Well it is supposed to be Day 13 of posts, but I got a little caught up in moving my family into our new home over the weekend. Soooo, I did get a little behind. Looks like my November challenge just extended itself into December. The good news is that the challenge has really reinvigorated me to get blogging again and I have gleaned so much from keeping up on friends posts that I am truly hoping this will improve my writing and provide me with opportunities to connect with more great thinkers and leaders.
I am also just getting back home from a site visit to Adlai Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois. In case the school name doesn't jog a memory for you, it happens to be the home of Rick DuFour, one of the co-founders of the PLC movement. This was actually my fourth trip to Stevenson High School for their site visit program. This was a program there were asked to begin about 8 years ago when they became a Blue Ribbon School of Distinction and government officials thought it would be beneficial for other schools to see how they do things at Stevenson. This time the government got something right. For a mere $40 fee you can attend a day of direct contact learning about how Stevenson does PLC's. WAY WORTH IT!
As I stated earlier this was my 4th trip to their school. When I first moved to Wisconsin and worked with the incredible Administrative Team in the Dodgeville School District, I was lucky enough to join them as they were just taking on the commitment to becoming a Professional Learning Community district as well. I had already read DuFour's book "Whatever it Takes" and thanks to a friend who is a teacher (and now a Department Director) was aware of their site visit program. I convinced my Superintendent to have the admin team and a few staff members from each building attend the program. We all gleaned an abundance of information that day. From panel discussions with teachers, to hearing about the various support programs for kids, to discussions with students during our lunch. The day was filled with learning, but possibly the most incredible piece was the discussion on the way home. It may have been one of the few times I was thankful to have a 3 hour drive home. Teachers and administrators could barely contain themselves and many were creating action plans on the drive. We stopped half way back for gas and a bathroom break and found out the other van full of people were doing the exact same thing. The energy was exhilarating.
So how did my 4th trip to Stevenson go.......the exact same way. I was able to hear some new presentations, a little less about some of their student support programs (that they still have) and a little more about formative assessment, data use, standards based grading, etc. But all of it was still centered around PLC's and how the concept of Teacher Collaboration, that is focused on student learning, and maintaining high standards can make huge differences in student achievement. My teachers were buzzing before 9:00am. We had some excellent conversations throughout the day. They were able to recognize practices that were only half efforts at true collaborative and professional learning. And yes, we spent 3 hours in my suburban making plans all the way home (The trip actually took 3.5 hours but the last half hour everyone began answering e-mails and text messages). I was so excited to hear that they thought tackling the learning of what PLC's are would be handled best by doing a staff book read. I let them know my thoughts on what two books I already had in mind and how we would start work the very next day during our Building Leadership team. I think they were also happy to realize that we made PLC development part of our strategic plan for the next three years, so they can see there is a long term commitment to that goal. Tomorrow we roll up our sleeves and get ready to start the dirty work of becoming a PLC.
Now it's time for us to do "the work" of becoming a PLC. We will have to change some practices. We will have to live up to commitments we make, we will have to get focused on what really matters and cut loose some practices that really just get in our way. We will have to embrace cognitive dissidence and build a relationship of trust within the building so that we can take some risks and find ways to keep raising the bar for our learning as well as student learning. It's going to be GREAT!!!