Keeping the Ball Rolling: Maintaining Momentum and Urgency in a PLC
The generation of innovative ideas and practices are often propelled through attendance at professional learning sessions where engaging practitioners and experts share their knowledge. Participants leave energized and excited; ready to get back to their schools to implement the new learning.
All too often, without a systematic and consistent approach present within the culture of their schools, much of this enthusiasm diminishes when day-to-day obstacles arise. In 2006, Rick and Becky DuFour came to the Windsor Central School District. Student achievement was lackluster, staff collaboration was limited, structures were inconsistent, and the culture was toxic. As Rick and Becky introduced professional learning communities (PLC) to the preK–12 staff, many staff members immediately had “aha moments,” while others almost instantly dismissed this new concept.
Following the two-day opportunity, rather than going back to business as usual the district committed to fully implementing what had been presented. As a result, over the past 13 years, the entire school district has been transformed. The PLC approach has allowed for deliberate and systematic cultural change. As a result, today there is a greater sense of urgency than in 2006.
Envisioning A Vision
A key step in any change initiative is the articulation of a compelling and shared vision. “Vision provides a sense of direction and basis for assessing both the current reality of the school and potential strategies, programs, and procedures to improve on that reality (DuFour, R., DuFour, R, Eaker, R, Many, T., Mattos, M., 2016, p. 39). A challenge for leaders is to help team members bring vision to life.
When considering the Windsor vision, it was imperative to create a focus to prompt action and motivate staff. An image of a lighthouse was displayed to the staff with the slogan, “Why Not Windsor?” Staff was encouraged to create programs to become a model for others and challenged to dismiss excuses and to focus on opportunities rather than obstacles. Over the past decade, results have been nothing short of amazing—far exceeding expectations. These simple representations of Windsor’s vision continue to inspire and motivate staff to create, innovate, and improve.
Making the vision tangible and within reach allows momentum to endure.
Clear, Compelling Goals
In order to realize the vision and measure progress, annual collaborative creation of clearly articulated SMART goals is critical. SMART goals provide the context for moving forward. Goals allow staff to answer the question, “How will we know if all of this is making a difference?” (DuFour, R., DuFour, R, Eaker, R, Many, T., Mattos, M., 2016, p. 42) If used as a motivation and measurement of advancement toward realization of the vision rather than a tool to “rank and spank” schools and teachers, goals can be incredibly powerful.
In Windsor, a carefully aligned goal-setting process is followed. There are four district goals, two school goals, one department or team goal, and one individual goal. This has allowed all members of the team to row in the same direction. This synergy has served as a great motivator and is critical to the creation of a culture of continuous improvement. Allowing each member of the team to realize their role in attaining the goals and achieving the vision is a powerful strategy to keep momentum going. In Windsor, ambitious goals have been attained and members of the team are eager to work toward meeting increasingly bold goals for student achievement.
The work that has been done in Windsor since Rick and Becky set the stage in 2006 has been incredible. In order to maintain the momentum and recognize the efforts of dedicated team members, celebrations of success have been infused into the culture of the district. From a celebratory student-achievement barbeque on opening day sponsored by the Board of Education, to recognitions of success at board, school, and leadership team meetings—as well as on the school website, social media, and internal communications—celebrations of the work being done by team members to make the vision a reality are critically important.
In addition, awards and designations for the individuals doing this important work are continuously sought. This has resulted in local, state, and national recognition. Applying to be Model PLC Schools and a Model PLC District, for example, has provided focus, reflection opportunities, and incentive for the team. The consequence is increased motivation, improved morale, and a positive school culture which fosters momentum and an energized commitment to the work.
When Windsor’s PLC journey began, although there were feelings of energy and excitement, the amount of work seemed daunting and overwhelming. There was so much to digest. In reality, there was even more to learn than originally anticipated. Consequently, continuous learning has become a critical part of the culture.
Windsor personnel continue to attend PLC events, bring in PLC at Work experts for conference days, participate in regular book studies, and engage in action research and collective inquiry. The new learning and acquisition of knowledge keeps ideas fresh and motivates staff to learn more and do more.
Additionally, it is crucial to remember that any time there is a new member of the team, it is a new team. Subsequently, leaders must be certain to provide opportunities for new staff to learn and gain critical knowledge and background. This happens by providing a comprehensive new staff induction program, continuing support, and ongoing coaching. In Windsor, this commitment to continuous learning has proven critical to success.
Even though it has been nearly 13 years since the DuFour’s challenged Windsor’s team to start the PLC journey, their words remain fresh in the district. A consistent focus, clear vision, aligned goals, celebration of success, and continuous learning have created a culture in which the status quo is challenged and outcomes and opportunities are consistently improved for students. Thanks to these critical tenants, momentum is in full force!
DuFour, R., DuFour, R, Eaker, R, Many, T., Mattos, M. (2016). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work. Bloomington, Ind: Solution Tree.
The Windsor story has indeed been an amazing one. To see a district go from being pretty close to the absolute bottom in virtually any regional metric you can measure to being in the top 2 in almost every regional metric you can measure has been incredible. Combine those results with the statewide, national, and global recognition the district has received and one can see the power of a consistent PLC based message.
Its now very common for other districts from throughout the region, state, country and the world to visit the district to witness best practices. PLC has been the absolute linchpin of the entire transformation. Windsor is a district of choice for some of the best educators in our area and beyond because of the PLC model.
Great job to Jason and district employees and students at all levels for making the Windsor CSD a World Famous Lighthouse!