This post is part of a series highlighting ASCD Professional Learning Services, how they can be customized and implemented, and the success stories of schools that have leveraged the services to support teachers, school leaders, and students.
I’ve had the privilege of working with the fantastic teachers and school leaders at Anaconda High School in Montana as they work to improve their instructional practice by implementing the Framework for Intentional and Targeted Teaching® strategy. The FIT Teaching strategy, as it’s more commonly known, focuses on establishing a purpose for learning, designing instructional practices that allow for the gradual release of responsibility, and creating formative and summative assessments to inform future instruction, all while fostering a positive school culture. What is exciting about this strategy is that it focuses on all four elements simultaneously. Often when we work to improve schools, we only focus on one area. We might take a year to focus on an assessment or a school’s climate. With the FIT Teaching strategy, however, we understand that all these elements of education are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, rely on each other to make learning possible for every child. For example, assessment allows us to know our students and craft the right types and levels of instruction. It can also help build a positive culture within the school. If we spend time building that culture, great teaching and learning will follow.
Beginning the Journey
To start the FIT Teaching process at Anaconda, ASCD staff and I put together a pre-assessment for the teachers and school leaders to fill out. We wanted to model formative assessment to drive instruction, just as teachers do for their students. This data collection allowed us to craft an implementation plan. Together with the school’s leadership team, we looked for areas of pressing need and areas in which teachers already had a level of competence. In addition, we decided to use a teacher leadership model to build capacity so that the implementation would be sustainable, regardless of teacher or leadership turnover. This is a key facet of effective professional learning. We want to make sure the learning sticks, and we want to empower educators to take ownership of the great work of delivering professional learning to their colleagues. In addition, we looked at the school’s existing initiatives and instructional practices so that we could align the FIT Teaching strategy with this work. We didn’t want it to be “another thing” for teachers to add to their plates; instead we wanted it to make what they already do well even better.
A Blended Learning Approach
I wish I could visit the teachers more than I do, but I also know that is not financially feasible. Thus, we took a blended learning approach to help Anaconda implement the FIT Teaching strategy. We started with an on-site visit to give the school an overview of the strategy and make some decisions as a team on which element to start with. In this case, we selected purposeful learning as the first focus, followed by gradual release of responsibility, and finally formative assessment. We are now at a point where we are focusing on culture, but we are still continuing the great instructional and assessment work we have invested in. After the initial on-site visit, I spent a day in the classrooms, coaching, observing, and assessing teachers to determine what would happen next. This allowed our PLC meetings, which also occurred in person, to be effective and aligned to teachers’ needs. In between these coaching visits, teachers sent me lesson plans, reflections, and video tapes of themselves for feedback. This allowed for a continued partnership and relationship even when I was not able to be there. Now, we are also in the process of selecting PD Online® courses to provide additional support for their implementation of the FIT Teaching strategy.
The teacher leaders at Anaconda have successfully taken on the task of implementing the FIT Teaching strategy at their school, and I appreciate all of their work. I know they have busy lives as sports coaches, parents, and even members of other PLCs at the school. They have been reflective, open to feedback, and great thought partners. I will be seeking their feedback through a coaching survey. The leadership team and I will also look at the implementation plan to revise and refocus it. We will work together to craft their professional learning activities for next year, when the teacher leaders will take the reins and continue the FIT teaching process. Through all this work as an ASCD Faculty member, I can honestly say I have learned as much from the experience as they have.
Andrew Miller is the author of the ASCD Arias publication Freedom to Fail: How do I foster risk-taking and innovation in my classroom? He is on the national faculty for the Buck Institute for Education, an organization specializing in 21st century project-based learning. Miller is also an ASCD Faculty member, providing expertise in a variety of professional development needs, and a regular blogger for Edutopia. Connect with Miller on Twitter @betamiller.