Why This? Why Now? Why Bother? The PLC Edition.

Blogger’s note:  I’m going to start a new series here on the Radical called “Why This?  Why Now?  Why Bother?”  The purpose of the series is to give some rationale for major projects, ideas, or initiatives in education that I really believe in.  Hope you dig ’em.

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Why This? Why Now? Why Bother?  The PLC Edition.

One of the questions that I am often asked by classroom teachers is, “Why should we care about PLCs, Bill?”

And as the self-proclaimed “why guy” on my faculty – the curmudgeon constantly asking, “Why this?”, “Why now?”, and, “Why bother?” any time administrators introduce initiatives to our school – I totally understand where they are coming from.  Veteran teachers have learned that the professional development planned and delivered in schools rarely makes a significant impact on student learning because it rarely stays around long enough to become a part of a school’s culture or driving philosophy.

The result:  We are almost always skeptical when our bosses bring something new back to our building and try to convince us that it is worth investing in.

So why should classroom teachers care about PLCs? 

Because when they are done right, they answer my three why questions better than anything I’ve seen in over 25 years of full-time teaching:

Why This:  Teachers should care about PLCs because they inherently value the knowledge and expertise of practitioners instead of the knowledge and expertise of presenters or heavily scripted programs developed by outsiders who know next to nothing about our kids or our classrooms.

When a school or a district commits to restructuring as a professional learning community, what they are REALLY saying to their classroom teachers is, “We believe in YOU.  We believe that the answer to improving learning in our community rests in the hearts and the minds of the people sitting in THIS room.  It’s YOUR knowledge and skill that we are willing to invest in.  We want to empower YOU to find solutions to the challenges that are keeping our kids from becoming their best academic, social and emotional selves.”

That kind of confidence in the ability of teachers is just plain refreshing in a world where our credibility is questioned at almost every turn.  If we can prove that working together, we can develop strategies and solutions that have a positive impact on kids, we can also reinforce our argument that teaching is professional work that deserves professional compensation and respect.

That’s a challenge we should embrace.

Why Now:  Teachers should also care about PLCs because today’s classrooms have become incredibly diverse places, filled with students who have a wide range of academic, social and emotional needs.  As a result, it is almost impossible for any one person to have the “know-how” to move every student forward.

Heck, if we are being honest, each of us could easily name the type of students that we struggle to serve well.  For me, it is students with learning disabilities.  Scaffolding my lessons to meet their individual needs is something that I’ve never been very good at.  And I know it.  It’s a gap in my professional skillset – and it’s preventing some of the students in my room from succeeding.

But here’s the thing: I work on a learning team with a colleague who has spent countless hours polishing her practices in this area.  She knows a TON about how to effectively differentiate her lessons for students with unique learning needs.  If I’m willing to open myself up to her – something that happens naturally when teachers work together on professional learning teams – my bet is that my practice will improve.  And I’d also bet that there are gaps in her professional skillset that I can help fill.

Knowing that we don’t have to struggle alone is a relief, y’all.  When meaningful collaboration becomes a part of our work patterns, we gain a set of thinking partners that we can rely on to find solutions to our greatest professional challenges.

Why Bother:  The moral answer to this question would be, “PLCs ensure that every child has access to the best instruction regardless of instructor — and every child deserves our best.”

But there’s a selfish answer to this question, too: “PLCs give teachers a chance to relentlessly question their practice together – and relentlessly questioning practice is professionally rewarding!”

That’s the thing we forget sometimes.  PLCs aren’t just about the learning of students.  They are also about creating a stimulating learning space for the adults in a schoolhouse.  So, if you lean in to your collaborative team, identifying important questions to study together and then working through continuous cycles of collective inquiry in service of student learning, YOU will be more motivated by the work that you are doing each day.

The people drawn to teaching are deeply creative and reflective by nature.  The work of high-functioning teams feeds those traits and will leave you professionally jazzed in a way that teaching alone could never do.

Now don’t get me wrong: Learning communities aren’t all sunshine and daffodils. 

Early on, you are likely to experience frustration.  That’s what happens when folks who have spent most of their careers working in complete isolation come together to collaborate for the first time.  Until your team develops the skills and processes necessary for working together effectively, there’s going to be some “storming” in your weekly meetings with one another.

But I’ve never been more energized or more effective in my entire teaching career either.

I look forward to meeting with my colleagues because I know that I’m going to get to explore my practice with people who are just as capable and passionate as I am about improving. Together, we learn more about instruction that works, and we polish the things that we do best.  We have a commitment to one another and to our students — and that commitment brings us back year after year to work together again.

THAT’s why you should care about PLCs.

#trudatchat

 

Interested in learning more about establishing Professional Learning Communities?  Then check out my first book – Building a Professional Learning Community at Work:  A Guide to the First Year.  I promise you won’t hate it!  ; ) 

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Related Radical Reads:

I Finally Drank the Kool-Aid!

 

 

Using Tangible Products to Reinforce #atplc Processes.

 

Five Resources for School Leaders Starting PLCs from Scratch

 

 

6 thoughts on “Why This? Why Now? Why Bother? The PLC Edition.

  1. Andrea Kretchman

    Hi Bill,
    I’m really excited that I stumbled across your blog! As a newer teacher still learning the importance and proper structure of a true PLC, your post was very insightful. I appreciate the way you empower teachers to recognize that the power to make a change lies within them. So often many instructional decisions come from higher above us classroom teachers and it can take away some of that power we should feel to make quality and important decisions for our classroom. If teachers recognize the importance and influence that a PLC can have on their students, everyone can learn from each other. Thanks for your post!

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Glad you dug it, Andrea — and you are right: We ought to love PLCs because they are, fundamentally, about empowering teachers.

      The hitch is that many school leaders don’t totally recognize that yet — so PLCs are ruined. Teachers stop believing in them because they aren’t given the chances to make empowered decisions. That’s heartbreaking — but it’s also not what a PLC really is.

      Bill

  2. Debra Bendick

    Bill,
    I have followed you since attending one of your sessions at a Solution Tree conference. Today’s blog — “Why This? Why Now? Why Bother?” — was my morning greeting and vitamin for Edmond, OK’s middle and high school administrators. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!
    We will mull them over, add a dose of our own experience, and, as Mary Poppins said in last night’s high school production, “Snip-snap” … continuous improvement!!
    My best,
    Debbie

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey Debra!

      I’m so sorry that it took a while to respond. Been a whirlwind of a few weeks.

      And I’m jazzed that you have found value in my content — whether it was at the Institute or here on the Radical. It is super validating to me — and I always need that validation because I’m still “just a teacher.” To know that my ideas are making an impact on people is rewarding times ten.

      Let me know if I can ever help. I’m #alwayswilling

      Bill

  3. Learning with Lucie

    The timing of this article could not be better! I plan to add it to the resources I will introduce to my edtech and leadership class. You’re articulation of the concepts is succinct, clear and relevant to education. THANK YOU!

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Glad you dug that, Lucie!

      I always love it when ideas resonate with folks. It’s validation that I’m on the right track.

      Rock on,
      Bill

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