Persistence in a PLC at Work™
Staying the Course
In today’s world of fads, quick fixes, and instant feedback, educators are not immune to the temptation of jumping on the latest bandwagon. Indeed, many criticize our industry for being too quick to try new ideas that are not proven and being as flighty as the ever-changing wind. Even those committed to professional learning communities can become subject to the whims and fancy of the latest and greatest educational trend. This is not to say that action research is a bad thing, or that trying new ideas is faulty. But sometimes in our desire for these quick fixes, we substitute the real work of a PLC for something that promises instant results but costs a ton or is unsustainable. The real work of educators in a PLC school does not lie in the bells and whistles of new programs or new technologies. Rather, it begins and ends with a focus on learning, a continuous and collaborative improvement of adult practice, and an uncompromising spotlight on improving the results of our students. We’ve heard Rick DuFour, Becky DuFour, and Bob Eaker speak many times about passion and persistence. Today, let’s consider the quality of persistence and what it looks like during the grind of everyday work in a PLC.
Persistence in Our Focus on Learning
There is no substitute for this basic principle of a PLC. There is no way around doing the work of clarifying explicitly what students are expected to learn. State standards, district curriculum guides, and department-developed syllabi only get us so far. Even the Common Core State Standards do not relieve teams of teachers from collaboratively identifying the learning students are expected to acquire throughout the year. Certainly, tools have been developed to aid in this procedure; but persistence in a PLC school demands that teachers continually engage in the process. A persistent faculty in a PLC school does not condone shortcuts or excuses or even statements like “We did this last year.” Rather, a persistent PLC understands that this process is ongoing and time for teachers to refine and improve learning expectations is provided every year. A persistent PLC understands that an essential part of the learning process for adults is examining closely the expected learning of students.
Persistence in Our Collaborative Efforts
I like to think of collaboration as the glue that binds a focus on learning and a focus on results together. Many schools do both, but they are often done in isolation. This leads to pockets of excellence. But a PLC school is all about creating uniform, systemwide excellence. This is why it is so important to focus on learning and focus on results—but to do them both collaboratively. Everyone in a PLC knows that collaboration about such weighty issues is not easy. When we collaborate about such important matters, things can get messy—feelings sometimes get hurt and egos sometimes get bruised. It is tempting to throw in the towel and look for easier ways to supplant the indispensable dialogues among colleagues. After all, we were all friends before this collaboration thing! But persistent collaborative teams go back to the basics. They craft team norms and hold each other to them even when they seem trite. They have crucial conversations while maintaining the dignity of those involved. They build consensus based on research and data rather than opinions. A persistent PLC has collaboration as an absolute. And, most importantly, collaboration is focused on learning and results.
Persistence in Our Focus on Results
In his book The Five Disciplines of PLC Leaders, Tim Kanold describes Stevenson High School’s decade-long pursuit of breaking the 25 barrier on the ACT. When the faculty initially set this goal, many felt it was unachievable. To get the schoolwide average score on the ACT to 25 is a lofty ambition! And everybody knew it would not happen overnight. At first the goal was 22, then years later 23, and finally 25. But the focus on this important, continuous improvement in student results never wavered. The faculty didn’t abandon the goal when it didn’t happen in the first year. They didn’t get bored or fatigued by having the same consistent focus each year. They didn’t get sidetracked on other tempting detours. This is persistence! It also teaches us that it’s OK to have similar goals year after year after year, and to keep working to achieve them. Becky makes an analogy about what it’s like to be a PLC. She compares it to losing weight. An effective, healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean ordering a meal substitute and then drinking it and still eating everything else in sight. It doesn’t mean joining a yoga or fitness class once per week and changing nothing else. Rather, an effective, healthy weight-loss plan means completely changing one’s lifestyle to include regular exercise and robust activities, balanced meals, and healthy living. The other options might yield short-term results, but the sustainable plan requires a complete and dedicated immersion. This is how to get results in a PLC, too. We can’t dabble and nibble. We can’t pick and choose. We can’t give up when things get tough. Instead, we must persist and embrace the complete change in lifestyle.