Two Different "Schools" of Thought
The most frequent question we hear at our PLC workshops and institutes is, "How should we respond to skeptical colleagues who resist any effort to implement the PLC concept?" The answer we provide is:
- Assume good intentions on the part of these colleagues. Recognize that from their perspective, there are very legitimate reasons for being resistant.
- Seek to understand their perspective. Ask them to articulate their assumptions and concerns.
- Seek to build shared knowledge of best practice. Present your assumptions and evidence, invite them to present any contrary evidence, and see if you can agree on the weight of the evidence. Always operate from the premise that if people of good faith have access to the same information, they are likely to arrive at common ground.
I believe this is very good advice, but I must acknowledge that it does not always work. Very rarely, we encounter someone who not only has no interest in engaging in collective inquiry, exploring assumptions, gathering evidence, or seeking common ground, but also resorts to vilifying anyone who does not agree with him or her.
No one illustrates this tendency better than a high school teacher in Texas who for the past several years has made it his mission in life to oppose the PLC concept in general and me in particular. He has, at various times, referred to me and others who advocate for PLCs as "mindless educrats", "a crass, pompous, aristocratic guru class", "charlatans", "a charismatic cult", "not to be trusted", guilty of "hubris", and a "parasite on the nation’s schools" who "peddle nonsense-driven snake oil". Perhaps I am being overly sensitive, but I get the distinct impression that he does not think highly of me.
What have I done to evoke this reaction? I have argued that schools are more effective in helping more students learn at high levels when teachers work collaboratively rather than in isolation, when they commit to provide students with access to a guaranteed curriculum that ensures all students have access to essential knowledge and skills regardless of the teacher to whom they are assigned, when student learning is monitored frequently in an assessment process that includes team-developed common formative assessment, when the school has a plan for providing struggling students with additional time and support, and when teachers analyze actual evidence of student learning to inform and improve their practice.
The concept of schooling I present is abhorrent to this teacher. He believes that as a professional he is free to make his own determinations about how to conduct his classroom. He will not subjugate his "personal academic freedom" and "independence" to the "mindless," "spineless" "group think" of "interdependent collaborative groups." Schools are better served by teachers who "stand their ground, speak their mind, and follow their own conscience, regardless of what the larger organization thinks" because real professionals "will not be bullied."
In the view of this teacher, schools should not be student-centered, but content-centered. As he writes: "It is the substance of learning, the hard material content of English, math, science, history, and the various electives that should be at the center of any school’s culture, not the teachers or the students."
He is very explicit in rejecting the idea that educators have any obligation to help all students learn. Schools should "let students fail" because "it’s the best policy that any school devoted to excellence can pursue" and ensures "the failing student is better left to experience the abject humiliation that failure brings with it." Furthermore, "the student alone holds the moral responsibility for his or her own education and its ultimate outcome." Schools that attempt to monitor the learning of students and intervene in a systematic way when they are unsuccessful do "students active harm."
This teacher argues that attention to all students can only come at the expense of bright students. "The most gifted and motivated students will have to be ignored because of the constant pressure on teachers to keep the low end of the student population from failing." The K-12 system should emulate higher education, where students succeed or fail on their own because that system has worked so well.
Clearly, we have different perspectives on the best strategies for improving schools. How might we resolve these differences? I will address that question in my next blog.