Collaboration: Thinking vs. Doing
“Professional learning communities recognize that until members of the organization ‘do’ differently, there is no reason to anticipate different results.” (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2010, p. 12)
There was a time in my educational career when I carpooled with colleagues to and from school. During these rides, we took part in many deep conversations concerning student learning, school improvement, and the nuances of why the Chicago Cubs continue to futilely take the baseball field year after year. It was during one of these rides when it happened, that moment that we all deeply fear: embarrassing ourselves in front of our colleagues.
We had just taken a reprieve from what I’m confident was a conversation about some aspect of education that had evaded experts for many years, but was somehow going to get resolved in our 1988 Ford Escort. During this break in conversation, a familiar Kansas song came on the radio, and I began to sing along. As the chorus came around, I was in the moment, and at the top of my meager singing voice, I crooned out, “All we are is just in the wind!” The car exploded with laughter, followed by snarky comments about how I had gotten the words to the song wrong. I was confused. Since the first time I had heard the song, I’d thought the lyrics were “just in the wind.” Once the laughter and sarcastic comments faded, I was instructed on the correct words to this popular ballad: “All we are is dust in the wind.”
As I consider this embarrassing yet poignant memory, I am reminded that far too often, we move forward in our schools and teams thinking we’re doing the right things. It’s not until we correct our course and actually do the right things that we move closer to ensuring high levels of learning for every student. As your school or team moves forward, consider the following course corrections.
Course Correction #1: Collaborate About the Right Things
Schools across the country have embraced the idea that teacher teams need to collaborate. Schedules are adjusted, and time for collaboration is created. Creating time is a critical first step but not the only step. Teams need to focus on the right things during this valuable collaborative time. Conversations about the various iterations of chicken served for school lunch that day and anecdotal stories about “those kids” need to be replaced with focused, professional conversations regarding:
- Essential skills that every student needs to acquire
- Development and use of common formative assessment results
- Identification of students who need extra time and support
- The need to respond immediately to those students who fall below proficiency
This is the right collaborative work of highly effective teams.
Course Correction #2: Simplify and Focus
With the tremendous amount of educational noise facing educators today, it becomes necessary for teams, schools, and districts to simplify and focus their efforts. If we are to ensure high levels of learning for every student, we need to be specific about the change needed to foster a PLC. This change includes specific expectations for the practices and cultural conditions of our teams and schools. Ambiguity creates anxiety, which leads to confusion. More often than not, leaders proclaim their desires to establish a PLC, but fail to be specific about what is expected within the organization and fail to monitor these expectations. Whether guiding a team, school, or district, leaders must provide clarity and specificity regarding what is expected and then monitor these expectations. DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, and Many (2010) write, “It is far more effective to stipulate exactly what must be done and then provide some latitude regarding how it is done” (p. 220).
Much like the humbling lesson I learned in the car with my colleagues, it is essential that we simplify, focus, and do the right things in our teams, schools, and districts. Otherwise, our efforts will simply be “dust in the wind.”
DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2010). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work™ (2nd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.