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<p>The School Leader's Guide to Professional Learning Communities at Work<sup>TM</sup></p>

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Are you a K–8 principal ready to implement the PLC at Work™ process? Two experienced practitioners show you how to explore the critical components needed to lay the foundation of a PLC, including how to develop a structure that supports collaborative teams, how to focus on effective monitoring strategies, how to reflect on your communication effectiveness, and more.

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1    Getting Started

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Getting Started

One of the first questions a principal must address to create the conditions that lead to higher levels of learning for both students and staff is simply, Where do I begin? We recommend the following steps.

1.  Start with questions.

2.  Create a guiding coalition.

3.  Build shared knowledge with staff by learning together.

4.  Help staff members clarify the school they are attempting to create.

5.  Clarify the commitments that are vital to creating the school.

6.  Establish indicators of progress and strategies for monitoring those indicators.

7.  Develop a critical mass to support implementation and begin taking action.

Start With Questions

It is not imperative that a principal know all the answers to the challenges confronting a school; it is imperative that the principal ask the right questions to help identify and focus attention on those challenges. A principal new to a school should meet with the staff in small groups to ask a series of questions, such as:

 

2    Creating the Structures for Collaboration

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Creating the Structures for Collaboration

Now that you and your guiding coalition have worked with the staff to articulate the shared foundation of a PLC at Work, how do you bring those words to life? How do you change the traditional assumptions, habits, expectations, and beliefs that constitute the very culture of the school? An important step in transforming school culture is replacing traditional structures with those more aligned to the school you are trying to create, and then supporting the staff members as they begin to operate within those new structures. This chapter will focus on some of the structural issues principals must address to help move a staff from working in isolation or working in groups to working as members of high-performing collaborative teams. Meeting this challenge will require principals to do the following:

1.  Organize people into meaningful teams focused on learning.

2.  Provide teams with time to collaborate.

 

3    Transforming Groups Into High-Performing Teams

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Transforming Groups Into High-Performing Teams

Organizing school staff into meaningful teams and ensuring members have access to one another by addressing the issues of propinquity and time are essential structural issues that principals must address in a PLC. Changing structures, however, is never enough. In order to build and sustain the culture of collaboration focused on learning and results, principals must provide leadership and support to ensure their faculties use the team time wisely.

This chapter will focus on two important steps principals can facilitate to help transform a group of teachers into a high-performing team.

1.  Engage teams in identifying collective commitments to guide collaboration.

2.  Engage teams in working collaboratively to achieve SMART goals.

See “Critical Issues for Team Consideration” for the list of eighteen critical issues teams must address as they engage in the PLC process

See “Why Should We Collaborate?” for a sampling of the research on collaboration. Visit go.solution-tree.com/plcbooks to download these reproducibles.

 

4    Focusing on the Right Work

ePub

Focusing on the Right Work

If you have worked with staff to establish a common mission, shared vision, collective commitments, and mutual goals, you have laid the foundation of a PLC. If you and the staff have established the structures that support a collaborative culture, you have addressed an essential prerequisite for an effective PLC. If at that point, however, the educators in your building do not focus their collaborative efforts on the right work, there will be no gains in student achievement. One of the most important responsibilities of a principal in leading the PLC process is to ensure all staff members understand the nature of the work to be done and demonstrate the discipline to focus their collective efforts on that work. As DuFour and Marzano (2011) explain:

Collaboration is morally neutral. It will benefit neither students nor practitioners unless educators demonstrate the discipline to co-labor on the right work. The important question every district, school, and team must address is not, “Do we collaborate,” but rather, “What do we collaborate about?” To paraphrase W. Edwards Deming, it is not enough to work hard; you must clarify the right work, and then work hard. Effective leaders at all levels will ensure there is agreement on the right work. (p. 83)

 

5   Demonstrating Reciprocal Accountability in a Professional Learning Community

ePub

Demonstrating Reciprocal Accountability in a Professional Learning Community

Imagine that as principal you have been successful in implementing each step on the PLC journey that we have identified thus far. You have established a guiding coalition and built shared knowledge with your staff on the current reality of your school. You have clarified the rationale for implementing the PLC process. Staff members have articulated the mission and vision of their school, have made collective commitments to align their behavior and practices with that vision, and have established SMART goals to monitor their progress on the PLC journey. You have helped to clarify the work that must serve as the very heart of their collaborative efforts and have created structures to support the PLC process. A solid foundation is in place. What could go wrong? A lot! Effective principals do more than hope teams will focus on the right work and succeed in the PLC process. They monitor the work, intervene when teams struggle, and coordinate the efforts of the guiding coalition to ensure teams are provided with the support they need to be successful in the process.

 

6    Establishing a Focus on Results

ePub

Establishing a Focus on Results

Keep in mind that everything we have discussed thus far—creating a guiding coalition, establishing clear purpose, shared vision, collective commitments, and SMART goals; creating structures to support collaboration; using articulated commitments and goals to help groups become teams; developing a guaranteed curriculum; monitoring student learning through common formative assessments, and putting a process in place to monitor and support collaborative teams—involves steps and strategies to achieve a single purpose: higher levels of student learning. They are the means to an end, but the end itself is ensuring that more students learn at higher levels.

In this chapter we examine the vital role of team-developed common formative assessment in monitoring each student’s learning, driving continuous improvement, and informing and improving the professional practice of teachers. We recommend a protocol to help teams use the common assessment process most effectively. Finally, we argue that using this process to build the collective capacity of a team to provide powerful instruction is more effective in improving student learning than trying to evaluate and supervise individual teachers into better performance.

 

7    Responding When Students Don’t Learn

ePub

Responding When Students Don’t Learn

Read the mission statements from schools throughout the world and they exude high expectations. They promise that all students will learn. However, the best evidence of high expectations in any school is not revealed by reading the verbiage of its mission statement but by observing what happens in the school when some students do not learn.

We have asked thousands of educators to consider the following series of if/then statements.

1.  If the mission of our school is to ensure all students learn, then our policies, practices, and procedures should align with and support that mission.

2.  If all students are to learn, then we must acknowledge that some students will need more time and support for learning than others.

3.  If some students will need additional time and support for learning, then we must create schedules and adopt systematic procedures that ensure those students receive additional time and support in ways that do not remove them from new, direct instruction.

 

8    Communicating Purpose and Priorities

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Communicating Purpose and Priorities

One of the great challenges every principal must resolve is the top-down versus bottom-up approach to leadership. Should a principal use the authority of his or her position to demand adherence to certain core principles and practices in the school, or should the principal encourage autonomy by empowering people throughout the organization to make important decisions? The best answer to both parts of this question is yes. Effective principals reject what Collins and Porras (1997) refer to as the “Tyranny of the OR” and instead embrace the “Genius of the AND.” They clearly communicate that certain things in the school are nondiscretionary at the same time that they empower the staff to make significant decisions. As a result, the culture of a PLC is both nondiscretionary (or tight) and empowering (or loose). This simultaneous loose-tight culture, also referred to as defined autonomy or directed empowerment, is fundamental to the PLC process.

 

9  Sustaining School Improvement

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Sustaining School Improvement

“This too shall pass” is a common mantra that U.S. teachers have about school improvement proposals. They have every reason to feel that way. Between 1987 and 1997, Phi Delta Kappan articles offered 361 different ideas for making U.S. schools more effective (Carpenter, 2000), and that number has dramatically increased in the decade since the passage of No Child Left Behind. Veteran teachers who have watched these initiatives come and go have become inured to the cyclical process of the rise and fall of improvement programs. A new program is announced with great fanfare and promise only to be met by confusion, concerns, and criticism. As complaints mount and immediate benefits fail to materialize, the initiative is abandoned, and the search begins for the next magic bullet.

Although educators are accustomed to initiating school improvement strategies, they have precious little experience in sustaining improvement initiatives. Principals have played a significant role in creating this cycle of short-lived reform efforts, and it will take effective leadership on the part of principals to break the cycle. In this chapter, we examine three keys to sustaining the meaningful improvement initiatives in your school.

 

10    Fostering Collective Efficacy

ePub

Fostering Collective Efficacy

We began this book asking readers to consider an important question, What is the role of the principal? We have argued that the primary responsibility of the principal is to lead a collective effort to create a professional learning community that ensures high levels of learning for students through recursive processes that promote adult learning. We have attempted to offer specific, practical, and actionable steps principals can take to fulfill that role.

We conclude with another question, Do you believe in your ability to fulfill this role and the collective ability of your staff to create such a school? In essence, we are asking, “Do you believe you can make a difference?” The answer to this question will have an enormous impact on your effectiveness as a principal. As Kouzes and Posner (2010) write,

Everything you will ever do as a leader is based on one audacious assumption. It’s the assumption that you matter. Before you can lead others, you have to lead yourself and believe that you can have a positive impact on others. You have to believe that your words can inspire and your actions can move others. You have to believe that what you do counts for something. If you don’t, you won’t even try. Leadership begins with you. The Truth Is That You Make a Difference. (p. 1)

 

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