Monday, September 19, 2011
The Pink PLC
We provide weekly collaborative time for teachers in our school. In previous collaborative models I was very crystallized in terms of what I envisioned happening during this time. In following the PLC Model verbatim as I thought I should when I started working on ideas from the Professional Learning Community several years ago, I wanted my different staffs to establish norms (which I still believe to be important), to develop common learning outcomes, common assessments, analyze data...the gambit of ideas described in the PLC. I had weekly feedback sheets that my team leaders would diligently fill out, debriefing at coordinators meetings, I wanted to be 'in the loop' each step of the way.
But I have noticed an evolution in the way that I have approached the Professional Learning Community. As time has passed, and most notably in the last two years, I have changed my approach to our learning community model at SKSS. I am attributing this to some different points of view that are shaping my thinking right now. Many of these points of influence have come from people and theories that are circulating around my Personal Learning Network; one of these being Daniel Pink and his RSA Animate video on motivation.
Pink talks about a variety of things in this clip, but what truly resonated with me was his description of how a software company (Atlassian) gives their employees time to innovate and come up with different ideas. To quote Daniel Pink on this concept-- "You probably want to do something interesting, let me get out of the way". As Pink describes his own challenges with accepting this, I struggled with my not having a finger in all of the pies. To completely 'get out of the way' was a challenge for me, mostly because I want to believe that I am not 'in anyone's way'. I want to feel as though I am just an actively interested member of the team. But looking at how things were going at that time with our Learning Community, I have to admit that I likely was 'getting in the way'. As a result, I have made some changes to the way I approach collaborative time, and how we work together in our learning community.
As time has passed, I have been able to reflect on our journey toward a more collaborative culture. I realized that it has been a long, windy, and bumpy road with many opportunities for detours. There were a number of occasions where it seemed as though I was really driving the PLC bus, and at some points, I was getting out of the driver's seat, walking around the back, and pushing on the bumper without a great deal of movement. Furthermore, a number of staff members were not particularly engaged in (and sometimes incredibly frustrated with) the collaborative process, which made the collaborative meetings a bit 'hit and miss'. And finally, some (not all) the products of collaborative time were disjointed, with varying levels of involvement by members of different departments. The learning community that I so valued (and still value) was not always firing on all cylinders. We needed to something to change.
The learning community continues to thrive at our school, but it has a very different feel. I attribute this change to our Coordinators and our departments putting their stamp on the structure and makeup of collaborative time. Coordinators host weekly meetings, and set up the tutorial schedule that allows for them to give support to students in a way that works for their department. The departments develop norms for their collaborative meetings that serve the needs of their group. They have worked collectively to develop goals via measures that they developed on issues that they determined were vital to the success of students in their areas. The coordinators track progress, and will present to the school (and the public through our School Improvement Blog) the things that they are proud of in their departments with respect to student and teacher achievement in the goal area they have come up with (here is an example from Math).
I would like to think that Rick Dufour might call this a loose-tight approach. While I am tight on the fact that I want each department to have norms for their meetings, but how they set up those norms is up to them. I am tight on the fact that I want departments to set SMART goals for their departments, but what those goals actually look like comes from the particular department. I need to have our staff give students support in our tutorials, but how they schedule so that it is fair and equitable to students and staff is up to them. I want them to report out on their progress, but in a manner that they feel puts their best foot forward to students, parents, and the rest of our partners in the community. The list goes on.
However (and clearly I can't speak for him), Dr. Dufour might also call what we do in terms of collaboration at our school 'collaboration lite' - where portions of our collaborative meetings are comprised of more sharing than action, more brainstorming than results. But I believe that is where I have changed, and where I want to take ideas from Daniel Pink. Of course I want our departments to improve teacher achievement and student achievement by working together; of that there is no doubt. But I also want our staff to use some of the time that we have created to be CREATIVE, to come up with points of inquiry to investigate in their classes, and to really 'think outside of the box' to establish a rich learning environment for their students.
We are not Google, and not able to free our staff up for one day per week to work together and 'create' as some companies do. However, we are able to provide a bit of time for teachers to look at curriculum, instruction and assessment as a collective to improve the learning at our school.
I think we will try to call it 'Dufour with a touch of Pink', or 'The Pink PLC'.