, it is engaging in the process that leads to adult learning, so don’t circumvent the process.