“When both the creation of assessments and the evaluation of student work are the result of collaborative processes, teachers and school leaders can quickly evaluate the effectiveness of strategies, make mid-course corrections, express some new hypotheses about what actions they might take to improve student learning, and within days or weeks, have additional evidence with which the new hypotheses can be tested.” (Doug Reeves qtd in Revisiting Professional Learning Communities at Work, DuFour, DuFour, Eaker 2008)
All too often a person can read a quote in a book, like the one above, and understand it on a theoretical level but not on a practical level. When I was invited to the 8th Grade Math/Algebra data meeting at Discovery Middle School, I got a chance to see what Mr. Reeves was talking about in action.
In Madison City Schools we believe that every student can achieve at high levels, and our teachers work hard, every day, putting that belief into action. The five teachers meeting that day have collaborated to create the assessments that they use to measure student learning and make time, after school, to evaluate their students’ learning. They discuss what goals to set and how they will meet those goals to ensure that all students are learning at their highest level. Their focus was clearly on what they can do in their classrooms to reach every student by re-teaching and then re-evaluating them.
The discussion that they had was insightful and self-evaluative. The teachers have created a safe environment for their team where ideas can be shared freely, thought about, and questioned with openness and respect. Through all of the conversations, students were the focus, and the teachers’ ownership for every student was evident in the fact that they knew each other’s students and were willing to offer suggestions for helping each student learn.
In their self-evaluation, the teachers also considered changes to the pacing guide that they created together and the order that topics were introduced for this and the following year. A discussion about when to teach a specific concept actually led the group to look back into the standards to help in making their decision.
If Doug Reeves could have attended this meeting, I am confident he would agree that these teachers are doing exactly what his quote says. This group of teachers’ willingness to set aside time to collaborate in such a powerful way has a direct effect on their teaching which results in increasing each student’s ability to learn the concepts that they will continue to build on through this year and in future classes.