Growing and Utilizing Your Guiding Coalition
Change is hard, but inevitable. Schools are complex…I would argue they are extremely complex.
Name another industry where you have as many variables (students, parents, teachers, bus drivers, board members, legislation, local/state/federal accountability, local/state/federal funding, etc.) as schools do. When you couple this complexity, along with schools taking on the challenge of ensuring high levels of learning for all students—in a system that was never designed to do so—you get the difficult, but doable, challenge facing school leaders today.
The authors of Learning by Doing provide us great insight in how to approach this challenge. The authors write, “Those who hope to lead the PLC process must begin by acknowledging that no one person will have the energy, expertise, and influence to lead a complex change process until it becomes anchored in the organization’s culture without first gaining the support of key staff members” (DuFour, et al). If you are going to successfully lead the PLC process, you must grow and utilize a guiding coalition!
I prefer to use the term “guiding coalition” because I believe it best describes what the group as an alliance of people who will guide the work. You will hear other terms used for this group such as “school leadership team,” “school learning team,” or “school improvement team.” The name isn’t as important as the role it plays. This coalition must collectively lead the change process!
Membership is crucial. Since this coalition is about leading change, it must contain enough staff and the right staff to influence the entire school. Sharon Kramer and Sarah Schuhl in School Improvement for All recommend the coalition be modeled around the following four characteristics:
- An eagerness to promote change
- Expertise relevant to the tasks on hand
- High credibility with all stakeholders
- Proven leadership skills
The authors of Taking Action recommend these four characteristics, based upon the research of John Kotter (Leading Change, 1996):
- Positional power
Membership must include the principal and leaders of collaborative teams. In addition, include representatives from other significant functions of your school, such as special education and counselors. A question to ask yourself when determining membership is “Do we have a collective membership that can guide and influence the entire school?” If your answer is yes, you are good to go. If the answer is no, where do you still need influence?
The guiding coalition must meet regularly. You are building an alliance, and an alliance must have a common cause and be in agreement. You can’t have discussions and be in agreement if you don’t meet regularly. I recommend meeting monthly, for a minimum of an hour. However, in the beginning of PLC implementation, you will probably need to meet more frequently. Meet as frequently as required to be in alliance and fulfill all your key roles.
Building clarity on the roles of a guiding coalition is critical. As Becky DuFour used to say, “clarity precedes competency.” School Improvement for All specifies these four specific tasks:
- Form a team capable of leading change.
- Develop an urgency and collective vision for change.
- Develop collective commitments that lead to action.
- Clarify and communicate expectations for collaborative teams.
Taking Action expands the role of the guiding coalition to include specific tasks associated with RTI (see pages 37-38 of Taking Action). These include tasks such as:
- Building consensus for the school’s mission
- Creating a master schedule that provides sufficient time for core instruction, supplemental interventions, and intensive interventions
- Allocating the school’s fiscal resources to best support core instruction and interventions
I always recommend that the guiding coalition put learning together as a top priority. As you learn together about PLC implementation, you will collectively build knowledge of next steps. Then as a coalition, you support and influence those around you to put into action what you learned!
As you continually learn as a coalition and build greater clarity on your role and what is involved in becoming a professional learning community, remember it is about influence. As you learn, help those around you learn. As you encounter questions, help those around you find answers. As you face obstacles, work with others to overcome them. Bring the questions and obstacles you and others are facing to the coalition and then utilize their collective energy and expertise. Remember, no one person has the energy, expertise, and influence to lead a complex change process.
If there is anything I’ve learned about PLC implementation, it is that you must grow and utilize a guiding coalition. Keep it simple: Get the right people on the bus, meet regularly, build a shared knowledge of PLC implementation, and influence those around you!
DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., Many, T. W., & Mattos, M. (2016). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press, a division of Solution Tree.
Kramer, S., Schuhl, S., (2017). School Improvement for All: A How-To Guide for Doing the Right Work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press, a division of Solution Tree.
Buffum, A., Mattos, M., & Malone, J., (2018). Taking Action: A Handbook for RTI at WorkTM. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press, a division of Solution Tree.