Crista Anderson—a K-12 Instructional Literacy Coach with Missoula County Public Schools—recently whipped up one of the best visual organizers of the work done by collaborative teams that I’ve ever seen.

Check it out here.

After I shared Crista’s graphic on Twitter, we both received a bit of friendly push-back in a series of tweets from Jason Lobdell, a high school teacher in Arizona who wrote:

“Must collaboration between engaged educators become this complicated to be legit? My issue with PLCs.  My PLC experience has been that we now spend as much/more time documenting collaboration as collaborating. Reflective educators collaborate deliberately as a matter of course; systematization of that brings its own problems.”

Sadly, I’ve worked in enough PLCs to know that Jason’s point is legitimate times ten.

There really ARE a ton of schools attempting to overly structure the work of collaborative teams, introducing a level of mechanical-ness to PLCs that is entirely uninspiring and a level of systematization that can be entirely stifling to real innovation.

Cale Birk recently wrote about his own efforts to find the right loose-tight balance with his own PLCs.

But I’ve also worked with enough PLCs to know that there are a bunch of teachers who simply aren’t “collaborating deliberately as a matter of course.”

Sure, they’re meeting weekly.

But meeting weekly and collaborating deliberately are two entirely different things.

Heck, if I’m being perfectly honest, it took me YEARS to recognize the full range of collaborative tasks that highly functioning PLCs really ought to be engaged in.

The knowledge of process that is so well detailed in Crista’s visual was hard-won and only discovered as I read more and wrote more and stumbled across opportunities to interact with folks like Rick and Becky DuFour.

I think that’s why Crista’s visual resonates with me as much as it does. 

It clearly articulates the kinds of action steps and tangible behaviors that PLCs are supposed to be embracing—and by clearly articulating these action steps and tangible behaviors, it helps to ensure that everyone is investing time and energy in the RIGHT places.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Bradley Staats and David Upton examined the role that such clarity plays in the super efficient and highly celebrated Toyota Production System and then worked to draw conclusions for workers in knowledge based professions like education.

They write:

“The key is to challenge the assumption that all knowledge is inherently tacit…A major benefit of specifying repeatable processes is that knowledge workers are then freed up to focus on the parts of the job where they can create the most value.”  (p. 7)

Basically, what I’m arguing is that when schools challenge the assumption that all knowledge about collaborative practices and processes is inherently tacit and take steps to clearly define the behaviors and practices of highly functioning teams, we eliminate inefficiencies too.

Clarity leads to deliberate and productive work for EVERY team—not just the high flying groups in our buildings.

Now don’t get me wrong:  Principals that are attempting to structure the work of learning teams CAN and DO go too far, making the process of collective inquiry a rigid experience that encourages obedience instead of innovation.

But it is just as common to see principals who don’t go far enough in defining what it is that they expect their teachers to be doing with one another. In those situations, tangible organizers like Crista’s can be nothing short of invaluable.

Does this make any sense to all y’all?

More importantly, what steps are you taking to clarify the essential behaviors that are a part of collaborative work in YOUR learning community?

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