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Chapter 3 Working Together for a Common Purpose

Cassandra Erkens Solution Tree Press ePub

3

Working Together for a Common Purpose

Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.

Helen Keller

In the simplest view, common assessments can mean the exact same test. Many assessments fit that definition: national tests, state or provincial assessments, college entrance exams, interim or benchmark assessments, curricular resource assessments, and grade-level or departmental final exams. Assessments of this nature provide a common set of data related to a specific set of standards or body of information and offer information about how well students are achieving. Not all common assessments must be exactly the same, however.

In most schools, there probably will be very small teams of teachers or teachers who work as singletons (there is no one else who shares their content or grade level, so they have no one with whom to collaborate regarding their specific content or instruction). Small teams and singleton teachers can participate in the work of collaborative common assessments, but it requires a high degree of creativity, focus, and purposeful participation. Teachers should never participate in the work of common assessments simply for the sake of participating. At its core, the goal of all assessment activity involves monitoring student learning against a given set of content-specific standards. Fortunately, new emerging state and national standards are perfect for creating and using common assessments because of the emphasis on processes and the clear spiraling of learning sequences:

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6 Establishing a Focus on Results

Cassandra Erkens Solution Tree Press ePub

Keep in mind that everything we have discussed thus far—creating a guiding coalition, establishing clear purpose, shared vision, collective commitments, and SMART goals; creating structures to support collaboration; using articulated commitments and goals to help groups become teams; developing a guaranteed curriculum; monitoring student learning through common formative assessments, and putting a process in place to monitor and support collaborative teams—involves steps and strategies to achieve a single purpose: higher levels of student learning. They are the means to an end, but the end itself is ensuring that more students learn at higher levels.

In this chapter we examine the vital role of team-developed common formative assessment in monitoring each student’s learning, driving continuous improvement, and informing and improving the professional practice of teachers. We recommend a protocol to help teams use the common assessment process most effectively. Finally, we argue that using this process to build the collective capacity of a team to provide powerful instruction is more effective in improving student learning than trying to evaluate and supervise individual teachers into better performance.

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Chapter Four Facilitating Shared Responsibility

Cassandra Erkens Solution Tree Press ePub

A nation is formed by the willingness of each of us to share in the responsibility for upholding the common good.

—Barbara Jordan

It never ceases to amaze us how many insightful leadership lessons come from the most unlikely sources. Consider the following excerpt from the classic children’s book Stuart Little:

Just as the sun was coming up, Stuart saw a man seated in thought by the side of the road. Stuart steered his car alongside, stopped, and put his head out.

“You’re worried about something aren’t you?” asked Stuart.

“Yes, I am,” said the man, who was tall and mild.

“Can I help you in any way?” asked Stuart in a friendly voice.

The man shook his head. “It’s an impossible situation, I guess.” he replied. “You see, I’m the Superintendent of Schools in this town.”

“That’s not an impossible situation,” said Stuart. “It’s bad, but it’s not impossible.”

“Well,” continued the man, “I’ve always got problems that I can’t solve. Today, for instance, one of my teachers is sick—Miss Gunderson her name is. She teachers Number Seven school. I’ve got to find a substitute for her, a teacher who will take her place,”

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Chapter 7 Examining Data to Improve Learning

Cassandra Erkens Solution Tree Press ePub

7

Examining Data to Improve Learning

Exploration is the engine that drives innovation.

Edith Widder

If collaborative common assessments are not improving the core of instruction, then they are not working. Assessment must be a diagnostic process that provides teacher and learner alike with clear next steps. In many teams, data-based conversations are stilted formalities in which learners are sorted into groups based on their test results for other experts, such as intervention specialists or gifted and talented specialists, to teach, support, or ultimately fix. The findings of such data meetings are relevant to fixing others, but irrelevant to fixing self. When teams sidestep the opportunity to strengthen the core of their individual and collective knowledge and skills, the learning aspect of professional learning community work is missed altogether. In these teams, data conversations are mechanistic, obligatory, and cumbersome.

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4 Focusing on the Right Work

Cassandra Erkens Solution Tree Press ePub

If you have worked with staff to establish a common mission, shared vision, collective commitments, and mutual goals, you have laid the foundation of a PLC. If you and the staff have established the structures that support a collaborative culture, you have addressed an essential prerequisite for an effective PLC. If at that point, however, the educators in your building do not focus their collaborative efforts on the right work, there will be no gains in student achievement. One of the most important responsibilities of a principal in leading the PLC process is to ensure all staff members understand the nature of the work to be done and demonstrate the discipline to focus their collective efforts on that work. As DuFour and Marzano (2011) explain:

Collaboration is morally neutral. It will benefit neither students nor practitioners unless educators demonstrate the discipline to co-labor on the right work. The important question every district, school, and team must address is not, “Do we collaborate,” but rather, “What do we collaborate about?” To paraphrase W. Edwards Deming, it is not enough to work hard; you must clarify the right work, and then work hard. Effective leaders at all levels will ensure there is agreement on the right work. (p. 83)

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