The amazing thing about a site visit to a school as amazing as Adlai Stevenson High School is that you often come back with more questions than when you left. If you ever have a chance to go and participate in their site visit program, I would highly recommend it. It is a day filled with learning opportunities that will help to sharpen your focus on exactly what it means to be a PLC and a high achieving school. If you ever start to think you are closing in on becoming a solid PLC, take a look at their Vision & Values statement and their Collective Commitments and you will realize that there is still work to do.
So as I sat and pondered some of the questions buzzing about my head today, I started to wonder how to move forward. I was fortunate enough to have two staff members from my building join me on this trip. As a matter of fact, if I didn't have two staff members wanting to go, then I probably wouldn't have made the trip. They came back energized and wanting to take action. I loved that, but the fact was we needed to get everyone on the same page. While they were able to see the advantages, and they wanted to implement what they saw, there were many things that we could not copy, things that would have to be adjusted to work in our building and with our resources. So question number one was:
1. "How do we take what we saw and learned, and share it with everyone here?"
My thought on this has been fairly clear for a while, as I have gone through this process before, but as in the past, I wanted to make sure that the idea was supported by my building leadership team first. If they could see the implementation plan as beneficial and they could lead the learning process it was going to be more powerful and create stronger buy-in because it was not just a top down initiative, but something that staff wanted and supported. I shared the power of the stories in DuFour's first book, "Whatever it Takes." He shared stories of successful schools that were from all sorts of demographic backgrounds. My district could never reproduce some of the same initiatives and programs that are produced at Stevenson High School. But we could do what a rural, economically challenged school in North Carolina has done. The team agreed that we would do a Leadership Team Book Read and if they thought it was worth it, we would then move on and do it with the whole staff.
As we sat and discussed the day with our leadership team, we began to discuss changes that we knew we would like to make in our practices already. We shared philosophies on educational best practice, instructional strategies, procedures and structures and eventually we found ourselves discussing the need to build staff relationships. This seemed interesting to me, because I would have guessed that this building was very strong with staff relationships. At least that is how it appeared to an outsider. It was a concern for me, I was new and I knew that I wanted to develop strong relationships with my staff. We needed to get to a point where they all trusted me, but what I discovered is that the building and staff had become so large, and now so busy that they had become a little fractured and isolated. Apparently they have found themselves growing apart. This brought me to question two:
2. "How do we begin to build a sense of trust and commitment toward each other?"
On a different evening I will share the many lists of questions we will still need to address as a staff. Philosophical points such as, standards based grading, what is it we want all kids to know, what is our vision statement, what are our norms, how do we describe success???? The list will go on and on, but that is another night. These questions are all a little tougher than those faced by King Arthur and Lancelot, but they need to taken on and answered.
While I am the leader of the building (not the King) and I do have some ideas on many of these questions, what is important is that we come to these answers together. What I have also found out over the years is that sometimes what is more important than having the answers, is knowing the right questions to ask can often times lead people to their own right answers that just happen to be aligned to all that you have learned over your years of study and research. So we will read and learn together. We will ask questions without fear and we face some brutal facts while we also feel the exhilaration of experimentation without fear of failure. This should keep us from beating our heads against a wall.....or even against the books we will read together. It's going to be great!
Who says you can't learn anything from Monty Python?