What Does Leadership on Professional Learning Teams Look Like?

As a full-time teacher and part-time consultant on Professional Learning Community implementation, I’m always asked questions like, “What kinds of things can teachers do to move their learning teams forward?” or “What kinds of people make the best leaders for learning teams?”

Answering those questions starts by understanding that “moving learning teams forward” depends on three core behaviors:

Nurturing Strong Relationships:  The most successful learning teams care about each other, y’all.  They see one another as competent, capable practitioners.  They trust that everyone has good intentions and are willing to give one another the benefit of the doubt when conflict arises.  Their interactions are centered around collaboration INSTEAD of competition.  There is a real sense of WE — instead of ME — evident in every meeting.

Defining a Clear Vision of What “Forward” Looks Like:  Strong relationships aren’t enough to move learning teams forward, however.  Need proof?  Find that team in your building who loves working together but hasn’t changed their instructional practices in 20 years.

#nuffsaid

Moving forward, then, depends on a team’s ability to define what “forward” actually looks like.  In PLC terms, they create a shared vision for their work.  “A vision is a realistic, credible, attractive future for an organization,” writes Rick DuFour and his colleagues in Learning by Doing, “Vision answers the question, What do we hope to become at some point in the future?”

Simple stuff, right?  Without a sense for what you want to collectively become, it’s difficult to make any kind of progress together as a collaborative group.

Systematically Translating Vision into Action:  Developing a “realistic, credible and attractive future” is an essential starting point for moving learning teams forward, but without action, progress is impossible.  The most successful learning teams systematically identify practical, doable steps that they can take today that will move them towards their ideal tomorrow.

Without strong relationships, a clear vision for an ideal tomorrow, and an ability to translate vision into practical action, learning teams simply WON’T succeed.  Teacher leadership in a professional learning community, then, means nurturing those core behaviors.  Here’s the hitch, though:  There aren’t many people who are well suited to filling ALL THREE of those critical roles.

Relationship builders aren’t driven by setting vision.  Instead, they’re driven by the bonds that develop between individuals.  Vision setters, on the other hand, tend to value ideas over individuals — and they often imagine the impossible.  And the doers on learning teams are great at making things happen — but they struggle to imagine what could be because they are so focused on what needs to get done.

That means successful learning teams understand that “moving forward” depends on MORE THAN ONE leader.  They collectively identify, value and celebrate the leadership strengths — and openly recognize and wrestle with the leadership weaknesses — of every member.  More importantly, they assign tasks and fill roles based on their awareness of the individual leadership strengths and weaknesses of each member because they know that progress is dependent on getting the right person to tackle the right job.

In Building a Professional Learning Community at Work — my first book on #atplc implementation — my co-author and I go as far as to argue that successfully structuring learning teams means making sure that every collaborative group has a nice balance of Relationship Builders, Systems Thinkers, Innovators and Problem Solvers.  We also provide two handouts (see here and here) that school leaders can use to keep track of the balance of personalities on individual learning teams.

We took that argument further in Making Teamwork Meaningful — our second book on #atplc implementation — by suggesting that successfully structuring learning teams means making sure that every collaborative group has a nice balance of Discovery and Delivery Skills.

Does any of this make sense?

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Related Radical Reads:

What Does Teacher Leadership Look Like in an #atplc School?

How Much Does the Composition of a Learning Team Matter?

What Can the Principals of PLCs Learn from Love Labs?