Virginia Mahlke

Virginia Mahlke is a consultant who works with educators and administrators nationwide. Her experience as both a teacher and administrator allows her to connect with all levels of school staff.

Coordinate, Manage, Lead

These three words all have something to do with making something happen. Yet in the PLC at Work® culture, there are very important distinctions among those words that can have a profound impact on the way your building operates to ensure high levels of learning for all students. Let’s look at the three words:

  • Coordinate: This involves bringing different elements into a relationship that ensures efficiency.
  • Manage: This refers to being in charge, maintaining control, ensuring that something gets accomplished.
  • Lead: This entails showing someone the way, by going in front of or beside them, setting a process in motion, being a motivator for someone to move forward.

Let’s suppose you are given the assignment of building a PLC at Work culture in a school.

If you coordinate, you set up a structure for teams to meet regularly. You design a master schedule that allows for collaboration within contracted hours. You assign specialists and resource personnel to teams depending on common planning time. You assume that the right work will happen when you have brought together the different elements in a relationship that ensures efficiency.

If you manage, you roll out the PLC in your building. You break down the work into linear steps and establish due dates for each component (team norms due to me by _______, priority standards identified by _______, team-developed common assessments turned in to me by _______). Your main concern is to check off the boxes for each of the steps for each team. You focus more on the what than the why.

If you lead, you set the PLC at Work process in motion by engaging in shared learning with your staff. You disperse leadership and responsibility among staff members. You acknowledge that “learning by doing” is often messy, and you celebrate small increments of progress. You champion the vision for the school, and your actions motivate the staff to continue the journey. You set expectations (go in front), and you provide support and resources (go beside) for your staff.

The PLC at Work journey is one that requires both passion and persistence to reach the goal. The true PLC at Work leader embodies traits of the coordinator and the manager, but those traits all contribute to the goal of implementing the culture into the school. The “dangerous detours” that are referred to in Learning by Doing are ones that a coordinator or manager might be tempted to take because it makes his or her work easier. A leader realizes that high levels of learning for all students can only be realized by being clear about the mission and vision, ensuring a collective commitment to the right work, and refusing to tolerate behavior that runs counter to the mission of the PLC at Work.

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