Lessons Learned From an Unlikely "PLC"
My favorite time of year is when the National Hockey League play-offs are in full swing. I absolutely love the intensity, grit, and laser-like focus on winning that hockey teams demonstrate during the play-offs. Even though my beloved Chicago Blackhawks have struggled at times during the play-offs, I am still confident that they will achieve their mission again. It is a two-word, simple, yet powerful mission: One Goal. The entire organization is aligned around the one goal of winning the Stanley Cup. Every time I see that mission statement, I can’t help but make connections to the work we do in schools every day.
It is important to know that prior to the One Goal mission, the Blackhawks endured a long period of organizational chaos. The organization suffered misguided leadership, a lack of focus, and ultimately a losing hockey team. In 2004, ESPN named the Blackhawks the worst franchise in sports history. However, in 2010 and 2013, they won the Stanley Cup and Forbes magazine highlighted the team’s success, calling it the greatest turnaround ever in sport’s history.
What were the factors that contributed to this remarkable transformation, and what lessons can we learn from the Blackhawks’ “PLC”?
A clear, focused mission guides every aspect of the Blackhawks organization. Every employee, every idea, every move, every initiative within the organization is focused on winning the Stanley Cup. This mission is clearly articulated and aligns the entire team—from the corner office to the players. An integral characteristic of a PLC is a shared mission. According to DuFour and Eaker (1998), a school mission statement must answer the question “why do we exist?” It’s simple; schools exist so that students learn. But the question is, does the mission (student learning) drive every employee, every idea, every initiative, and every decision within the school? If not, what will it take to get there? For the Blackhawks, getting there meant a significant cultural shift in the way the organization functioned. The leadership recognized that they needed to build a collaborative culture where relationships, cooperation, and trust were of the utmost importance.
Leadership also recognized the need to build a culture of continuous improvement. They instilled the philosophy to never be satisfied with the current state of the franchise. They were not satisfied even when the mission was attained and they brought home the Stanley Cup in 2010. They celebrated their progress, but went straight to work to determine the factors that contributed to their success and then further developed their strengths as an organization. It worked! They hoisted the Stanley Cup again in 2013, and advanced to round three of the play-offs this year.
I work in a school district that has demonstrated significant growth since 2004. We attribute this growth to a laser-like focus on student learning, but we are never satisfied. We celebrate success, acknowledge our strengths, and then dig in to determine how to make it even better. Why do we do this? We do it because every child in every school deserves our best every day.
While I think winning the Stanley Cup is pretty amazing, it doesn’t come close to our crowning achievement—seeing every student have the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive.
Sells, S., & Turner, B. (2014). Red rising to one goal: A case study of the Chicago Blackhawks’ organizational resurgence from 2007–2009. Retrieved from http://kb.osu.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/1811/59713/Thesis_Sells.pdf?sequence=1
DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. (1998). Professional learning communities at work™: Best practices for enhancing student achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.