Assessment for learning? Sounds a lot like coaching to me!


There’s been some big news in the professional learning world over the last couple of weeks hasn’t there? Professional portfolios are out, professional growth cycles are in, and most recently, the Teaching Council is reminding us all about how to remain professional during the election period. It’s all go!

But it’s the announcement about the new PLD priority areas last week that got me most excited!

On their constant quest for continuous improvement, the folks in the fancy swivvely chairs who make the big decisions at the MoE have come up with three new areas for professional learning in N.Z to support every learner in our country to get the best possible education. 

The new priorities are: 

🔥  Cultural capabilities – pretty cool huh?

🔥  Local curriculum design – choice!

🔥  Assessment for learning – Oooooooh yeah, that’s the sweet spot!

Assessment for learning is my GIG because it links so well with coaching, in fact, if you ask me, assessment for learning IS coaching.

Assessment for learning is all about creating pathways that get learners from where they are now, to where they are heading next. That can absolutely be done by telling or it can be done by coaching (no prizes for guessing which of those basket’s I’d be putting all my eggs into). 

Let’s see how coaching can blow the roof off of assessment for learning:

Having a culture of coaching in your school/Kāhui Ako supports the most powerful, individualised and agentic assessment for learning you’ve ever seen. Coaching creates a kaupapa of reflection, risk taking and resilience that runs so deep that it supports EVERY member of your school community. 

Let’s start, (as we always should), by exploring what’s in it for the students.

When we think about assessment for learning and how it relates to our learners, a typical way that this is done in many classrooms across New Zealand is to utilise peer-to-peer feedback. Sometimes teachers will use a framework to guide feedback like ‘two stars and a wish’- you’ve all heard of that one right? Kids are asked to check their buddies writing for two things that they’ve done well and one area that could be improved … or in other words, comment on two things you like (let’s be honest, it’s usually something about using a capital letter and a full stop) and find one thing that isn’t correct and point it out for your buddy.

So that’s … um … a starting point I suppose. But when you compare that with peer-to-peer feedback through a coaching lens, you’ll hiff two stars and a wish out the window and send it to die along with the other things that seemed o.k for a couple of years but just didn’t stand the test of time like National Standards & Smartboards.

When we explore the use of coaching skills with students, peer-to-peer feedback stops being a telling activity, and becomes an asking activity – or if you like big teacher words we can say it’s:

a dialogic process whereby students support each other to improve their own learning outcomes by identifying next steps which lead to accelerated progress.

How, you ask? All students from new entrants to Year 13’s are inherently natural question askers. It’s one of the things that separates humans from any other species on earth and this questioning is the skill that coaching zeroes in on. Coaching in the classroom sounds like “Can you tell me more about …?” “What else do you want your audience to know about …?” “What do you want people to think/feel/say about your work & how will you encourage that to happen?” 

You want an example? Here goes: A Year 1 student writes a beautiful sentence about going to the beach in the weekend. Their buddy could have the go-to skill of telling them that they like their capital letter OR they could ask a coaching question to encourage them, such as: “what did you do at the beach?” 

Imagine the possibilities!

But that’s not all folks, there’s a whole lot in it for the adults as well. 

Let’s not forget that teachers are learners too. While we like to think that teachers aren’t being assessed, the reality is that they totally are – all of the time, we just call it appraisal, attestation or the more hip and cool lingo of: professional growth cycles.

Peer-to-peer coaching is just as important for our colleagues as they continue their life long journey of learning. Developing the coaching capabilities of your team members allows colleagues to support one another like never before, and if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that strong teams need to support each other ALL. THE. TIME.

When members of your team have the skills to ask each other powerful coaching questions, you empower people to think about how they might get themselves from where they are now, to where they want to be < yes, just like the whole purpose of assessment for learning, don’t you love it when things all link up!

When it comes to creating professional growth cycles, it’s so important to look at these as the teacher version of assessment for learning where teachers are supported by a peer through a process of reflection, goal setting, action planning and improvement. Coaching helps to empower teachers to drive their own growth cycles and take their professional learning in a direction that grows them as individuals where their strengths and potential are the focus.

I don’t know if you’re supposed to do a sales pitch in a blog post but this message is too important to me not to scream it from the rooftops so here it comes: 

If you are interested in exploring how embracing a culture of coaching in your school can:

 🙌   take assessment for learning systems and practices in your school the a whole new stratosphere

 🙌   provide staff with the skills they need to support all members of your school community to achieve their goals no matter how lofty

 🙌   promote enormous amounts of teacher and learner agency

                 then what are you waiting for? Give me a call and let’s make this happen! 

My website has all of the details about funding options and how to contact me. Let your principal buddies know- they’ll thank you for it down at the pub later on I reckon. 

Kate oxox

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