Sunday / July 21

Impact Teams—The Next BIG Thing: A success story of how one school empowered teachers to lead innovation

How do we move from teams solely talking about improving student learning to actually building efficacy for students, teachers, and teams?

The answer: Impact Teams.

As an educator, you may be currently working in a teacher team where you meet regularly to share expertise and work collaboratively to improve student learning. Impact Teams are the next evolution of teacher collaboration. With survey research showing that many teachers are not experiencing the full benefits of collaborative models, the Impact Teams model was designed to specifically address common implementation challenges, such as lack of trained peer facilitators, absence of administrator support and participation, and failure to learn from feedback. Based on John Hattie’s Visible Learning research, the Impact Teams model taps into the collaborative planning time every school already has in place, but repurposes it to build on teacher expertise and increase student learning. It combines two existing practices–formative assessment and collaborative inquiry–to promote a culture in which teachers and students are partners in learning. This model and process is inclusive to all learners. Educators come together to assess all students’ performance and ensure there is differentiation, that the most talented students are able to grow and struggling learners have the opportunity to relearn and get the help that they need to be successful. The idea of Impact Teams was created by Paul Bloomberg and Barb Pitchford, authors of Leading Impact Teams. They believe that it is the educators’ job to create an environment for every student to develop the belief in their own capacity to learn.

Want to see Impact Teams in action and an example of successful implementation? Keep reading…

Lyons Township High School’s story

Lyons Township High School (LTHS) is an example of how the Impact Team model effectively enhanced student learning and allowed teachers to teach to the best of their ability.

During the 2009–2010 school year, the staff of Lyons Township High School established professional learning communities (PLCs) in an effort to ensure all students were learning more. Following the work of Rick and Rebecca DuFour, PLCs attempt to answer the questions:

  1. What should all students know and be able to do?
  2. How will we know when all students have learned?
  3. What will we do when a student hasn’t learned?
  4. What will we do when a student has learned or reached proficiency?

However, when confronted with changing state standards and assessments, a deeply rooted system of course leveling, and a traditionally private teaching culture, collaboratively answering these questions proved to be problematic for LTHS’s PLCs. The four PLC questions did not provide an efficient protocol or structure for scaling up collaborative inquiry across LTHS. In addition, it was important to the leadership at LTHS that we had a focus on developing assessment capable learners. They wanted students to be independent learners who could self-regulate.

Bridget McGuire, math teacher at LTHS, stressed how their PLCs lacked a process of balancing the workload of district versus what the PLCs were actually supposed to do. She mentioned that working with Paul Bloomberg and the Impact Team model helped her realize that “[teachers] should be analyzing student learning, discussing success criteria, looking at where [their] students struggle and why, and using this information to inform [their] instruction.”

Implementing the work

Impact Teams uses six influences proven to have the highest effect on student learning, with collective efficacy being the most important:

  • Feedback: .75 effect size (ES)
  • Teacher Clarity: .75 ES
  • Classroom Discussion: .82 ES
  • Formative Evaluation: .90 ES
  • Success Criteria: 1.13 ES
  • Assessment Capable Learners: 1.44 ES
  • Collective Efficacy: 1.57 ES

The Impact Teams model uses a simple but powerful 3-step framework called Evidence-Analysis-Action (E-A-A)  that can be used in classrooms and in teacher and leadership team meetings at all levels. E-A-A ensures that teachers are always asking, “What is our impact?” The structure of the program includes 9 protocols that help guide collaborative inquiry and are used throughout every level of the system. These 9 protocols can be viewed as tools and the E-A-A process is what you do with the tools.

Trying to enact an all-school change at once almost always leads to failure and trying to implement any change takes tremendous resources and time to be effective and have a lasting impact. However, the Model Teams Approach to developing Impact Teams is based on the philosophy of “start small to go far” and just requires three simple ingredients:

  1. Collective leadership: The principal and the leadership team’s active involvement in promoting and participating in the learning process
  2. Two effective teams willing to learn—to try it on for size
  3. A willingness to implement the formative assessment process regularly in classroom instruction to strengthen student efficacy

By following this path, school leadership first developed the expertise necessary to build capacity across the entire school in as little as 4-6 months. Starting small in order to go far made the most sense because it allowed leadership to develop and learn new skills, provide more support, welcome mistakes and feedback, and enhance collaborative practices. The Model Teams Approach made it easy to move the practice out to other teams, making an all-school change doable from within. This is because it is easier to perfect a small number of teams at that level before enacting changes across the entire school. When a Model Impact Team is ready, it provides an example for other teams to follow where it takes less time to ensure teachers are instructing at their highest capacity.

In the case of LTHS, the school needed to refocus their existing PLC structure. Educators had to redirect their conversations from what they were teaching, to discuss what was being learned and how it was being learned by their students. LTHS started with 10 teams that were centered around 10 courses—English I-II, Algebra, and Geometry—that established foundational skills and impacted the majority of students early on in high school. After the first year of work with Dr. Bloomberg, all 10 teams achieved the curricular outcomes. Together, the educators on these teams built professional capacity by enhancing their expertise. Through the use of seven protocols, they were able to operationalize the formative practices that produces the highest rates of learning.


The leadership at the high school discovered that the support and framework of the Impact Teams model gave their teachers what they needed to improve their teaching and student learning. Impact Teams gave teams of educators a way to collaborate on behalf of their students.

English Teacher Virginia Condon gives praise to the E-A-A protocol and described how it helped her and the school district improve student learning:

“This Evidence, Analysis, Action Protocol gives us a process to look at student work, analyze and take action on how we will go about helping our students achieve the skill or target of our focus. So often our PLCs are given a directive for what to accomplish and the ultimate goal has always been to get to analyzing student work but the HOW we do that has been missing. The Evidence, Analysis, Action Protocol provides that plan and structure so that real progress and teaching can take place.”

LTHS continued using this model and started the 2016-2017 school year with eight new targeted teams. These teams administered a common pre, midterm, and post district assessment to evaluate how the semester was going. After the first assessment was administered, each Model Impact Team sorted student work into various quality levels and then met to apply the E-A-A protocol. After reviewing the results and discussing reasons for student performance, each team collaborated to determine instructional practices that would address the needs of students performing in each quality level. The teams continued to repeat this process until the post-assessment was administered. The chart below indicates that seven of the eight teams who are applying the E-A-A protocol, experienced substantial growth between the pre and post assessment.

To learn more about the process LTHS underwent in transforming their school’s mission, click here.

So why use it?

Impact Teams re-focuses teams’ direction to use their collective capacity to make a difference in increasing not only student learning but also teacher learning. But what is really unique in this approach is that it also develops students as independent learners, who could self-regulate. Impact Teams leave a fundamental impact not just on the students, but on all levels of the system.

If you are ready for a transformative change and want to see your students become self-learners, join us in Nashville for Corwin’s Impact Teams Institute to learn more.

Correction posted March 2, 2018: The original post contained unsubstantiated information about the failure rate of PLCs. This information has been removed. The original post also contained potentially misleading statements about the weaknesses of the PLC model. These statements have been clarified to be related to common implementation challenges of teacher collaboration models. We apologize for these errors.

Written by

Karina Raun is the Corwin Institutes Marketing Manager and Sophia Duva is a Corwin Marketing Assistant.

Latest comments

  • Last week I left a comment asking the authors to share the source of the research they cite in this article.

    No one responded to my request but it now appears that the wording in the article has changed. In the current version, the authors refer to “survey research” but once again, fail to cite their source.

    Please share the source of the survey research that you cite in the revised article. I would be very interested to read it. Thank you.

    • Thank you for your comments and your patience while we fact-checked the article. We found that there was unsubstantiated information in the article and have removed that information. We have also posted a retraction.

      The revised wording includes a link to the “Teachers Know Best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development” survey report conducted by the Boston Consulting Group for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The report is linked in the text of the blog post above, but you can also find it at the URL below:

      Thank you for reading the Corwin Connect blog!

  • Can the article’s authors cite the research that supports their claim that “With research showing that PLCs have a failure rate of 50%;” I would be very interested in reading the empirical evidence behind that statement – I haven’t seen any studies make that kind of claim in such definitive ways. Please forward the citation. Thank you.

leave a comment