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A Place to Start

Just as the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, building community in your school begins with a single conversation. Roland Barth, in Learning by Heart, writes that every school has non-discussables. These are issues that are so emotionally charged that they cannot be spoken about in any formal way. They are discussed in parking lots, teacher lounges, and in teacher's rooms. Barth maintains that a school's quality is inversely proportional to the number of non-discussables it has. Examples of non-discussables include the leadership of a new principal, the move to block scheduling, the adoption of a managed curriculum, and the enactment of a new board policy.

In our attempt to get results rapidly, some schools jump right in to the "work at hand." It is not possible to understate how big of a mistake this is. I am tempted to argue that "jumping right in" is less an attempt to get things done in a hurry than it is an attempt to not have to discuss things or real importance. Blend this with the fact that there are people on every staff who would rather have a root canal than share their practice with colleagues and it becomes easy to see why so many attempt to create learning communities are doomed from the start.

That we must begin slowly and in a non-threatening manner is pretty intuitive. How to do it is less so. Beginning slowly does not have to mean small talk of the "how's the weather" variety. In an article entitled Good Talk About Good Teaching, Parker Palmer demonstrates just how easily these initial conversations can be.

Read the article. The way forward should become more clear.


Efficacy as a Metric

As mentioned in the initial post, I consider Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to be a strategy and not a goal. Without a doubt, there are some principals who have written PLCs into their school's strategic plans in goal oriented language, if not into the actual goal section of the plan. This encourages a dangerous mindset. Developing a PLC at your school is not a goal. (Despite what your Superintendent tells you) Improving your school in terms of student achievement and other measures is the goal. PLCs are one of many strategies that are employed to reach that goal. Semantics? Not really. If your goal is to have a Professional Learning Community at your school, that is what you'll get. Clear understanding of the differences between goals and strategies help to ensure that the goal remains "the main thing."

A difficult aspect of the time spent in teacher collaboration is answering the question, "what difference does it make?" Those hoping to see immediate results in the form of improved student performance on standardized tests might become quickly frustrated. Although PLCs do make a difference, and that difference is immediately realized, it can be difficult to measure.

One method for measuring progress is by examining your staff's sense of efficacy. I use efficacy here in its raw form, the capacity to produce a desired result. How a staff feels about its collective ability to cause the improvements called for in the strategic plan can be an important metric.

The link below will take you to the Collective Efficacy Scale. This brief survey, and accompanying scoring instructions can provide for an interesting staff meeting discussion, as well as a decent pre-post measure of PLC effectiveness. efficacy

Give it a try, the results may surprise you.

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