Tuesday, March 10, 2015

PLC: Putting vision into action

"Closing the Knowing-Doing Gap"-- Richard DuFour

We have been on a Professional Learning Community journey for all 11 years Dublin Jerome has been open.  When staff, students, and parents come together to create a new high school, a huge undertaking, it would be easy to be fragmented by many good ideas.

The year before we opened, we spent the time in the homes of our families-to-be, on the coffee circuit as you will.

We brought updated photos of the building under construction, and the families brought questions and provided input.

What kind of a high school did they want?

Our parents stated clearly that they wanted a high school that was "good" in a hurry.  Many of them had juniors transitioning, juniors firmly entrenched in the other two district high schools with which they were already quite happy.  The transitioning students were part of successful sports programs, stellar performing arts programs, and strong academics.

These parents were concerned because at that point, we had no credibility.  No school profile.  No average AP scores.  No average ACT scores. No good athletic programs and certainly no outstanding arts.

How good could we become in a short amount of time?

At one very formal coffee, the host had provided parents with note cards on which to write their question(s) and parents took turns as we sat in high stools on a massive patio.  I remember two clear questions from that evening:

1. What is your vision for Dublin Jerome?  An interesting question.  At first I tried answering it noting that we would bring stakeholders together to form our vision, etc.  But the parent interrupted me and clearly stated:  No, I want to know YOUR vision.

I thought a minute and then clearly articulated my vision:

One of the very best high schools in the world by numerous external indicators that indicated students learn at exceptionally high levels.

A Blue Ribbon high school on our very first five years of data.

A high school employing the best research in the world on focusing for learning for every student, every class period, by every teacher, every day: Professional Learning Communities.  I spoke very passionately about this research, for we had started it with a small and committed group of staff at the high school many of us were now leaving.  In particular how teachers collaborated in teams on the 4 questions of a PLC in order to focus on learning, rather than teaching.  How learning was the constant instead of learning.

A high school where teams of educators from local, state, national and international educational systems come to visit to see how we do business.

After rattling these things off the parents nodded and sat quietly.  I inwardly thought for a moment --what did I just do?  I had never articulated this vision aloud before but I knew in my heart that this was the school we could and would create.

After the meeting, one parent came up and told me she had contacted her brother, an educator in Illinois about the opportunity to ask us questions about her son's new high school.

She said she was so pleased to hear that we were utilizing DuFour, DuFour and Eaker's research on PLC work.  Her brother had told her that if we did not mention it, she should be very disappointed.

But she was not, and after articulating clearly the Jerome vision and seeing our parents' eyes, I knew we could do it, as that is what they wanted also.

And though PLC work is very often two steps forward and one step back, and certainly sounds easier then it looks, we have fulfilled that steps of that vision, and continue to work on it every day.

PLC is our focus and the reason for our success.  Blue Ribbon School?-- yes and with our first five years of data.  One of the top PLC schools in the nation?  Yes- a National Model PLC at Work School.  Visits from educators from all of the world?  Yes, thanks to partnerships with Battelle for Kids, we have hosted visitors from our state, nation and world, including some of the best school systems globally , China and Finland.

PLC work is not a destination, and we still have to work at it hard every day.  But the vision of being the best school for students still drives our decision-making. PLC work has made the difference for us and it can for you.

What is the Knowing-Doing Gap? DuFour and Eaker have both written about this subject, both in On Common Ground and in blog posts.  In thousands of schools across our country and world, we know what makes those practices and re-culturing needed to make the difference in student learning (the knowing) but we don't always implement the changes we need in order to change from a school focused on teaching to a school focused on learning (the doing).

It is this gap that separates PLC schools from the rest, and while the work is challenging and requires a growth mindset and stretch culture, it changes the lives of staff, parents and students.

And isn't that why we exist? Should that always be our vision?

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