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!