We know that according to John Hattie’s Visible Learning research, collective efficacy and teacher estimates of achievement are the top two influences on student acceleration and achievement. When these two elements are married together, professional learning communities, or PLCs, are born. Creating a system is one thing; maintaining and growing it is an entirely different experience altogether. School leadership teams need focused leadership experiences centering on PLC practices, year after year, if districts want to attain high-impact change for their teachers and students.
While writing Arrows: A Systems-Based Approach to School Leadership, Sarah Henry and I were both curricular area administrators who had been a part of a dynamic, structured team in the Brownsburg Community School Corporation. As members of the leadership team, we were able to process through various books, blogs, and texts together, year after year, as we looked for continual growth and sustainable success. Sometimes our district team hit the jackpot with a resource, and other times, well, we all collectively agreed that while we could appreciate the energy the author spent on the piece, it just wasn’t for us.
Because so many of us are in different organizations who are in different phases of creating, launching, developing, or refining our practices around professional learning communities, it’s important that we recognize not every resource will fit our needs every time. And it’s also possible that teams have needs they actually have never stopped to consider, therefore they might miss a resource that would otherwise truly impact their progress.
With these key pieces in mind, I’d like to offer five different resources that are meant to support district and school teams in the PLC process, for five different (albeit connected) reasons.
1. Neuroscience for Organizational Change by Hilary Scarlett
Though the terms PLC and professional learning communities are nowhere to be found in the title or subtitle, the research and applications of this text are paramount for district team success. Scarlett’s evidence-based guide offers a step-by-step understanding of just exactly how human brains are wired, and why it is so critically important to understand our needs when launching new initiatives or systems like professional learning communities. Because our brains seek to preserve energy and utilize predictable patterns, too much change without direction, clarity, processes or protocols can send our teachers into fight or flight mode. And how does this play out in a PLC? Stand-offish body language, grading outside work, defensive responses and stone-walling. If district teams are looking for a deeper understanding behind the power of processes and systems, Hilary Scarlett’s text is a top pick. You can also find more resources from her team by visiting Kogan.com.
2. Belonging Through a Culture of Dignity: The Keys to Successful Equity Implementation by Dr. Floyd Cobb and John Krownapple
If Scarlett’s Neuroscience for Organizational Change explains our neurological needs for community, safety, and support, then Dr. Floyd Cobb and John Krownapple’s book explains our relational and behavioral needs. Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Cobb and Krownapple make a clear case that our students cannot succeed before they feel a sense of belonging, dignity, and safety in their environments. And what, according to their research, creates this sense of dignity for students? Adults who have this sense of belonging, dignity, and safety themselves. Belonging Through a Culture of Dignity explores the personal work that must be done by individual adults, and then, collectively across a district, for true equity work to occur. Again, many districts have created systems for PLCs to occur, but I would argue that not enough have dug deeper into the rationale behind why these teams are needed for the social-emotional impact they can have on our profession (and our students!)
3. Leading PLCs at Work Districtwide: From Boardroom to Classroom, Robert Eaker, Mike Hagadone, Janel Keating, and Meagan Rhoades
When I work with district teams, I make a point to celebrate and praise the leaders for agreeing to work together, across their district, to create sustainable systems for teacher and student success. Sometimes I am introduced to a team through one particular school, but always my goal is to help that school help their entire district come together through the PLC process. A Solution Tree publication, Leading PLCs at Work Districtwide is one of the few publications and resources that shares the intricate details of how exactly a district did align its practices and implement PLCs with fidelity. This text offers tangible examples and resources from the district team including copies of pacing guides, hiring documents, data collection templates, and PLC meeting minutes. From the superintendent-school board connection, through building leadership and team development, PLCs at Work Districtwide is a text that I wish we had read when we were starting the process in Brownsburg. It offers more of a roadmap and guide from district teams than many other resources available.
4. Facilitating Teacher Teams and Authentic PLCs: The Human Side of Leading People, Protocols, and Practices, Daniel Venables
Once the system is in place for your teams to thrive, the next step is for leaders to create continued coaching support for the teacher leaders guiding this work. If you’re looking for an easy to process, immediately applicable resource that will allow you to better coach your PLC leaders with tangible protocols and people techniques, look no further than Facilitating Teacher Teams and Authentic PLCs. Often, one of the most under-invested in aspects of the PLC process is teacher-leader development and empowerment. Venables’ book is perfect for district leadership teams, coaches, and teacher-leaders themselves. In fact, I might argue that every teacher could benefit from the shared leadership of reading (and naming) the protocols suggested in this book. An ASCD publication, the text is rich with samples, questions, pitfalls and solid common sense that just...works! If your team is looking for a text to help grow facilitation and empower PLC leaders, this is the resource for you.
5. Leading with Focus: Elevating the Essentials for School and District Improvement, Mike Schmoker
If I was to boil all five resources down into a mathematical equation, it might look something like this: Safety + Equity + Alignment + Leadership + Clarity = Success. The biggest root cause of initiative glut, confusion, and failed implementation of PLCs in many schools and districts is the accidental lack of clarity, aka, focus, provided by the leaders involved. In his educational class, Leading with Focus, Schmoker implores school leaders to create a laser-like focus on the essentials: Curriculum, Literacy and Instruction. By doing less we can do more. At its heart, Leading with Focus is about the profound impact of essentialism in our schools. With a call to research, reduce, clarify, repeatedly practice, and monitor, Schmoker offers a simple, easy-to-follow guide for districts at any stage of the process. Often it is because we fail to clarify that reduction does not occur. And when reduction of initiatives does not occur, we cannot repeatedly practice or monitor the effectiveness of our key strategies. Also recommended are two of Schmoker’s other influential texts, Focus and Results Now.