Friday, 18 September 2015

Are you married to your PLC?

Are you married to your PLC? Are you just flirting or dating? Or maybe engaged? What is your level of commitment to the PLC process?  These were the questions and conversations that surfaced repeatedly as I crisscrossed North America this summer, working with schools and districts in their Professional Learning Communities.

Almost all of the staffs had already had some form of introduction to the PLC concepts. Some districts had sent administrators to a big PLC Institute, others had sent teacher teams to a one-day or two-day Pro-D Event. A few more had already had a whole-staff introduction of some sort.  Several had already made some of the structural changes such as proving collaborative PLC time which was built right into the timetable, or creating formal PLC teams with guidelines and team norms. Everyone I spoke with liked the concept of PLC. However, the level of commitment was hit and miss.

In his recent book, In Praise of American Educators, Rick DuFour reminds us that the “primary challenge in the PLC process is changing, and not merely tweaking, the existing culture” (p. 100). DuFour insists, it is not so much about what PLC’s do, but rather how the individuals and the organization think and act together. PLC is not a checklist, it is a way of being. Ken Williams and Tom Hierck go even further in their new book, Starting a Movement, when they push our thinking about the “patterns, habits and actions” that demonstrate “the commitment required for PLCs to be embedded into the culture” of the school (p.96).

According to Williams and Hierck, we are flirting when we have just a surface level of exploration or implementation. We are dating when we demonstrate some of the characteristics of a PLC, but we don’t have any personal commitment to it. When we are engaged in the process, we demonstrate a deep commitment to the purpose, process and our collaborative team.

In my conversations with several school staffs recently, we took it one step further.  What will it look like if you are married to the PLC process?  If you and your team are married to the PLC process, there will be a deep commitment to the process.  Communication will be clear; everyone will know the mission, vision, values and goals of the school. They will have a collective understanding of WHY we are all here together. Collaboration will be meaningful; teams of teachers will work interdependently to clarify the most essential learning in each grade or subject, and will share best practice for both instruction and assessment.  PLC members will celebrate each other’s strengths and support each other to work on areas of improvement. People married to their Professional Learning Community will know they can lean on each other. They will help each other get better, and sustain each other through the inevitable tough times.

Many excellent resources are available that outline the big ideas, key concepts, critical questions and desirable attributes of a PLC. These books are very helpful, but they risk becoming more checklists. Members of a PLC must be willing to work on the commitment and relationships required of being married to their Professional Learning Community.

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