PD Day plan: Meeting with my Math department

Tomorrow is PD Day in Algoma, and I have a couple of hours to work with the math department in my school (which I newly lead). I want to make the most of our two hours together, so we’re going to be spending our time [mostly] talking about assessment.

I’ve been working here for a few weeks, so I have some idea of the nature of assessment in each teacher’s class, and in the school as a whole. Some of that comes from talking casually with teachers in our shared office; some of that comes from my students explaining what they’re used to (common practices).

I have learned something in the last few years: hardly anyone has had the time I’ve had to read about, hear about, reflect upon, and discuss their teaching practice. That’s not a criticism, of course; I’ve just had the luxury of working centrally for six years. That’s a lot of workshops, a lot of meetings, and lot of one-on-one conversations with classroom teachers from all over the board.

I have thoughts about what good assessment looks like, so I could just tell everyone how I think it should be, but I know that’s not effective. First, I could be up in my sleep, having not practiced all of the strategies I believe will work. Second, people need to own their approaches, not just follow someone else’s.

A principal told me last year that school boards often make the mistake of having senior administration learn a lot so that they can make a decision about a system-wide approach to a problem. Then the school principals are “trained” or “in-serviced” or otherwise told how to implement this approach. But almost never is there really an opportunity for the principals to become deeply familiar with the solution (or even the problem!) in order to believe it’s the right choice.

So I’m trying to be careful to not make that mistake. I’m trying to coach in the way I know is best: encourage the learner to reflect upon the current practice, to question its efficacy, and to consider something else that has reason and research to support it.

The Plan for tomorrow

We’re going to develop a Working Agreement for our meeting (lots of folks use the term “norms”; I first heard “working agreement” and I like how it feels more collaborative than imposed). I don’t know how long this will take, but it’s worth taking the time now.

Then I have some reflection questions for everyone. I’m still deciding on strategies here (for practical reasons; there could be a dozen people in the room). These are the questions I’m considering:

  • What kinds of assessment do you use in your classroom?
  • What is the purpose of each kind of assessment you use?
  • How does each kind of assessment help students to improve?
  • How are students involved in assessment?
  • How do you record assessment information?
  • What are the rules/policies about assessment and evaluation (department, school, board, Ministry)?

There is a lot of background knowledge that goes into assessment, and I don’t yet know how common that knowledge is. I’m thinking about

  • Assessment For, As, and Of Learning
  • Conversations, Observations, and Products
  • Big Ideas, Learning Goals, Success Criteria
  • Summative Tasks, Richness, Authenticity

I have about 14 hours until we meet as a group. Any suggestions are very welcome.

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