Something has happened (and most likely been happening for YEARS) in our systems of education. We have perpetuated a message and belief that there is a "right way" and a "wrong way" to learn, to do school, to engage in a classroom, to sit still, to move our bodies, to collaborate with colleagues, to ask questions, to create assessments, to assess student learning, to provide feedback, to create lessons. To think.
While we absolutely celebrate the research and experiential proof we reference when strengthening school teams, we also are confronted--daily--with this question from teachers and administrators alike: Am I doing this right?
Talk about a complicated, nuanced question that deserves a simple answer of: YES!
If in our attempts to grow as educators, we prioritize teamwork, structures, collaboration, inquiry and student learning as the outcome, then yes you are doing this right.
We are doing this right.
But only if we agree on what the this is to begin with.
A professional learning community is a problem-solving team. A problem-solving team must ask questions. It must hypothesize. It must take risks. It must feel uncomfortable. It must create and maintain a sense of urgency. It follows no clear path. It understands there is no perfect, right way to have a though-provoking discussion.
To answer the question, "Am I doing this right?" we have to make sure we agree that the this we are referring to is our ability to leverage PLCs and teacher-led teams to empower our staff to meet the needs of their students in real time.
Are there more and less helpful strategies to use to structure these intentional conversations? Absolutely! Do we share these with teams all. the. time? Absolutely! Are you growing your own lists of Do This/Not Thats regarding PLCs? I sure hope so.
One aspect of doing this right for principals and instructional administrators is that we must create spaces for our teachers to question, doubt, and clarify their roles in this process. A part of doing this right is to question if we're doing it right. Whoa. Jedi-mind-trick right there my friends.
We have been trained to substitute right answers over provoking thought throughout much of our own education--so is it any wonder that we then struggle to think deeply and critically as teams?
A PLC is not a box-checking, weekly meeting to appease our administrators. A PLC is a data-driven, problem-solving team. This team needs an appointed leader or facilitator to ensure the conversation moves forward, and the team needs assurance that it does, in fact, get to determine where it goes.
Are there parameters for the conversation? Absolutely! Guidance does not equal compliance. Administrators need to encourage and empower their leaders that yes, they can in fact determine next week's focus and conversation. That's the entire point of this process!
Add to this: If we want to strengthen our education system for the future--if we want to recruit teachers who are primed and ready to think critically in teams, then we need to structure learning environments in our classroom that foster these experiences and skills, too. There's a reason many of us struggle to function within teams, just like there's a reason we are afraid to get it wrong: we experienced classroom environments where compliance and individualism in our thinking was given priority over analytical discourse. We experienced learning environments that prioritized right answers over the demonstration of critical, creative thinking.
We are trying to unteach ourselves the poor learning habits our system has inadvertently instilled in us.
Am I doing this right? comes from a predictable place of compliance. It comes from a predictable place of someone who is searching for security and belonging. It comes from a place where we worry that we'll do something wrong, receive a reprimand, and once again feel shame.
We know this feeling well. Many of experienced this all throughout our own learning journey.
To reset change the trajectory for this generation of learners, we need to release the idea that there is one right answer. Are there answers that are more right and answers that are less right? Yes, of course. There are also answers that are dead wrong, harmful to students, and harmful to us as educators.
When we share in workshops and live speaking events, we often relay a mantra from our prior district, "Best is good; better is best." By embracing the notion that we are seeking growth, rather than perfection, we free ourselves from the shame trigger of "being wrong."
You are not wrong. You are a worthy individual in a system that is shifting.
We, as educators, are not wrong. We are humans who seek connection--who seek growth.
And ultimately, asking the question, "Am I doing this right?" isn't wrong. It is actually just a totally normal part of the process.