February 8, 2022


Over the past couple of months, we have been preparing for the inaugural series of The Leaders’ Roundtable – a twelve-week focus on leadership that inspires, transforms, and brings hope, even in these times. This preparation has taken us back to a longitudinal qualitative research study that drew on the experiences of eight positional leaders as they implemented both the ‘spirit and the letter’ of Assessment for Learning at all levels. (Davies et al., 2014)

After analyzing the findings of this study, it was clear that there were three actions that the successful leaders employed:

  1. Leaders must take action and move beyond words to deeds.
  2. Leaders evaluate what they value and move beyond numbers to include triangulated evidence of learning.
  3. Leaders find ways to collect ongoing information and use frequent feedback loops.

As you read these three findings, you might be thinking, “That seems fairly obvious.” We have heard that before. Yet, the “…leaders in this study demonstrated that using assessment – for adult learning, school learning and system learning – is a powerful leadership tool that moves beyond leaders simply knowing what classroom innovations should look like and supporting adult learning to make that happen – an interpretation by some of distributed leadership…These findings suggest that when leaders employ the tenets of Assessment for Learning as their leadership stance and action they exert their leadership in incredibly impactful ways.”

In these times of health and safety protocols, careful attention to regulations and policies, and increased operation obligation, it may seem that the moments when leaders can practice their instructional leadership seem limited. Therefore, it is during those moments when leaders look to practices and strategies that yield high results. We note that in our many recent conversations and interactions with leaders, they are circling back to the immense promise and potential that assessment for learning and assessment for leadership can provide:

  1. We have heard about the district consultant who models the blending of synchronous and asynchronous learning in even short professional learning opportunities open to secondary teachers. The sessions include a time for the participants to reflect on how that careful blending supported their learning.
  2. We have heard about the school principal who opened up the limited collection of reading data beyond scores from the district reading assessment to include evidence from a broad range of observations and conversations. This decision was made to better and more fully understand students’ strengths and needs after the interrupted instruction of the past 18 months. 
  3. We have heard about the Superintendent who scheduled one brief phone call per day with school leaders asking the question “What do you believe I need to hear from you right now to assist me as I lead our system?”

Each of those examples connects to one of the findings; they illuminate that the leadership “moves” required to model need not be grand in scope and nature. Rather, it is in the simple ways that, even in these times, leadership can maintain momentum and serve to inspire others. 

These examples also remind us of something that might have been put to the side during these past two years – the principles of assessment for learning remain foundational to quality instruction and leadership. Not even a pandemic can change that. 

Davies, A., Busick, K., Herbst, S. & Sherman, A. (2014) System leaders using assessment for learning as both the change and the change process: Developing theory from practice. The Curriculum Journal, Vol. 25(4): 567-592. DOI: 10.1080/09585176.2014.964276.