Brandon Jones

Brandon Jones, a high school principal and consultant, works with educators of all grade levels to implement the Professional Learning Communities at Work™ and RTI at Work™ processes.

Inspire, Prepare, and Empower

“Who in this group will I be able to trust to walk the bad bush with me?” Sitting on the third row in the auditorium of my alma mater, this was the first question I fielded from my principal. I was a new teacher, and he was beginning his first day on campus. As the story goes, trusting him enough to “walk the bad bush” was the highest compliment one of his fellow Special Forces soldiers paid him during his tour in Vietnam. This statement meant your comrades quite literally trusted you with their lives because they found you to be driven for the cause, skilled, and loyal. It took many years for me to fully understand the implications of his parables. This story, in particular, was meant to convey his philosophy on leadership development.

I am often asked by campus principals and district leaders to identify the key to creating an effective PLC. While there is no single concept or magic bullet, I often share the story of the bad bush. My principal understood, with certainty, that education and learning was a matter of life and death for many of our students. Our students’ success would ultimately lead to their ability to thrive in a competitive job market and provide for themselves and their families. He also knew that developing leaders, specifically teacher leaders, within our ranks was the only way to ensure high learning for every student. The amount of time, energy, resources, and training invested in building and empowering teacher leaders is directly proportional to the growth and health of a PLC. If time is rarely made to collaborate with and supply growth opportunities to these critical few, we should not expect our organization to prosper. These trusted individuals are in the trenches and make a significant impact on the culture and progression of the school community.

When investing in leaders, first and foremost, a clear vision for student learning must be clearly communicated. Those who carry the torch must have a strong sense of purpose. As leaders of a district or campus, we are charged with inspiring and persuading those around us of the moral obligation to press on and continually improve as educators for the students we serve. This includes conveying relentless grit that persists in even the most difficult times because we are convinced our efforts may be what propel one more student to their dreams.

In my experience of helping prepare teacher leaders, the most critical concepts to learn are effective problem solving, building consensus, organization, facilitating collaboration, and implementing horizontal, mutual accountability. To be honest, no one was taught these concepts in Classroom Teacher 101. In fact, even the most high-functioning, veteran leaders at all levels struggle with one or more of these notions. After ensuring our mission and vision for students was clear, my principal empowered lead teachers to make critical decisions that impacted student learning. In the early stages, we sometimes struggled to build consensus through our collaborative teams. In one particular situation, a member of my team did not give his students the common formative assessment that had been developed collaboratively by our team. When I asked my principal for help, he could have directed this teacher to give the assessment, but this would have caused additional resistance and disdain for the cohesive team we were trying to create. Instead, he guided me through a discussion I would soon have with this teacher in which I explained the benefits of using common formative assessments to help more students learn. In each difficult situation I encountered as a leader, my principal offered guidance, support, and continued learning without stepping in to solve the issues for us. He allowed me to make mistakes as I grew into becoming a better teacher and leader. The fact remains that we all need ongoing collaboration with other professionals in the trenches to sharpen our skills. Creating a recurring and open dialogue about these topics including tips and potential pitfalls is essential.

As always, the best preparation is experienced while engaging in the challenge at hand. Didn’t we all learn exponentially more the first month of teaching than we did during our entire undergraduate experience? That is because we were active participants in the work and learned by doing. In the same way, empowering someone to lead a team and supporting that person with ongoing training through the challenges is the most effective way to train teacher leaders (DuFour & Marzano, 2011). In doing so, we must embrace the fact that mistakes will be made during the process and no one will lead quite like you would. The benefits far outweigh the missteps when a person is prepared to promote an outstanding school culture and foster the growth of a highly productive PLC.

Equal parts sage and soldier, my first principal’s words and methods still resonate with me today. His primary convictions were to inspire us to a cause greater than ourselves, prepare us for the challenges ahead, and empower us to lead without fear. As your journey as an educator continues, ask yourself: Am I seeking out and developing those whom I would trust to walk the bad bush with me?

Thank you, Bill Spivey, for your leadership, passion, and support.


DuFour, R., & Marzano, R. J. (2011). Leaders of learning: How district, school, and classroom leaders improve student achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.


Dale-Ann Walton

I do believe that both new and veteran teachers should engage in PLC. Collaboration is key to any successful organization and so if we want to develop critical thinkers in our classroom who will significantly contribute and be agents of positive change in our society, we must share our ideas. I think that collaboration should be done at least once per month.

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Camilla Campbell

Teachers require a good community for support in order to improve instructions for student achievement. Knowing that we can have a group of teachers to collaborate with and guide us through our journey as teachers is always helpful. As you mention, we learn more in our first month of teaching than we did in our undergrad studies and with a supportive group we can accomplish so much so that our students can get the best education.

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Suzanne Harding

I agree, preparing teacher leaders to become effective problem solvers and collaboration facilitators is extremely important. Your principal’s ability to inspire and empower you as you led your team was very supportive. Principals and teacher leaders often forget mistakes are common and even though as leaders our goal is to duplicate ourselves and our efforts, each leader is unique.

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Stephanie Buck

I agree that an effective PLC is necessary for educators to keep growing. There are numerous struggles that educators are going to face during the school year and their career. Without, the guidance and perseverance we will let children down. I found your post to be very insightful. I as well am gaining a new principal and I hope that she will provide us the guidance and support to overcome the challenges the leaders, such as myself, will face during this journey.

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Linda Marin

I agree that to achieve student learning, it takes a collaborative culture to make that happen. I recently read an article on how a PLC must work together to achieve their collective purpose of learning FOR ALL (DeFour, 2004). Teachers must work together to come up with ideas to better their students' learning experiences. I really admire your experience, and I hope you keep us updated! I know teachers who don't get the support from their administration, so that's awesome that yours is willing to support and guide you through your experience.

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Karen Zakay

Creating open dialogue about topics with other teams helps educators learn teaching methods that can benefit students in the best way possible. Positive outcomes from students depend on the teams and teachers that provide the experience and education for the students. It is definitely a collaborative effort when it comes to education systems, and without collective responsibility, students will not have positive learning outcomes.

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Matthew Redwine

I agree that it takes a total collaborative effort to achieve student learning. To build an effective PLC I believe that you have to have trust and communication. I think it's great that you have an experience to share and keep things in perspective.

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