July 9, 2013

Which "one thing"?

As I read the Good to Great book, I was struck by the idea of getting good at just one thing. You know, when Jim Collins refers to the Hedgehog being great at defending itself by curling up into a ball and using its spines to protect itself.  It seemed ingenious at the time.  Getting to Great at just one thing seemed like the approach that needed to be taken.  Teachers were getting overwhelmed with all of the changes that we were asking to be implemented.  They were all great things, things that would benefit our students, our staff, our school and community.  So my question was......which one?

Do we go with PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports), RTI was pretty much a must do since we have to have that in place to replace the defecit model for Special Education identification, but since we were already mostly finished with the planning and implementation for that, I scratched it off the list as already done (which you are never really done with RTI).  Then we were looking at improving our reading instructional strategies with the implementation of a focused and consistent use of Reading/Writing Workshop in grades K-5. This was very important also.  It would show an immediate impact.  But we also wanted to map our curriculum, align to Common Core, expand use of and deepen knowledge of standards based grading, implement the Leader in Me program, learn more about Tech integration, roll out 1:1 iPad minis in another grade level, improve utilization of our GAFE (Google Apps For Education) initiative, more training on our Math Expressions resource, developing and using Common Formative Assessments and Common Summative Assessments and how to use that data to drive instruction, and so on and so on.  It was easy for me to get a good grasp on why the teachers were feeling a little overwhelmed.  I may be understating that a little.

Then it occurred to me.  One of the main attractions to their hiring me as their Lead Learner, was that I was pretty experienced and knowledgeable in developing Professional Learning Communities.    Yeah, this was another thing that was on our list to accomplish.  I had worked closely with the Building Leadership Team all year, sharing what I had learned about PLCs, teamwork, trust, and having crucial conversations.  We had done book reads together, watched videos and even went on a site visit to Adlai Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois to improve our understanding of what and how PLCs operate.  As I thought about it more and more, knowing the true nature of a good PLC, it was plain to see where we needed to focus.  If we became solid in being a high quality Professional Learning Community, then the other initiatives would fall into place.  After all, when you are a PLC, Learning is in the middle of all you do.

When you become focused on teacher learning as well as student learning, the other high quality strategies and practices become part of the day to day conversation and don't seem to be something that was added on or pushed down, but instead becomes part of the natural quest to improve student learning.  Yeah, there is a lot of change taking place in education, but I would have to say that these changes are positive and focused on building positive learning environments for students and teachers. They are geared toward creating deeper student understanding and increasing their engagement in their own learning.  I'm not talking about the push for more and tougher standardized tests, I'm not talking about greater accountability and student testing data on teacher evaluations.  I'm talking about changes like the Common Core State Standards, Technology Integration, Individualized Learning Plans, School Choice, Project Based Learning, and more.  I believe PLCs will help us get there with the best chance of helping educators feel like we owned and controlled many of the changes we believe will benefit students.  What do you think? Do you have another plan to face the changes that are hurtling toward us? 


  1. Such a great way to think about all of the initiatives we take on in education. When we have strong PLCs, then the other changes are focused on building positive learning environments for students AND teachers. Thank you for helping to refocus my thinking!

  2. Right on Tom. The learning of your students goes hand in hand with your staff members. The adults need to learn just as much as the kids. CR

  3. PLCs does nicely envelope all the other initiatives we have coming at us. Thanks Tom for sharing your thinking.

  4. Tom, As I was reading my thoughts were heading to the PLC possibly being the "one thing" that helps facilitate the others, the core or base if you will. As I read I saw you went there with your thoughts as well. This reminds me of Influencer, a book I was assigned and loved to read for a strategic planning course. While not equivalent it is analogous to this "one thing" concept. In it the authors speak of how one to two target behaviors can ripple and ease the process of lasting, systemic change. -- While my school is taking steps toward what is like but not identified as a PLC, from what I read of yours and Bill Ferriter's posts, I know I would thrive in a PLC environment. - Shawn

  5. Tom, I've learned so much from my PLN, and educators like you are in my PLC, but I need more of this at my school. Too often teachers are overwhelmed like your group, and it seems they just want to be told what to do next. After they try, they don't reflect with one another like we could, until perhaps a year later when the same thing comes up again. By then, it's festered, and we see strong defense.

    You ask for a "plan to face the changes that are hurtling toward us..." My one thing, this next year, is to talk more with teachers at my school, and a little (teeny bit) less with teachers on Twitter. I think bringing that PLC to school is essential. I've been thinking about how to create it with my students, but I should be focusing more on my coworkers. Thank you for consistently sharing your learning!! That's the goal, right?