Brig Leane

Brig Leane, former principal of Fruita Middle School in Colorado, has nearly 20 years of experience in education. He has been an assistant principal and has taught at the middle and high school levels in inner-city, suburban, and rural schools. He is also an adjunct professor at Colorado Christian University.

Your Circle of Influence in a PLC

Are you maximizing your Circle of Influence?

Bestselling author Stephen Covey (1989) wrote, “Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about ... Reactive people, on the other hand, focus their efforts in the Circle of Concern. They focus on the weakness of other people, the problems in the environment, and circumstances over which they have no control” (p. 83).

While these words from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People can be applied to the school setting, you might be wondering, “What is my Circle of Influence when it comes to the PLC process?”

The innermost Circle of Influence for the teacher is the classroom and the students within it. Parents should reasonably expect every teacher to have clarity on what their child is going to learn, how the learning will be demonstrated, and how to respond when additional time and support is needed. It is in that circle that a teacher can and should be accountable to answer the four critical questions of learning:

  1. What do I want students to know and be able to do?
  2. How will I know if they have learned it?
  3. What will I do if they haven’t learned it?
  4. What will I do if they already know it?

Teachers should achieve this level of clarity in each unit on essential learnings to increase their impact, and communicating these would help students and parents know the game plan as well.

And the Circle of Influence of a teacher can be much greater

While every teacher should have clarity on the answers to the critical questions above, doesn’t it make sense for teachers to answer these questions together? And—as a parent—when I think about what I want for my own children, my hope is that the answers to those questions are the same regardless of which teachers my children are assigned. That can only happen with highly effective collaboration, so why not save the effort that is so often duplicated, and reap the benefits of team collaboration at the same time? Think of Hattie’s Teacher Collective Efficacy.

Not only will team collaboration influence more students, it will also impact colleagues—both new and experienced. On a highly effective collaborative team, new teachers are not left alone to make critical instructional decisions, defend why they have selected their essentials, or come up with intervention and extension plans. Experienced teachers get an infusion of new ideas and will leave a legacy of their vast skills with their colleagues when they retire. Otherwise, when those experienced teachers walk out the door upon retirement, all of their skills go with them.

And the Circle of Influence of teams can be much greater

When a school is ready to implement the PLC process school-wide, the benefits multiply as resources can be focused to help ensure learning for all. Primarily, this involves people who are not necessarily available for every team to use, such as counselors, paraprofessionals, intervention teachers, English as a second language teachers, and special education teachers—all of whom can help ensure every student learns the team-determined essentials. Other benefits include how master schedules can ensure time for intervention and teacher collaboration during the contracted school day, and how recognition ceremonies and parent communication for meeting essentials skills can become school-wide processes.

And the Circle of Influence of schools can be even greater

The next larger Circle of Influence is the district. Implementing the PLC process district-wide is a game changer! It gives principals the encouragement, support, and accountability needed to sustain this process over the long term. It helps ensure that collaboration can occur across schools, where ideas on more effective essentials, the rigor of common formative assessments, intervention techniques, and the focusing of district resources can be aimed to help schools ensure learning for all. Principals who do not have district support for the PLC process are at a distinct disadvantage because they do their work without the support that is needed to sustain this effort over the long term. FYI, Chapter 10 in Learning By Doing (3rd Ed.) has an outstanding guide for districts!

Could the Circle of Influence grow beyond the district?

Yes! And it is. In a few states such as Wyoming and Arkansas, state departments of education are learning that their focus on the simple, but not easy PLC process can influence tens of thousands of students and educators alike. These states are using their influence to benefit students who deserve to have their teachers focus on the four critical questions of learning.

I encourage you to be an educator focusing on what you can do something about, and not on those things you cannot control—look in the mirror, not out the window! You play an important role in the incredible task of education. Don’t underestimate the long-term impact of the work you do, and look for ways to expand your Circle of Influence.

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