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.

A PLC Love Letter to the Left-Brained, Linear Thinker

My Dearest Left-Brained Friends,


Two years ago I began my quest to be Dad of the Year; if not on the planet, at least in my own home.  My hero, my father, was turning 60 years old and his life-long dream was to visit Disney World before he was too old to enjoy it.  With three young girls of my own, a family trip to “The Happiest Place on Earth” seemed like the perfect opportunity to celebrate my dad and show my daughters that they too could be a princess one day. 

Months of planning and coordinating turned into the trip of a lifetime for the 10 members of my family who made the trek.  Choosing a mode of transportation, the path we would take to get there and the dates in which to travel turned out to be significant decisions.  In hindsight, I made a critical, sanity-threatening mistake.  I chose to drive.  Don’t get me wrong.  My family and I saw incredible sites along the way, like the USS Alabama and the underwater tunnel in Pensacola.  However, the 1000-mile trip from Texas to Orlando with 3 small children was only supposed to take a little over 15 hours.  Almost 20 hours later, I stumbled from behind the wheel to celebrate arrival as only Columbus had done before.  Looking back, I should have chosen to fly, go by rail, or even ride a bike!  

I often think about that trip when working with schools who aspire to be professional learning communities.  Having lived through three different schools’ initial adoption of the PLC process as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal, one thing is clear: While the destination to which we are heading is the same, the choices we make in how to get there are often very different from one school to the next.  

Schools are full of amazing educators with the capacity to change to world, one student at a time.  Each educator has unique qualities and strengths that make them an invaluable member of the team.  As a linear thinker, information is processed in a logical, sequential order.  We should begin the activity with Step A.  Step B can only happen once Step A has been fully addressed and completed.  In addition, Step B cannot be skipped to get to Step C more quickly.  This process continues until all Steps have been fulfilled sequentially and in their entirety from A to Z.  Any deviation from the process generally causes confusion or undue stress.  

Unfortunately for my left-brained friends, becoming a high-functioning professional learning community is often times a nonlinear process.  There are definite mile markers we must all cross on our journey such as focusing on learning, creating a culture of collaboration, determining essential standards, developing common formative assessments, analyzing data, planning for intervention and extension, and celebrating our successes.  But, we may not pass them all at the exact same rate, using the exact same methods or even in the exact same order.  In fact, using the same path from A-Z that another school used may actually slow the process down in your school.

For example, the first model PLC school in which I taught, the initial priority was to simply learn how to work collaboratively with other professionals.  While it is a common practice in many schools today, relying on other teachers and working interdependently had never been practiced on that campus.   We spent a considerable amount of time in the beginning establishing norms, collective commitments, and learning how to ask the right questions of one another.   After that, we learned how to write great assessment questions and defined what a common formative assessment would look like as well as how it would be used.

In contrast, planning together in groups of teachers was common in the first model PLC school in which I was the principal.  Because of that prior foundation, we spent very little time establishing guidelines for how we would work together.  Instead, we needed to shift the focus from teaching and planning lessons to digging into what was essential for students to learn.  While that was being established, we also concentrated on how to collect and analyze programmatic as well as individual student data.

After several years of reculturing to become a professional learning community, both schools enjoyed unprecedented success and student achievement.  However, the plan of action, or road map, to get to that destination was very different for each of them.  Such is the case with every school that chooses to embark on this worthwhile journey!  

My linear thinking friend, I wish I could give you a simple 5-step process that would guarantee the growth and success of your PLC.  However, the varied needs of each campus, community, faculty, and students mean the plan for your school will assuredly be unique in its own way.  Besides, what fun would it be if A + B always equaled C?!  I urge you to choose your path wisely, take a deep breath, and enjoy the non-negotiable PLC landmarks as you arrive at them, for each one tells a story of the road you have traveled.  And, most of all, embrace the winding road that leads to “The Most Successful Schools on Earth!”


With deepest regard,

Your Right-Brained, Lateral Thinking Friend


PS:  Help needed.  Please write back with tips on how to construct and implement a concise plan of action!


Rajan Mahajan

It's difficult to train someone in a classroom environment because a lot of learning heavily relies on unexpected and often painstakingly complicated issues that you have to solve in the design and commissioning process. Automation first of all includes much more than PLC. Most training's are a commercial hybrid of specific manufacturer marketing strategy and basics of automation. As I said, automation is so much more than learning about PLCs.
Keeping all these things in mind CETPA Infotech pvt ltd also provides PLC Training in Noida, India.

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Tori Havens

I am a first year kindergarten teacher! Although I did not have any major experiences in teaching in an elementary school setting before this, I have now seen the impact of both positive and negative encounters when collaborating with others. I agree that collaboration can be the first step for a cultural shift in a PLC. However, there needs to be time provided to help grade level teams interact with each other before beginning lessons and discussing what is best for our young students! For example, I work with two other teachers within my grade level on collaboration. One teacher is a second year teacher while the other has taught for multiple years. From my experience now, I now that I needed to understand where they are coming from when beginning collaborating. With one teacher, she tends to want to sort things out herself before wanting to express concerns or new ideas. With the other teacher, she would rather reflectively discuss specific skills that need to be incorporated in lessons with another person in order to create ideas and ways of teaching for lessons. At the beginning, there was little discussion on who is going to focus on which specific subject when creating lessons. This caused tension with the first few months of the school year until our principal stepped into our collaboration meeting to help resolve conflicts. We didn't establish guidelines on who would do what and how we work through creating lessons and collaborating. I think that is it crucial to understand who you are collaborating with at a more deeper level initially in order to avoid confusion and tension.
Thanks for sharing Brandon!

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Katherine Nicholson

I enjoyed reading your story about your family trip. It was refreshing to hear what a principal is thinking about situations. My school is currently transitioning to the PLC process. I feel like I'm just now starting to finally grasp the concept of the PLC process. I liked that you said that each journey is different for each of the schools. I was wondering how my school was comparing to most others, but you helped me to realize that each journey is different to success. What works for one building might not work for another school. I am focusing my concern for myself and my building on collaboration. My teams idea of collaboration is me doing all of the work or them avoiding me altogether. Things have gotten childish at some points, in which those times I had to ignore. I'm wanting to help turn my school around to achieve greater success. I need to figure out what exactly I need to do to make this happen.

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Terra Bourre

Thank you for your blog Brandon- you have provided some insightful points about PLC development.

To add to Rebecca's comment- I agree that time is definitely a factor trying to establish PLC. Educator's and administrators working together to build a culture of collaborative inquiry and tackling the technical challenges is needed to support these initiatives. I suppose making small steps as Brandon suggests is a start.

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Rebecca Morrison

I'm a left-brained, linear thinker, so I really appreciate the wisdom of your article. The school I'm currently teaching in is very closed to the idea of a PLC; most of the teachers bring an old-school approach to their work and are not interested in collaborating. Those of us who are interested in trying something new are simply too busy to collaborate effectively. The more I learn about PLC's, the more I tuck away for future reference when I'm working at a school that's more enthusiastic about the possibility of the process. I don't have any advice to give, but in my mind, the most important aspect of crafting a successful PLC is maintaining a high level of open and honest communication amongst all the stakeholders - that way there are fewer assumptions and misunderstandings.

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