Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Preventative Maintenance

Recently, I had the joy of spending $1000 on my car.  It wasn't on a sound system.  It wasn't on some flashy set of rims.  It wasn't on a spoiler.  Nope, instead I spent that money on parts you can't see from the outside, but parts that are vital to the running and safety of my car (CV joints and axle shafts).  As much as I didn't love the idea of spending that money, the work was essential and I had it done to the car.

While I was there, the mechanic spoke to me about the timing belt on my vehicle.  An interesting part, the timing belt is, because it usually lasts for a relatively consistent number of miles/kilometers on a given vehicle.  From Wikipedia:

Timing belts must be replaced at the manufacturer's recommended distance and/or time periods. Failure to replace the belt can result in complete breakdown or catastrophic engine failure.

But the truth of the matter is, they CAN last longer.  They often DO last longer, mostly because people don't think to get them replaced.  There is no rattle, nor a convenient spot where you can have a good look at it, see wear in it, and predict that you have another 5000 miles left before you need it changed.  Not to mention, it will cost a few hundred dollars to get this mystery belt replaced.  Not going to break the bank to get it done, but it's not like replacing the washer fluid either.

A conundrum.  Spend a few hundred dollars and get that belt replaced as part of preventative maintenance, or roll the dice.  Hmmmm.

Recently, I read the latest outstanding book by one of my favourite authors and mentors, Bill Ferriter (a must follow at @plugusin).  Making Teamwork Meaningful is a book that takes the shiny cover, the bells and the whistles off of the Professional Learning Community.  With a series of authentic vignettes and examples, MTM describes a typical PLC journey:  curiousity, excitement, and euphoria followed by changes, confusion, frustration and exasperation.  From the book:

"Then everything seems to slow down. Teachers begin grumbling about indepen-
dence and standardization. PLC cheerleaders become disenchanted as skeptical col-
leagues fall off the collaboration bandwagon. New directives come down from the
central office, pulling away energy and resources. Teachers who know little about
the building’s core mission and vision or about the shift from a focus on teaching
to a focus on learning that defines successful PLCs come on board. Commitment to
the process wanes and then, as is so often the case in school reform, the PLC model
becomes just one more thing tried and left behind—another checked box on a dis-
carded school improvement plan: “We did our PLCs. Check.”

More than 6 years ago, we took our first team to a Professional Learning Communities Summit to look at whether we could be better meeting the needs of our students and our staff.  We developed a pilot project.  We crafted a new timetable to create collaborative time.  We created our Academic Intervention program to provide additional time and support to our students.  We confronted our assessment practices.  We sent more of our teacher leaders to conferences to help lead collaborative meetings.  We introduced a mandatory study block to augment our self-directed and invitational tutorial times.  We did a lot.

And after a period of confusion and frustration, we began to see success!  For four years in a row, our failure rates dropped, and surveys of our teachers reported that they were seeing significant changes in their practices and the achievement by the students in their classes as a result of our collaborative meetings.  Things were moving along.

Things ARE moving along.  But...

But as much we have collaborative groups that are firing on all cylinders, some of our team leaders are reporting that they are having some struggles in their weekly meetings.  And some of our teachers are saying that students are not using the tutorial time as effectively as they have.  And our failure rates have plateaued in some areas, or are increasing when we look at cohorts longitudinally.

I have been feeling like the timing belt may be going on our big car.

At our March staff meeting, we are going to be looking at a number of the key structures in our building.  It's time. It's time for us to tear some things apart and have a good look at whether they are still working for us.  And as much as I have really pushed to create and maintain these structures, I have to take a big step back and work with our staff to reflect on what we need to start doing.  On what we need to tweak and modify. 

But when I reflect upon how we came to where we are today with our collaborative model and intervention strategies, I realize that I drove a lot of the structures that were created.  I had a vision of what I thought we needed, and as much as we had a critical nucleus that was instrumental in moving us forward, the way some of our structures ended up were the result of me pushing my own ideas without truly involving our staff.

That is going to change.

And as much as it will be difficult for me (because I was so invested in some of our structures), I need to consider things that we might have to STOP doing in the way that we have done them to this point.

Making Teamwork Meaningful has dozens of practical tools that I will be adapting to help our staff do a thorough examination of our practices in developing our Professional Learning Community.  The Intervention Practice Reflection Template is excellent, and the Evolutionary Checklist for Professional Learning Teams is outstanding.  With a few tweaks, I think we can use documents such as these to begin to start some rich dialogue about how we can support each other and our students in improving student and teacher achievement.


My hope is that by doing this sort of preventative maintenance, we can avoid the "complete breakdown or catastrophic engine failure" that could be coming on our PLC journey if we chose not to do so.  We will keep you posted!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Pal,

    I really love how you've connected preventative maintenance on cars to the kind of work that needs to be done to sustain PLCs over the long run.

    I think schools often forget that "pulling everything apart" in order to examine the wear spots and make replacements early might be challenging, but is a whole lot easier than seeing the wheels fall off completely.

    And I'm still wrestling with the question I asked you and Weej over drinks the other night: Do you think that your PLC will survive even after YOU are gone?

    Or does your PLC thrive and progress and grow BECAUSE of you?

    That's an important question for me because I'm not sure if PLCs are transforming schools or if great leaders are transforming schools.

    Having worked for and lost more than one great leader in my day, I can attest that nothing breaks a timing belt quicker.

    Enjoying thinking with you,


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