The power of using Professional Learning Protocols as a driver for co-learning:

It is vital important that we integrate deep learning strategies that keep the focus on analyzing student work and the impact of our teaching while using the time we have for co-learning in flexible ways.   In our book, Leading Collaborative Learning: Empowering Excellence (Corwin Press, 2016), we describe methodologies which allow us to be involved in co-learning in the classroom as well as in more flexible ways outside the classroom setting.  Here are some details regarding one of the book’s protocols that does not require release time and we invite you to consider our book for more co-learning strategies:

Sharing work as a driver for co-learning for up to three or four participants:

The sample protocol below is designed to look at a variety of student responses to a collaboratively planned lesson to deepen our understanding. It works well for members of a teaching division or grade partners:

Prior collaborative planning to teaching

  • It is helpful if some norms of collaborative engagement have been established (see Appendix B in our book).
  • Establish an area of common teaching interest or concern (What does student data reveal as an area of focus?)
  • Choose a specific curriculum Learning Goal or Intention as a focus within a commonly agreed upon subject area.
  • Plan a lesson collaboratively and determine the Success Criteria that need to be co-constructed with students.
  • Determine together how prior student knowledge will be determined as a part of the planning process.
  • As a part of the planning, develop a rich performance task that directly relates to the learning goal and success criteria as a culminating event .
  • Determine how the student work will be assessed.

Individual teaching and choosing pieces of student work to share –

  • Within no more than two days of teaching the lesson, each member of the collaborative chooses three pieces of student work from the rich performance task to bring to share and discuss.
  • Choose pieces of student work that represent different levels of thinking and understanding.

Collaborative discussion – time needed 1.5 hours

  • Each participant debriefs their teaching experience and shares one piece of student work at a time.  Collaborators listen to each other and ask questions for clarification or offer suggestions for next steps in teaching and what feedback would be helpful for the student involved.
  • Collaborative debriefing ends with a reflection on the process of professional co-learning.

Learning, using protocols, is deepened with effective questions and facilitation of the discussion.  Here are some questions we might consider:

  • How do the pieces of student work relate to the Success Criteria that we felt were important?
  • What do we see as evidence of student thinking?
  • What are the next steps for learning for our students based on the evidence we see in their work?
  • What specific feedback will we give the students?
  • Who can be grouped together for guided practice and mini-lessons in responding to our data?

Reflection is a very important part of co-learning and questions on the process of co-learning are also valuable, such as the following:

  1. What did we learn from listening to our colleagues as we shared student work?
  2. What new perspectives did we gain from the experience of co-learning?
  3. What will we take back to our classrooms to try, amend or refine?
  4. How will we build on the learning?
  5. What would we change about the process and what we would we keep?
  6. When will we meet again and what kind of student work will we bring back to our learning table?

In summary, collaborative learning is a powerful learning tool for staff as well as students when we are specific and focussed in our planning, teaching, debriefing and is driven by on-going assessment.  The leadership needed to steer this focussed work is also specific and skills-based.   We call that leadership “Collabor-ability”(p. 107)!

Sharratt, L. & Planche, B. (2016) Leading Collaborative Learning: Empowering Excellence. Corwin Press – see Appendices on pages 237-243 for further details on protocols for co-learning.

What are the Keys to Effective Student Learning Collaboration?

Leaders create the conditions for effective learning.  In the classroom, the teacher is the leader supported by school leadership. Teachers effectively become the stewards of collaborative learning once the right conditions are in place.  They play a vital role as instructors, guides and facilitators of collaborative learning as well as modelling a co-learning stance. Project-based learning or other inquiry processes are increasingly used as the frame for collaborative learning.  What follows are many of the vital steps to consider in the inquiry journey.

Attend to the learning culture – Collaboration needs an underpinning of safety, trust and strong relationships.  We also believe strongly in what we call “Parameter No. 1” (Sharratt & Fullan, 2009, 2012) which reinforces that all students can learn given the right time and support.   Such a positive belief also students to build a growth mindset.    Teachers as co-learners model a curious nature and the assurance it is important to risk-take in learning.  It is also important to avoid difficulties by being proactive.  Developing working norms for collaborative learning is an important part of the preparation as well as plans to support students who have focusing, learning or behavioral challenges.

Attend to learning processes – Teachers need to be skilled in both understanding collaborative learning processes and in assessing the impact of their teaching on student learning.  Attending to learning processes means that teachers have considered the scaffolds and supports students will need to be successful. The need for personalization and differentiation are realities to be integrated.  Teachers who understand the importance of creating deeper learning conditions prepare students to work together so that they can:

  • engage in research or inquiry about topics that interest them;      
  • involve student voice and choice in decision making about learning;                                                 
  • zero in on a specific question of inquiry with a clear focus and co-constructed criteria of success;
  • engage in frequent dialogue as a part of investigating authentic, real-world problems;
  • think critically about what they are learning and why;
  • consider different perspectives in what they are reading, researching and discussing;
  • engage in peer- and self-feedback and assessment as a part of collaborative work; and,
  • present their work to an authentic audience.

Attend to learning skills – Teachers need to be attentive to and keen observers of the need for large group instruction and “just in time” teaching for individuals as needed. As students work through the collaborative inquiry process, they will need to learn the specific skills in conducting a collaborative inquiry, such as: 

  • distinguishing between credible and non-credible research sources;
  • recognizing bias and separating fact from opinions;
  • selecting relevant source materials; (and delete) 
  • learning particular skills, such as analyzing, paraphrasing, inferring and summarizing; 
  • learning how to represent their learning using a variety of approaches and in a variety of ways; and,
  • learning how to demonstrate their learning to an authentic audience, such as: other peers, parents or community members.

Attend to on-going assessment – Assessment is an ongoing process in collaborative learning – from deciding how students will work together and how evidence of learning will be gathered.   Effective group work will involve opportunities to assess learning products as well as learning processes such as organization, self-regulation and initiative.  Most assessment evidence will be on-going formative information which can impact teaching and learning today and tomorrow.  Data today is instruction tomorrow, what we call “assessment-in-action” (Sharratt & Planche, 2016). At defined times, summative information based on the most consistent performance can be evaluated.  Student led-conferencing is a very valuable assessment tool in classrooms where collaborative learning is well embedded as students take ownership of their own progress and assess it against co-constructed Success Criteria.

For further information on collaborative learning for students and staff, consider –

“Leading Collaborative Learning: Empowering Excellence” by Lyn Sharratt & Beate Planche

(Corwin Press, 2016).

Blog for Larry Ferlazzo by Beate Planche and Lyn Sharratt, Corwin Authors.


LynSharratt PhotoDo you know all your students and how each one is doing? Have you put the FACE on the data in order to have cognitive insights and make emotional connections with each student? I feel very strongly that Data Walls provide a visual representation of where our students are in their learning journey in the assessment area chosen to be displayed. The advantages of Data Walls are many when they move from being a static picture in time to being a living conversation piece.

Beginners may experiment with Data Walls that are easily put together using student assessment data from a purchased assessment tool such as PM Benchmarks, DRA Data, EQAO or NAPLAN results. These are valuable beginnings and provide opportunities for rich conversations about what instructional strategies will be needed for all students: those stuck, those struggling and those who need extending beyond their present grade level. The visual representation of every FACE on the Data Wall will prevent some students from falling out of sight – out of mind. In order for these visual reminders to become living, growing and thriving, these Data Walls need constant focus on being growth-promoting. They need to move from being stilted snapshots to living entities; from being pretty displays of beautiful FACES to becoming evidence and documentation of problem-solving strategies agreed upon by all teachers who teach each student.

Data Walls become more in-depth when the assessment tool used to put the FACES on the data is teacher developed, focused on student work and collaboratively assessed to agreed upon levels of the work. The documentation of this work invites inquiry into students thinking and raises questions for teachers and leaders about best, high yield instructional practices for all students: necessary for some – good for all.

Questions for us to consider in moving from Data Walls as displays to Data Walls as documentation of next steps are:

  • Does the Data Wall focus on learning or just something we did?
  • Does the Data Wall help us re-examine our practice?
  • Does the Data Wall raise questions that lead to action
  • Does the Data Wall lead us to an inquiry about strengthening some aspects of our practice?
  • Does the Data Wall focus on the process and the product?
  • Does the Data Wall lead to rich conversations and “Academic Controversy”?
  • Does the Data Wall lead us to want to know more about a certain aspect?
  • Does the Data Wall lead to a new, more precise Data Wall being built?
  • How can Data Walls be used by students to become “assessment capable” and own their own learning?
  • Does the Data Wall allow the builders to become critical of it and cause it to be redesigned?
  • Does the Data Wall enable us to conduct Collaborative Inquiry to benefit the System – School – Classrooms

In order to be value-added, Data Walls MUST show growth and achievement. The value-added is when Data Walls are co-constructed, all FACES are jointly owned, and the ensuing rich discussions and academic controversy move teachers and leaders from engagement to empowerment.


Follow the author on Twitter: @LynSharratt and #FACESLyn

This post was written by Lyn Sharratt for The Learning Exchange (formerly LearnTeachLead). 

© Dr. Lyn Sharratt, February 26, 2016

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Recent Scottish College for Educational Leadership (SCEL) Conference

Dr. Lyn Sharratt, Feb. 25, 2017 (updated June, 2017)

How does a district move from pockets of improvement in some schools to improvement in most schools and most classrooms, then importantly to improvement in every school, in every classroom? In other words, how does a system or district move to ALL students showing growth and achievement? There is much hard work involved as you build your learning culture and develop staff capacity over time. It must be our common goal to enhance learning outcomes for students wherever they happen to be learning. That is why we have taken our collaborative process to an international audience.

As I have worked “Putting Faces on the Data” in Australia, educators in many other locations have also become involved. It has been exciting to work with colleagues in Australia, Chile, Spain, the USA, and across Canada. We have learned many things together, such as: the importance of using Protocols when developing cultures of learning; the specificity needed in deconstructing Learning Intentions and co-constructing Success Criteria; creating Data Walls and collaboratively taking students’ FACES to Case Management Meetings to know every student; and how to use assessment data to inform instructional practices the very next minute.

On May 3, 2017, I was in Perth, Scotland along with my colleagues Beate Planche and Maggie Ogram to participate in the Scottish College for Educational Leadership (SCEL) conference where we focused on Collaboration Networks for Learning. At our session, participants learned about the practices that help schools move forward on their collaborative learning journey individually and as networks. The latest international work we have each undertaken continues to inform the work we are doing together to find the most successful collaborative approaches.

If you were unable to attend, please get in touch so we can determine how to get these effective practices into your school district.

Stay tuned to this blog for further updates on upcoming international sessions.





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While gains in student achievement occur inside the classroom and are directly influenced by the effectiveness of the teacher, large system change, in owning every student, is only possible when everyone in the organization sees him- or herself as responsible for the success of each student. Each class contributes to the school targets, each school contributes to the system targets, and each system contributes to the state targets.

One way to assess how we are making a difference for each student is to check for deep use of assessment “for” and “as” learning by asking five critical questions that I first asked students and now ask teachers and leaders as well:

  1. What are you learning?
  2. How are you doing?
  3. How do you know?
  4. How can you improve?
  5. Where do you go for help? (Lyn Sharratt Learning Walks and Talks Training Materials, 2008-2015)


School leaders who do daily Learning Walks and Talks (Sharratt & Fullan, 2009, 2012; Sharratt & Harild, 2015, Sharratt & Planche, 2016 (In Press)) gather evidence of teachers’ intentional teaching and of students’ improvement when they ask students the five questions above. Students who can accurately describe their learning, and how to improve, close the achievement gap. After many walks, conversations with teachers ensue. Leaders ask authentic questions about why teachers make the decisions they make. Leaders also take action if teaching is not occurring at a competent or preferably high-impact level. Action must be taken if students are not progressing at an expected rate (Sharratt & Harild, 2015, Chapter 4).


The Power of Five Questions is in answer to the question “How Do You Know All Students’ are learning?” System and school leaders at every level who ask students the five questions get feedback on how explicit the instruction is and improvement is progressing. They use that feedback to become a large and focused part of every Professional Learning session, which is critical for all teachers and leaders to craft collaboratively. Taking daily Learning Walks and Talks to ask learners the five questions is essential. Similarly, ensuring that teachers have the time to reflect on the firm foundation necessary for all students’ mastery of reading, writing, oral language, and problem-solving skills to answer the five questions provides the springboard needed to incorporate the 21st-century learning skills into the curriculum content.


Sharratt, L. (2008-2015). Learning Walks and Talks [Training materials]. Australia, Canada, and Chile.

Sharratt, L., & Fullan, M. (2009). Realization: The change imperative for deepening district- wide reform. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Sharratt, L., & Fullan, M. (2012). Putting FACES on the data: What great leaders do. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Sharratt, L., & Harild, G. (2015). Good to great to innovate: Recalculating the route K–12+. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Sharratt, L., & Planche, B. (2016, in press). Leading collaborative learning: Empowering excellence. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Using data to inform instruction

We are intent on ensuring that all students in every class have an opportunity to learn. A key mechanism every teacher has available to assure that every child is learning is up to date data on each child’s performance. Whether standardized, large-scale or in-class generated, the data can provide critical insights to the teacher who is professionally sure how to use it and confident in proceeding. Can we any longer stand by as teachers, administrators or elected officials report that “only x%” of their students did not make standard? Can we standby and not find ways to encourage or persuade our districts and teachers to use the data to determine with precision how to help each child? Can we standby knowing that many teachers simply don’t know how to mine the data they have in their daily planners? Lyn Sharratt