We’re Already a “Good” School; Why Do We Need to Improve?
I recently engaged in a spirited discussion with a high school faculty that was balking at the idea of the implementing PLC concepts. Two of their concerns were: 1) “It is an affront to our honor to suggest that we should consider ways to improve when we are already a ‘good’ school” and 2) “This proposal is coming from the central office and we resent top-down intrusion into our school.”
I found the reaction puzzling. Jim Collins’ observation that “good is the enemy of great” has become something of a cliche. Certainly any organization that is to sustain its effectiveness over time must engage in ongoing processes of continuous improvement. Even more certainly, a school that claims its fundamental purpose is to ensure high levels of learning for all students should search for more effective practices if even some of its students were being unsuccessful.
I’m reminded of the Dr. Seuss book Horton Hatches the Egg, in which Horton asserts the refrain, “An elephant’s faithful —100 percent.” Regardless of how “ good” a faculty may consider its school, for the parent whose child does not learn, the school has failed the child — 100 percent. When the staff in this school acknowledged that not all their students were being successful, I asked them to clarify at what point the failure of its students would warrant considering more effective strategies. Put another way, what would the level of failure have to reach in order to cause them discomfort.
Those who work in a high-performing PLC, where continuous improvement is deeply embedded into the culture of their school, where every team establishes and purses SMART goals to raise student achievement every year, would be puzzled by the adverse reaction to the suggestion that a staff might explore ways to be more effective.
I’m also puzzled by the visceral opposition to explore PLCs because the proposal came from the central office. I suggest that an institution committed to collective inquiry into best practice would be more attentive to the quality of ideas rather than the direction from which they came. I am certain of the quality of the PLC concepts because I have seen the impact that they have upon students and faculty alike. I contend educators should examine those ideas for their potential merits and worry less about the messenger.
There is nothing theoretical about PLCs for me. I worked in Adlai Stevenson High School — a school that put PLC concepts into place and has continued to improve upon them for over two decades. I would contend that the teachers at that school feel more fulfilled, more rewarded, and more effective than teachers in traditional schools. A number of books have been written about the school (see Joan Richardson, Mike Schmoker, Tom Sergiovanni, Terry Deal, Thomas Lickona) and they invariably report on the enthusiasm, professionalism, and high morale of the faculty. If PLC concepts inevitably carry the dire consequences some educators predict, I question why the teachers who have actually implemented the concepts have failed to discover those consequences over twenty years.