Are you married to your professional learning community? Are you just flirting or dating? 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 on their PLCs.
Almost all of the staffs had already been introduced to PLC concepts. Some districts had sent administrators to a PLC institute, while others had sent teacher teams to one-day or two-day PD events. A few more had already had whole-staff introductions of some sort. Several had already made some of the structural changes, such as providing collaborative PLC time built right into the timetable or creating formal PLC teams with guidelines and team norms. Everyone I spoke with liked the concept of PLCs. However, the level of commitment was hit and miss.
In his recent book, In Praise of American Educators, Richard DuFour reminds us that the “primary challenge in the PLC process is changing, and not merely tweaking, the existing culture” (p. 100). Dr. DuFour insists it is not so much about what PLCs do, but rather how the individuals and the organization think and act together. PLC is not a checklist; it is a way of being. Kenneth C. 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 purposes, process, and our collaborative teams. Williams and Hierck ask: What will it look like if you are engaged to the PLC process? In Starting a Movement, they elaborate by saying that if you and your team are engaged 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 practices for both instruction and assessment. PLC members will celebrate each other’s strengths and support each other to work on areas of improvement.
A marriage is a long-term commitment. People married to their PLC 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 if folks don’t dig a little deeper. Members of a PLC must be willing to work on the commitment and relationships required of being married to their PLC.