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Look before you leap

I guess that if there is anything to be learned from the recent financial news, it is that committing resources unwisely has serious consequences. I am quoting somebody (actually somebody's father, probably) is stating "If you don't have time to do it right, you better have time to do it over." I think there is a lesson here for principals who are attempting to forge professional learning communities in their buildings. My guess is that there are few buildings that are tying to create these communities for the first time.

Many principals I know would rather have a root canal than spend time developing strong professional relationships with their staffs. The list of reasons for this condition contains many of our greatest hits:

  • A lack of belief that any tangible results can come from getting to know your colleagues more deeply.
  • A feeling that time is so valuable that "wasting" it on team-building, trust-building, or communications activities detracts from getting something "real" accomplished.
  • School culture causes teachers to find security in their ability to keep their practice private.
  • Relationship building is difficult and fragile work. Principals must take enormous personal risk and weather a great deal of criticism in order to harness the true power of collective wisdom. There is little wonder, then,that many principals would rather just "get through" the staff meeting in a "Town Crier" format rather than invest in true community activities.

These are just a few of the reasons why so many schools "jump" into the work at hand rather than taking the time (and expending the energy) necessary for creating a true collaborative environment. Among the many paradoxes involved with creating PLCs is the notion that real, measurable results are necessary for the group to truly believe that collaboration is worth the effort, while at the same time real, measurable results cannot be achieved without true collaboration.

If you have not had a great deal of experience in leading Professional Learning Communities, or if you are always on the lookout for collaborative activities, check out this site hosted by the National School Reform Faculty. It contains a wealth of information about Critical Friends Groups and offers downloadable activities for staff meetings.

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