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The PLC Madrigal

If your family is like my family, you spent the better part of your 2021 winter break watching, re-watching, re-enacting, listening to, and dancing to, Disney's new release, Encanto. An encanto is a charm--a delightful magic--and it is the perfect title for this enchanting tale.

At its core, Encanto is the story of how hope, and ultimately fear, impact the Family Madrigal, the central cast of characters in this delightful tale. After enduring a traumatic loss, members of the family Madrigal rescued from danger by a surprising encanto that not only builds their magical casita for them, but also, bestows upon them unique, individual gifts. For reasons unknown, one family member, Mirabel, did not receive a magical gift, and she of course becomes the central figure in the story.

As various family members begin to share their anxieties and fears about not meeting expectations or potentially losing their gifts--the casita itself begins to crack. It's as if hope and belief in the encanto--the magic--is precisely what gives the family members their gifts to begin with. When their beliefs in their abilities begins to wane, Mirabel sets out to save her family, their encanto, and their home.

I won't say more (to avoid spoiling the movie!) but I will say this: the Family Madrigal provides us with the PERFECT analogy for understanding PLCs (professional learning communities) and since I'm an English teacher, and since I love school leadership, and since I have been slightly inundated with this story...I thought it might be fun to explore these connections a little bit.


Abuela--The Matriarch

Abuela serves as the matriarch of the family, and as such she has been around long enough to see it all. She is a formidable, but loving, force within the family. She believes that the encanto protects the family, and therefore worries that without it, her family will be in danger. What she does not realize is that her worry about losing the magic creates anxiety, fear, and overwhelming pressure for those with (and without) magical gifts.

Who is Abuela in a PLC? Abuela does not necessarily have to be the most veteran teacher in the team, but they may be. This is the person who believes there is a 'right way' to teach, to learn, to assess, and usually it is a traditional way that has always been done before. The Abuela is not unkind or stubborn because they are selfish; the Abuela is driven by a need to do right and to protect themselves and their team. Unfortunately, the Abuela can seem to seek perfection at all costs, leaving many members of the team to feel inadequate, unimportant, and nervous. The Abuela may feel unnecessary pressure of their shoulders alone to ensure the success of the team, and their fear of failing can create a fear-based environment.

The good news? Because the Abuela truly does want to protect the team, they do in fact love the team. When other members of the team are willing to confront the Abuela about their need for perfection, the Abuela will stop, reflect, and trust their team members once again.


Mirabel--The Questioner

Though she appears to possess no identifiable magic from the encanto, Mirabel is the hopeful connector that ultimately saves her family. She is a delightful, inquisitive person who loves to be loved by her family. At her heart, she is a relational person, more concerned with supporting her family than doing what is 'right' in any given moment. Though she does not feel the same pressure to perform as her sisters, she does worry that she may not be good enough for her Abuela. Still, this fear does not hold her back from asking questions, seeking answers, and confronting her Abuela when she discovers the truth. Mirabel is the family member who can rally the troops, speak honesty, and inspire rebirth.

Who is Mirabel in a PLC? A Mirabel is a hopeful, connected, questioner. They may or may not be in a leadership position, but they do most definitely lead. Through thoughtful attempts to support their team members, a Mirabel helps to develop the true family feel in the team. They value trust and relationships, and they also value innovation, risk-taking, and trying new ideas.

Rather than let fear guide their decision-making, Mirabels are willing to explore and put themselves out there with new ideas--all in the name of strengthening the team. Mirabels are also often the ones who remember to name the "why" of the work, and they operate as servant leaders.

Oh and one more thing: Mirabels can drive Abuelas CRAZY in a PLC. Their positivity, their connection, their free-spirits, their questions...all of this can increase the fear of failure to achieve perfection for the Abuela.


Luisa--The Worker Bee

Luisa is the Madrigal blessed with unapparelled strength. She is frequently asked to list and move various heavy objects, and she is always willing to jump in no matter how hard the task. She appears to be fearless and confident, so much so that she forces herself to bury her need for rest and relaxation. When she does ultimately share how oppressive life has become, her emotions pour out (and pour out, and pour out).

Who is Luisa in a PLC? Luisa is the person who is always willing to do the task. This person may be the leader, or they are the leader's go-to helping to create, organize, do. The Luisa finds their value from contributing, making, and creating, and while they are good at what they do, they can also struggle to set boundaries to protect their own needs.

A LOT of teachers are Luisas, and we are very good at getting things done and lifting heavy loads. The problem is even Luisas get tired and need a break. However, if they're in a system where they believe their only value comes from working harder, harder, and harder--then the Luisas will not voice their need for rest. Luisas need to be valued and given permission to NOT make the next lesson, assessment, or activity. They need to know it's okay to use something someone else has created, and they need to know it's okay if everything doesn't get done.


Isabela--The Perfectionist

Isabela Madrigal is the oldest daughter (Mirabel and Luisa are her younger sisters) and she has the gift to conjure beautiful flowers and plants. She is viewed by Mirabel as "Seniorita Perfecta" and carries the weight to be perfect under a carefully crafted smile. Isabella feels the pressure (like Luisa) to live up to Abuela's expectations, even at the cost of her own happiness. She would rather serve the family than explore her own creative imperfections. And it isn't so much that Isabela is afraid of imperfection, she is afraid that if she is not perfect, she will lose her Abuela's love.

Who is Isabela in a PLC? An Isabela is someone who believes their value and worth come from perfection--in either lesson design, activity creation, classroom management, or assessment results. Isabela's may be the ones who need to revise a document to get the "just right font" or who are less than enthusiastic when creative changes are suggested to units, projects, or plans. Isabelas will create high-quality work, but they may never feel secure enough in their own value to take risks, try new strategies, or try another team member's ideas.

Because they appear to seek perfection, Isabelas can alienate themselves from their team members. An Isabella might seem comfortable on their own, when in fact, they feel lonely, misunderstood, and unhappy. The good news? If an Isabela is willing to collaborate and open up, they may begin to find more joy in their connections with others versus their perfect creations.


Julieta--The Healer

Every family needs a Julieta. Julieta is the mother of Mirabel, Luisa, and Isabela, and she was given the gift of healing from the encanto. Throughout the movie, Julieta is a steady, supportive healer who uses food and recipes to heal physical ailments that she can see. She is a loving, patient force who does not pressure anyone in the family. Though she provides love, she does not necessarily provide leadership, guidance, or action. She is there when she is needed, and she is loved by her family.

Who is Julieta in a PLC? A Julieta is someone who will check on you after the meeting, make your copies without being asked when you're sick, write you a thoughtful card when you're having a tough week. Julieta's bring the baskets of chocolates, and they bring a lot of love and kindness, too. Julieta's may not be the ones to spark the new idea (Mirabel) or refine it to perfection (Isabella) or ultimately create the unit/product/plan (Luisa) but they sure are the ones who are there to help, heal, and comfort. Where other PLC members may be motivated by production and action, Julieta's are motivated by connection and relationship.

Julieta's may seem quieter in the group, but one-on-one they are quick to help a team member in need. Julieta's bring stability and comfort to the family. In fact, they are the ones that make the group a family to begin with.


Bruno--The Loner

Yes, we're going to talk to about Bruno-no-no-no. We're going to talk about Brunoooooo! #IYKYK

In the Family Madrigal, Bruno is the estranged (somewhat missing) uncle with the gift of prophesy. Or so people think. In reality, Bruno does have the gift to see into the future, but he does not have the gift to cause events to happen, nor does he always accurately envision what will happen. He isn't the best with interpreting his visions, but also, he isn't always asked to. People like to jump to conclusions about Bruno, including his own family. Rather than cause potential unrest, Bruno decides to live on his own, away from his family. He would rather be alone than upset people.

Who is Bruno in a PLC? A Bruno is a complex person, I'll tell you. Brunos are usually creative and anxious PLC members who would rather keep ideas to themselves rather than risk the potential failure of a team member. Their fear is that their ideas (or visions) may not work for another teacher--leaving that teacher in a frustrated state. It's not that Brunos don't want to be included, accepted, valued, or loved--they just don't want to let you down. The result?

Brunos can seem like people who do not want to collaborate with the team. The truth is, with a little curiosity, support, and space to be themselves--Brunos can be quite loving towards the team. A Bruno will be the first to take the blame for someone else, and a Bruno will work well with you one-on-one to create ideas or try new plans. Don't push a Bruno out by misinterpreting their anxiety. Invite a Bruno in by accepting them


Pepa-The Whirlwind

In Encanto, Pepa is the sister of Julieta (The Healer) and Bruno (The Loner). Her gift is quite unique in that she can control the weather, or at least the weather matches what's happening in her head. I don't know how much control she actually has over it (or her thoughts!) Throughout the movie, Pepa's emotions are on display in various weather patterns that float above her head. When she's nervous: clouds, rain, wind--even a hurricane! When she's calm: clear skies. She may not be predictable, but she is easy to read, and you always know how she's feeling.

Who is Pepa in a PLC? A Pepa is someone who will tell you right away that you can read their thoughts all over their face. In a PLC, a Pepa has ideas, contributes to the planning, and has an opinion about which direction the team is going. Though Pepas are active in the process, they don't necessarily instill a sense of emotional constancy in the group--as they share however their feeling, when they feel it. If the group isn't aware of this dynamic, a Pepa's energy can take over the group, controlling the environment so-to-speak. And that may be great if the Pepa is feeling happy/calm/excited. It may be detrimental if the Pepa is feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or upset.

How do we best support a Pepa? Acknowledge and embrace a Pepa's honesty for showing up 100% authentically as they are. Help a Pepa recognize their influence over the dynamic in the group, and encourage the Pepa to share their emotions appropriately versus unloading them through unnecessary rants or facial expressions.


Dolores--The Listener

Dolores is the daughter of Pepe, and unlike her mother, we don't necessarily know when she is around. Dolores has the gift of extremely sensitive hearing, which means she listens to more details and information than anyone else in the family. While Dolores cannot predict the future, her listening ability gives her insights into the whereabouts of family members, as well as inner-desires of characters in the story. Dolores is typically discreet with the information she holds, and deep down she seeks to find connection with her one, true love.

Who is Dolores in a PLC? A Dolores is someone who listens, listens, listens. This person may seem quiet, or this person may have a strength in reading their team members' faces to pick up on social cues in the group. A Dolores remembers details and will share them when prompted. They don't strive to take the lead, but they can help guide the work when encouraged to share what they have observed.

A Dolores is a critical member of the team. They aren't judgmental and they aren't afraid of making mistakes. They are concerned with process, information, details, and keeping accounts. Be sure to value the Dolores' ability to listen in multiple ways and to synthesize information they have processed. A Dolores can help provide clarity during a problem-solving session, so be sure to invite them to the process.


Camilo--The Shapeshifter

Camilo is definitely one of the supporting cast members of the Family Madrigal, and his gift is clever and unique. Camilo has the ability to shapeshift to mirror whoever else he desires. Throughout the movie, he uses this gift in both helpful and humorous ways. He's a light-hearted character who enjoys connecting with others through playful interactions.

Who is Camilo in a PLC? Well...a Camilo can, at times, be viewed as a bit of a free-spirit, less-than-focused...goofball. Camilos are not original brainstorming thinkers; they do a nice job of agreeing with others ideas and attempting to keep the peace or move the planning along. While Camilos are not necessarily self-starters or leaders, they will jump in and create or take action when called upon. Camilos bring a sense of lightness and humor to a team, and this can very much be needed when complex discussions or topics are on the table. Camilos remind us to have fun with our team, and with teaching, and its important we value their gift at affirming the rest of team's strengths.

How do you help a Camilo to thrive in a PLC? Appreciate their humor and the lightness they bring, and assign them tasks and roles. They will do what is asked, so...ask!


Antonio--The Newby

Antonio is the youngest of the Family Madrigal, and the movie begins with his gift ceremony. We first meet Antonio as he's hiding under his bed, afraid that he may not live up to the mounting expectations. Through loving connection, Mirabel is able to persuade and coach Antonio through his gift ceremony--and ultimately he receives the ability to talk to animals. Antonio is overjoyed, and we seem him playfully embrace his gift throughout the film.

Who is Antonio is a PLC? An Antonio is our newby--whether its a brand-new teacher or a new PLC member. Antonios are wonderful, caring, nervous, teachers who hope they have a gift to share with their teams. And they do--they really, really do! In a PLC, it's important that other team members come alongside an Antonio, especially in the beginning, to offer friendship, laughter, and connection. Once your newby feels secure in the relationships, they'll be more apt to share their gifts with the team--helping everyone to grow and learn from this new addition.

Keep your eyes (and ears, if you're a Dolores) open for cues from the Antonios in your team. Be slow to assume they are hiding because they don't want to join you; they might be hiding because they so desperately want to join, but they're afraid they may not fit.


Which One Are You?

So there you have it, a playful connection between our PLC teams and Disney's Family Madrigal. The truth is, many of us have attributes of several family members, and on any given day we might show up as a Bruno, Abuela, Dolores, or Luisa. Having a tendency does not mean you should feel labeled to perform in the same way, every time, in your team.

Part of the struggle that Family Madrigal has to overcome is to realize they are not their gifts--they are, in fact--much more. Within our own teaching and learning communities, we are struggling to remember we not our roles as teacher/doer/problem-solver/perfectionist/questioner--we are, in fact, much more.

The magic of a family comes from its ability to unite around hope in one another. The same is true of our teams and learning communities.

Through believing in our ability to come together, work together, and accept one another--we are able to truly grow and learn. And there is nothing more impactful on student learning and achievement than this. Collective efficacy is our encanto.


Looking for ways to grow as a PLC leader? Join our community by registering for the self-paced course, PLC Leadership 101.

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