As the school year wraps up or as possible summer retreats or fall start-ups happen, PLCs might spend some time in critical thinking conversations that more frequently get pushed aside under the immediate issues of student performance data on the agenda as the school year is underway. Principals, instructional coaches, and teacher leaders should consider how they can facilitate this reflection and thinking.
Laura Servage wrote in an article titled, Making Space for Critical Reflection in Professional Learning Communities, that it is not enough for PLCs to focus on student learning, but that it’s important for teachers to have conversations about “the meanings behind what they do”. Servage suggest that these deep explorations can generate creativity and momentum to continue school improvement efforts.
A PLC examining results of their work last year might move beyond “how did our students do ?” on given assessments to “what is measured in those assessments that we believe is extremely important to our students’ futures?’ How do we feel about the investment of time and focus we and our students put into achieving those results?” “What indications tell us there might be critical learning outcomes for which we have no assessment data?” “What beliefs and attitudes would we want our students to develop during the coming year?’
Here is an important thought from Servage for facilitating PLC conversations:
“Thus the work of a professional learning community is not a linear process of determining mission, vision and values and then proceeding with the “how to” of implementation; rather, these two modes of work – action and reflection,….. are intertwined and continuously inform each other. Hasty and formalized first efforts to procure mission, vision and values from staff in the interests of getting on to the “real business” of the collaborative work can come off as insincere and inauthentic, and it is entirely possible to come up with a mission statement on paper that has no personal resonance for anyone. Instead, we can allow a school’s sense of purpose to evolve through informal and ongoing dialogue.”
I think important questions to be asking are, “What did we learn about ourselves last year?” ” What actions did we take that strongly aligned with our beliefs and values?” “Where there times that we strayed from our values?” “How do we want to use what we learned about ourselves?’
Innovation should be an outcome from the work of PLC’s. Here is a definition of innovate that the Learningforward Foundation is currently examining:
Innovate is to experience and/or create a remarkable and noticeable shift in perspectives and perceptions which change methods and practices. This is site specific and will look very different in each organization.
What kind of dialogues would PLCs be having that are likely to lead to creativity and innovation?
Jane Porter posted a blog, How to Cultivate a Creative Thinking Habit; Creativity Isn’t a Mythical Creature to Be Caught and Tamed. It’s a Habit, Studies Suggest: A Way of Life That Is Built Over Time, where she quoted Robert Sternberg on what creative people habitually do:
Look for ways to see problems that other people don’t.
Take risks that other people are afraid to take.
Have the courage to defy the crowd and to stand up for their own beliefs.
Seek to overcome obstacles and challenges to their views that other people give in to.
Wow! That’s a set of habits that I would love a PLC that I am a member of to have as a guiding checklist. Looking back over last year, what might we have done differently if we had taken risks that others were afraid to take? Looking at the start of this year what challenges are we tackling that others might be giving into?