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Implementing PLCs Means Asking the Right Questions

This is the third entry in a series documenting the effort of Spring Creek Elementary in Richardson, Texas to implement professional learning communities. You can read Part 1 of the Spring Creek story here, and Part 2 here.

I checked in with Spring Creek Elementary's staff late last year to see how they were progressing on their professional learning community journey. My daughter Leslie commented that everyone has been incredibly busy. Many good conversations are occurring, and exciting ways to improve teaching are being explored. As I listened to Leslie describe the school's efforts, I recognized many comments typically associated with the early phases of any change initiative. PLCs create new challenges for schools and we need to think about how to help schools prepare for their implementation. The energy created by initial brainstorming can lead to many good ideas; and yet staging and timing have significant implications for long-term success.

Leslie commented that the PLC initiative is creating lots of energy in the school. As you recall, she is chairing the "Enrichment" team. Her team just completed the first round of Enrichment Clusters. It was a huge success, with all staff and students excited to focus on something other than state objectives. On the other hand, it demanded a lot of extra time and effort. The leadership team is taking time to review the effort and determine their next steps.

Leslie's principal shared that, through informal conversations with teachers, she sees similar enthusiasm for the PLC. She is concerned about her teachers' workload and continues to seek ways to give teachers time to reflect and appreciate all they have accomplished. She also shared that the district had adopted a new initiative, called 2020 Vision. As one part of the initiative, each district school has been challenged to increase its use of technology in the classroom. Teachers have been given air slates and mini companion computers, and staff development to support integration. The district also has a new reading program that requires additional planning and time to implement.

School leaders are asking the right questions about how to integrate the new initiatives and the PLC. How can the PLC become the coordinating structure for everything they are trying to accomplish for the students?

Michael Fullan describes one successful approach to change as "ready, fire, aim." Schools do lots of "firing" during the readiness phase, and then they ultimately find their aim. I am confident they will find it at Spring Creek.

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward

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