PLC at Work

Why I Love Professional Learning Communities at Work™ Institutes

As a former Division I college basketball player with a brief professional career overseas, I have had some amazing experiences playing and associating with athletes who were used to being highly successful. I have played with and against a number of well-known former college players who went on to play professionally. In fact, my college roommate Mike Brown played professionally for 15 years—12 of those years in the NBA for the Chicago Bulls, Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers, and Phoenix Suns. I immensely respected Mike, my teammates, and the other college players that I played against.

During my career, I have played in front of crowds at dome stadiums with upward of 25,000 people and in small gyms where there were as few as 250 people in attendance, and I always got a thrill because it was game time. After hours and hours of practice and feedback (formative assessments) from the coaches, it was time for our summative assessment, the actual game with our team. Win or lose, we were a group of athletes working interdependently to achieve a common goal for which we were all mutually accountable.

After finishing my basketball career, I never thought I would feel the kind of anxiousness, excitement, energy, optimism, and pure positivity that my basketball game days brought me. Don’t get me wrong, I have had the most wonderful career as a public-school educator. From my earliest days as a physical education teacher to my days as an elementary and high school counselor and finally as a school administrator, I experienced pretty much every emotion that you will feel before and during a basketball game, and as an educator, there was much more importance and meaning to those emotions because we were dealing with enhancing and saving lives.

In February of 2016 at the PLC at Work™ Summit in Phoenix, Mason Crest Elementary School, a school of which I was honored to be a part, received the first-ever DuFour Award. That was without a doubt the highlight of my career, because it was in honor of my hero, without whom none of this would have been possible, Rick DuFour. I hesitate to compare a basketball game to that day at the Summit because I don’t want to trivialize our work as educators and know it’s so much bigger than a game. Having said that, the total euphoric, almost over-the-top optimism and excitement that surrounded the day when we received the DuFour Award, although uniquely special because it was Rick’s last Summit, was actually not so surprising.

Why would you say that, Brian? I say that because the game day feel for me over the past 13 years of either attending or presenting at Solution Tree Institutes is just that, a professional game day event. The difference is each event is our playoff game, our Super Bowl, our final match at Wimbledon, or the final hole to win the U.S. Open. I literally cannot sleep when presenting at institutes, because I am so anxious and at the same time excited. This is no different than my basketball-playing days. The only difference between game day for basketball and game day at the institutes is that I am literally in awe, a fan of my teammates at the institutes. Although I played with and against some great players, I never was in awe of them, no matter how good they were. This is different; the people I get to hang out with during the institutes put me in geek-out mode. I am like all of their biggest fans. Of course, I have the utmost respect for the absolute influencers, CEO Jeff Jones, Rick and Becky, Bob Eaker, Mike Mattos and Tom Many, the architects of the PLC at Work™ model; Anthony Muhammad, Tim Kanold, Tim Brown, Luis Cruz and Ken Williams, among so many of my wonderful Solution Tree authors and presenters, my colleagues who continue to honor our vision to transform education worldwide.

However, these are not the people I am referring to. I am referring to another set of colleagues I am absolutely in awe of—the staff at Solution Tree back in Bloomington, Indiana, who you don’t see and who work all year to make these events go off without a hitch. They make our jobs, the authors’ and presenters’, so much easier. They are the event coordinators who Rick likened to a wedding planner for between 1,200 and 2,400 friends for three days who had to arrange housing and food. They are the staff who are at the on-site bookstore, the staff at registration, the ones who are in each room handing out our PowerPoint slides and catering to the whim of every presenter and attendee. They are the team who take care of all of the audiovisual needs, led by Kevin Frankenburger!

These are my heroes, why I love institutes, the people who I cannot wait to see and just get a minute or so with, as I have learned so much from them over the past decade plus. They don’t get to experience the roar of the crowd like we presenters do, and they deserve every bit of it because they are our teammates as well. So, if you see one of them with a Solution Tree shirt, introduce yourself, give them a high five, and say thank you. Then ask them if you can take a selfie with them and post it on the Solution Tree Twitter page. Tell them Brian sent you. They will know what you mean.

I forgot one group! Well, no I didn’t; I saved this special group for last. You! The attendees, the incredible educators who take time out of your schedules, most of the time in the summers when school is out and you could be at home or on a beach somewhere, but you come because you care deeply about the future of our children. You are what make the institutes so special! I leave every institute energized by your passion and commitment to do the right work, to look in the mirror and say that you are going to continue to improve your craft to ensure that on “your watch,” every child will have the opportunity, as Mike Mattos says, to have a life filled with endless possibilities because of what “we” do. I leave with such renewed optimism for our profession, the mother and father of every profession on earth, education.

These institutes are, in essence, a three-day celebration of your work and of you the people on the front lines. Why do I love PLC at Work™ Institutes? How could I not love them when I get to hang out, celebrate, and learn with thousands of my heroes for three days multiple times a year? Yes, you are my teammates too!

Why should you love PLC at Work™ Institutes? For the same reason!

The answer truly is in our room!

Brian K. Butler

Brian K. Butler has been an educator for over 27 years and a school-based administrator for over 12 years and is a former physical education teacher, counselor, and coach. Brian is the former principal of Mason Crest Elementary School in Fairfax County, Virginia. Under Brian’s leadership, Mason Crest received Solution Tree’s first annual DuFour Award in 2016.

The Summit on Professional Learning Communities at Work

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  1. B-Diddy, you’ve said THREE mouthfuls here, my man…well said. I’ve been to and spoken at many conferences and the combined synergy of the teams at Solution Tree is one of a kind. I love how you speak of the energy of the institutes and the impact of the behind the scenes teams. When people ask me what doing one of those conferences is like, I tell them from the time you walk in, there are people taking care of every other aspect of the process…all that’s left for me to do is to take the stage and let it RIP!