Are You "Doing" PLCs or "Being" a PLC?
As more and more schools embrace the tenets of the professional learning community journey, how do we explain why many are able to navigate the road toward quality learning for all students while others seem disaffected by obstacles and setbacks? As an educator for 39 years, a PLC practitioner for decades, and a PLC coach with Solution Tree for the past six years, it has become abundantly clear to me that you certainly start the PLC journey by knowing, and you most effectively learn by doing. Those schools that find high-performing, sustainable success have discovered one additional piece of genius—At the end of the day, it is not about doing PLCs; it’s about being a PLC!
In my travels with Solution Tree, it is not uncommon for me to work with a school that will share with me that they indeed do PLCs. They might elaborate by explaining, for example, that they do their PLCs on Thursday mornings supported by a late start for the students. They can identify the collaborative teams that have been established; and, yes, they have done their norms. Often, they will show me an artifact demonstrating that they have done important work mapping their curriculum. Further, many have written common assessments (summative and formative), and there are certainly examples of data being studied. I will often find some degree of intervention they are doing at the school. At the same time, these same schools will share how they have hit a wall or reached a plateau along their journey. They have lost momentum, collaborative teams meetings are not producing the results first imagined, and many are pondering why this is happening.
What I have described here are schools that have begun to get their arms around (up to) five of the six characteristics that guide high-performing professional learning communities. These five include:
- Building a collaborative culture (Big Idea #2) by organizing and developing collaborative teams that work interdependently
- Engaging in collective inquiry as they examine their current reality, explore best practice, and develop a shared vision of success
- Developing an action orientation as they purposefully collect data and learn by doing
- Developing a commitment to continuous improvement as they collaboratively study data, and
- Developing a results orientation (Big Idea #3) as they respond appropriately to the data they have analyzed
Noticeably absent in this discussion is characteristic #1—building a solid foundation (Big Idea #1). I am amazed at the number of schools that fail to start with Big Idea #1. You may still be able to run a school and do PLCs by addressing the latter five characteristics. At the same time, if you want to be a high-performing, sustaining professional learning community, you need to keep the main thing the main thing—begin with Big Idea #1. First and foremost, build that solid foundation!
Regardless of the organization or industry that we examine, the great leaders and most successful teams all think, act, and communicate with palpable discipline, fidelity, accountability, passion, and persistence as they build their brand while addressing:
- Why we exist (our fundamental purpose—mission)
- What kind of school we are going to create together (our vision)
- How we are going to treat each other on this messy, nonlinear journey (the values that will guide us)
- How we will mark our progress (goals)
There are leaders and there are those who lead. Great leaders inspire us with a sense of purpose, a vision of what we can become, values that cement the trust among us, and goals that give life to our celebrations. In turn, those who follow these great leaders do so not because they have to; they do it because they want to!