Jeanne Spiller

Jeanne Spiller is director of professional development for Kildeer Countryside District 96 in Illinois. Her work focuses on implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

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.

References

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.

Comments

Jacqueline Sanders

Marvelous analogy! It truly was an insight of how life and the mission of a school can be taken away for many factors. Experiencing this scenario first hand, it's amazing to see an analogy be placed with it. I think sharing this for the new school year will be a great way to start off the year maybe even the class. You captured the PLC perfectly with that analogy

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deborah flaherty

Jeanne,

Thank you so much for this uplifting post. Your commitment to always move forward as a collective whole is motivating. I like your idea of celebrating success school-wide, as well as continually asking "How do we do better?" I think it is so important to remember the "why" behind all that we do and to daily reflect on our mission statement. Your district, leadership, and team are inspirations to us! Thank you!

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Stephanie Wittenbrink

Jeanne,
What an excellent analogy! I truly love how you compared the mission statement of a hockey team to what we do as educators in our PLCs! Since many of my students are football fans, your entry inspires me to take the time to express to my students the analogy of what they do in school to what professional athletes do during a game or a season. Thank you!

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Ann-Marie Houle

I loved reading this Jeanne! I am a sports minded individual and so I could relate to this completely. My school is currently trying to center our current school year around a motto that can be seen in every aspect we do. Coming up with one that fits has not been the easiest task. I appreciate you sharing how important it is to be motivated by a common mission.

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Mary Parker

Jeanne,
PLC’s can come in many different forms as evidenced by your analogy of the Blackhawks. They were focused on a mission. The team briefly celebrated success but immediately returned to work to ensure continuous improvement. Defining norms and setting teams goals are essential to the success of any PLC. Whether the team finds success or fails, the team must continue to communicate effectively and develop essential learning outcomes.

I work in a school where we have been fortunate to celebrate many successes but we recognize there is even more room for growth. This year, our principal has created a schedule, which allows teacher teams to collaborate 30-45 minutes per day. Kudos to those with a commitment to PLC's. They recognize the potential impact one can have on a school or association.

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Laurie Sammons

Excellent analogy, Jeanne! I keep thinking of the mission of one of the most premier medical facilities in Rochester, MN.
Their mission is to provide medical excellent care, every day, every patient! I wonder how many schools could benefit if we all adopted this simple, but powerful mantra...."Excellent education, every day, every teacher, each child."

Thanks for making a difference in the lives of all of us who watch the successes and single focus of your powerful and exemplary district at Killdeer! Kudos!

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