In a recent post, "Is it a Lack of Compliance or a Lack of Clarity?" I attempted to question the reasons why our teams may not do what we ask them to do. Often, we are quick to assume that a person who does not comply simply does not want to complete the task, join the team, or "buy-in."
In actuality, what I often find is this said person is struggling to remember why they were asked to do what they were asked to do--OR--they aren't sure what to do.
For principals and teachers leader smaller, singleton departments--the struggle of "What to do?" is very, very real. For a PLC to thrive, it needs to have predictable structures and cycles. When you're in a departmental PLC of singletons, it can seem like there's nothing common--nothing to cycle.
When we start our work with districts, we explain the power and importance of what we call First Base work: developing a guaranteed, viable curriculum. In her post, 7 Simplifications for Curriculum Maps + Pacing Guides, Yvonne Thompson explains the importance of coaching departmental teams through this work. It's not enough to simply give the teams time--they need clarity on what to do, and how to do it.
Believe it or not, determining a process for curriculum mapping is actually the easy part of departmental PLCs. Once they begin, teachers and teams can feel excited (or even just...good) about creating common documents. Making something feels good. The act of creation increases efficacy, and teams feel like they are doing something. And that's good.
So prepare yourselves, instructional leaders, for what comes next. After maps + pacing guides are done, these once confident teams will turn to you and ask, "Now what do we do?" And in this moment, you have a choice.
You can tell them exactly what to do, perpetuating a cycle of teams expecting their principal or curriculum director to set the course for each conversation.
You can provide them with opportunities to brainstorm, discuss, and determine their next aligning steps.
You can do the thinking for your teams, or you can create tools to help them think.
Teams need big picture planning tools, so I recommend you create a departmental table or sheet like our Secondary PLC Planning Tool. Combining each department's plan into one table will help you (and them) see a snapshot of what is going on. You can easily see where they've been as well as where they are going. And, they can too.
Your department leaders often want to learn from their building colleagues--and isn't that what collective efficacy is all about? Teachers believing it is through their team efficacy that improvements and changes occur?
If you develop a monthly leadership meeting, as we suggest in our post, 5 Practices to Improve Team Facilitation, then you can begin a year (or end a year) by asking your leaders to assess where they are with alignment of practice. Department leads can work together to choose areas of focus, working their way from curriculum alignment, to assessment practices, to data reflection, and so on. The leaders can set their path for their departments, they may just need a tool to remind them of their options.
If your Secondary Departmental PLCs are struggling to find a focus, you may also share Tips for Singleton PLCs with them. Use this as a resource during one of your monthly leadership meetings. Reflect on what they need and where they want to go.
What you cannot do--what will never work--is to assume that your teams know where to go. They may very well have an idea and have a path, but do not assume--ask! Create a system where they can share with each other, as well as you, so that you can all see what's going on. We can learn from each other when we can see and name what is happening. Tools like Secondary PLC Planning Tool provide a 3rd point reminder of our options.
It provides empowerment and choice, and ultimately grows your leaders.