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How to Coach Leadership in a PLC

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Expand your leadership capacity. Through this how-to guide, you’ll investigate why strong leadership is a crucial element of successful PLCs and delve deep into what leadership should involve at the district and site levels. Discover leadership strategies for creating a collaborative culture, learn how to build shared values among educators, and explore tools and techniques for monitoring progress on your PLC journey.

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Chapter 1: Laying the Foundation for PLC Leadership

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Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

In reflecting on the shifts listed in the introduction, each requires change—change in how we operate, focus, work, and see ourselves. These changes do not happen without effective leadership that communicates a shared purpose, establishes a culture of collaboration, and motivates change.

The starting point to lead these shifts and a commitment to continuous improvement rest on communicating a shared purpose to all engaged in the PLC. The foundation for PLC work rests on four pillars: (1) mission, (2) vision, (3) values, and (4) goals. Teams question, “Why do we exist?,” “What must our school become to accomplish our purpose?,” “How must we behave to achieve our vision?,” and “How will we mark our progress?” (DuFour et al., 2010).

Leaders at all levels must build shared understanding of these four pillars so that there is alignment of beliefs, focus, and effort. This takes more than a one-time discussion or memo pointing out what is important; it requires clear, consistent reminders throughout the organization that this is who we are, what we stand for, and why we are engaged in this work. I was once reminded of how important it is as a leader to never assume others know what our priorities are. Rich Smith, while Sanger’s deputy superintendent, and I were working with a group of superintendents from a neighboring county and their cabinets to develop the focus of their PLC work. On our first day, we asked all of the superintendents to each take three sticky notes and list their three main district goals—the three most important things they were focusing on. We then asked each of their cabinet members to do the same. The superintendents placed their three goals on the table and had the cabinet members place theirs under any of their superintendent’s goals if they aligned, and if not, to start a new column. We then asked how many district teams had only three aligned columns of goals. None did! All districts had at least six, and some as many as ten columns, of main goals. The superintendents were shocked at how little clarity there was about the important work of the district. If this lack of common understanding exists at the cabinet level, what level of discrepancy exists at the site level? Establishing a sense of shared mission, vision, values, and goals is critical to developing the common intent that everyone in the system understands and embraces.

 

Chapter 2: Developing Capacity Through Distributed Leadership

ePub

The most pernicious myth about leadership is that it is reserved for only a few of us . . . leadership is accessible to anyone who has the passion and purpose to change things as they are.

—Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner

When Richard DuFour begins his presentation about leadership at a PLC Institute, he shares this definition of leadership: “Leadership is working with others to establish a shared sense of purpose, goals, and direction, and then persuading people to move in that direction” (Louis, Leithwood, Wahlstrom, & Anderson, 2010). Based on this starting point, he presents an amended definition of leadership as (Richard DuFour, 2014):

• Working with others to establish a shared sense of purpose, goals, and direction.

• Persuading people to move in that direction.

• Clarifying the steps to be taken to begin moving in the right direction.

• Providing the resources and support that enable people to succeed at what they are being asked to do.

 

Chapter 3: Structuring and Supporting Leadership Coaching

ePub

The only real training for leadership is leadership.

—Anthony Jay

What is coaching? How do you coach? You can find a wide variety of answers to these questions. John Wooden says, “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.” A variety of online resources provide other views; take, for example, the online blog post “What Is Coaching? 10 Definitions,” which includes the following (as cited in karencwise, 2010):

1. “Unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” (Whitmore, 2003)

2. “A collaborative, solution-focused, results-oriented and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed learning, and personal growth of the coachee.” (Grant, 1999; basic definition also referred to by the Association for Coaching, 2005)

3. “A professional partnership between a qualified coach and an individual or team that support the achievement of extra-ordinary results, based on goals set by the individual or team.” (ICF, 2005)

 

Chapter 4: Coaching Leadership to Sustain PLCs

ePub

Information is not knowledge.

—Albert Einstein

In the context of PLCs, coaches often help coachees develop their leadership capacity in relation to the three big ideas and four key questions that frame and guide the work of PLCs. Coaching leadership in a PLC becomes a function of the system. When we understand that, in a professional learning community, coaching becomes the work of our system, whether that is as a site or as a district, we all are leaders of learning, and we learn by doing. Coaching leadership development is not just what a coach does; we all become coaches as we learn together.

The first big idea that guides PLC work is a relentless focus on learning. Well, of course, you say; it is school, after all, and learning is what happens there. Unfortunately for too many students, the time spent in school has not resulted in learning because the structures, support, and belief system necessary to ensure that all students learn are not in place. What does it mean to have a learning-centered focus? It starts with the development of a shared vision and commitment that ensure that school is a place where learning for all is reality. That is the job of leadership, and leadership is a shared responsibility distributed throughout members of the team.

 

Chapter 5: Continuing the Journey

ePub

Don’t let schooling interfere with your education!

—Mark Twain

So the question that I have hopefully posed in your thinking about coaching leadership is, Do you coach by leading or lead by coaching? I believe the answer is both. All levels of leadership have a shared sense of mission, vision, values, and goals that are crystal clear, demonstrated throughout the system, and visible and evident in the leadership actions we see and conversations we hear. The best way to develop leadership is by leading. The way we build our system’s leadership capacity is by creating opportunities to lead and encourage and develop leadership in a shared learning journey.

That is the journey I shared for fourteen years with an incredible group of people. That is the transformation of which I was a part, the culture that I helped shape, and the team that I helped coach. The outcome of that journey is incredible both in terms of student and adult learning. We began the journey as one of the first ninety-eight school districts flagged in California for Program Improvement. Within two years, we had exited PI status. Every PI school exited within four years. Our achievement ranked in the bottom 10 percent of the state, and now the district’s achievement gains have consistently ranked as some of the best in the state. Our ELs are outperforming the state averages in all areas, and our redesignated fluent EL students are the highest-performing group in the district. The district has garnered twenty State Distinguished School Designations, eighteen Title I Academic Achieving school designations, three National Blue Ribbon Schools awards, and every school with a middle school program has been recognized as a National Middle School to Watch. The cohort dropout rate of our high school students at Sanger High is at 1 percent and graduation rate at 98 percent. The outcomes for students have been incredible, and so too is the journey that continues.

 

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