The foundations of a PLC

I’m continuing (slowly) to take in DuFour’s book, and although I usually like to tear through books, I’m crawling through this one and I don’t seem to mind it.  There’s a lot to chew on.  It’s not voluminous and it’s not chock full of complicated concepts.  But as I mentioned in a previous post, words matter.  And although unimpressive in and of themselves, DuFour’s words have the potential to move mountains.

DuFour writes very purposefully about the process by which a PLC is created and sustained.  He starts with the essentials: mission, vision, values, and goals.

Mission

The essence of a school’s mission is the question “Why do we exist?” (p. 58)  What is the purpose of the organization and what does that spell for student learning?  DuFour cautions that schools “cannot be content with a half-hearted affirmation of their belief that all students can learn.” (62)  The mission statement must include specifics about what we expect students to learn, and what that learning looks like.

Vision

What do we want our school to look like in 20 years?  In order to begin the journey to substantive school change, an organization must first figure out what it wants to become.  DuFour quotes Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you probably aren’t going to get there.” (64)  DuFour also asserts that in order for the vision to gain traction, it must be widely accepted by those within the school.  He presents some ways for this to be accomplished, and one of them is essentially a PLC.

What the vision turns out to be is largely influenced by the school’s current culture.  DuFour cites Georgiades in describing some of the attributes evident in schools that are receptive to institutional change.  They are student-centered, have an improvement orientation, high expectations, collaborative work behavior, a strong knowledge base supported by staff development, a sense of group goals, and a staff that is focused, involved, and concerned. (71)

Values

In his discussion on values, DuFour asks the question, “How must we behave in order to make our shared vision a reality?” (88)  If the mission addresses why it exists, and the vision ponders what it wants to become, values address how to make the vision a reality.  I consider this the “mindset” component.  Once you decide who you are and who you want to become, you must adopt a mentality and you must prepare to act guided by this mentality.  Once a community is of a shared mindset,  it can begin the final step in the upholding of the school’s mission and implementation of its vision.

Goals

Action verbs.  I imagine that the goals are where you start making people talk in the active voice.  Words like discuss, provide, promote, collaborate, demonstrate, and assess.  A list of to-do’s is created and before long, a school is on its way to implementing its vision.

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One Response to The foundations of a PLC

  1. Holly Chesser says:

    I digested DuFour’s book slowly too. It demands that. The first question he poses regarding a school’s mission gave me considerable pause – “Why do we exist?” I think that’s the starting point where every PLC must begin. It’s a simple question, and yet its very nature – broad, inclusive, existential – gets to the very heart of a school. If your school didn’t exist, would it matter? Would there be students who couldn’t get that type of education elsewhere – the local public school or another independent school down the road? It also asks the stakeholders in the school (and personally I believe students, parents, faculty, staff, administrators, and board members are all stakeholders) to take a collaborative approach to answering the question – “Why do WE exist?” If your school can’t explain why it’s special and necessary, then things must change. I like to think of my school as fulfilling a set of needs that no other school can fill. I believe I can answer that fundamental question of why we exist, but I’d like to know if others in my community concur with me, if we all see through the same lens. I think the need to answer and affirm that question is the central reason why every school should have a PLC.

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