Traveling across the country and across countries has revealed a common component of successful schools, or those seeking unprecedented levels of success. Creating a collective commitment is the key component to move the agenda forward. In our newly released book Starting A Movement: Building Culture From the Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities, Ken Williams and I talk about the process of authentic alignment as the vehicle to ensure collective commitment. It all begins with establishing your WHY.
A school can’t build a culture of collective responsibility unless staff members discuss the fundamental purpose of the school. Collective commitment requires much more than clichés, slogans and catchphrases. It means that the intent behind establishing your mission was much more than the activity; it actually drives the work of the school, day-by-day, minute-by-minute. It means that the moral imperative of your work is evident in every aspect of your school’s culture.
The most common challenge for schools on the PLC journey is how to transition from a culture of compliance to this culture of commitment. This shift marks the difference between “doing PLC” to “being a PLC” and is evidenced by educators speaking about “our kids”, not “my kids”.
As I was working with educators from a number of Caribbean nations this week, I realized this message is the same everywhere. The conditions of the schools and the challenges they face are much more basic, on some levels, than much of what we face in the United States and Canada. However, they also need to be driven by their WHY. Realizing the importance of education, making secondary schooling more available, and utilizing technology and distance learning to ensure more healthy transitions are helping to re-define the work. Having students in the audience further deepened the importance of the WHY as a number of them shared comments about wanting to experience success and how it made overcoming obstacles and long odds worth the struggle.
As long as the adults in the education system aim to honor the commitments we all make to students – to improve their life chances and be difference makers via the delivery of instruction – we’ll be driven by a deeper WHY. The global divisions that exist as barriers between us will vanish, and be replaced by the collective efficacy borne out of authentic alignment with our passion and our purpose.