Can a group of dynamic, ambitious, driven educators build a Professional Learning Community dedicated to a culture of trust? Is it a simple application of Occam’s Razor? I believe it can be done and must be done for the sake of the children, staff, parents, and the world.
Recently, I have read a plethora of posts about Professional Learning Communities. As I think about my vision for Da Vinci High School and the culture I want to create, the idea of an effective PLC dominates my thoughts. But then I stop and realize that building a PLC could be rather simple, despite the hundreds of books and research articles on the steps to building an effective PLC.
I wrote my doctoral dissertation on an effective PLC, I ran an effective PLC, and I am growing one in my own classes this year with students. I got this, right?
I find that the answer to most questions in life, especially as a teacher, has been to follow the tenets of Occam’s Razor – the simplest answer is usually the best answer. In terms of PLCs, I found an Occam’s Razor while attending one of my doctoral classes.
I took a class called Ethical Leadership. One of our texts, Ethical Leadership by Sturratt, posited that there were three aspects to ethical leadership – being present, being authentic, and being responsible. I have taken this idea and implemented it in all of my life–both personal and professional. As I responded to a post about PLCs, I realized that, in addition to the three tenets, I had added kindness.
When working with adults, students, and loved ones, I try to be present, authentic, responsible, and kind. Following these four tenets has created a culture where there is trust. These four tenets for building trust are my Occam’s razor for an effective PLC.
A Culture of Trust
I want a school where people, students, staff, and parents are:
Present. When some one is speaking to them, they stop what they are doing, turn and face the speaker, and really listen. They wait to form an answer and are given the time and space necessary to formulate an answer.
Authentic. When presenting an idea, they say it exactly the way they mean it — not couched in sanitized language that is never meant to offend. They do this because they trust that the listener will accept that they are being authentic. They do this because they trust that the speaker is not intending to offend, but to inform. They speak their minds, because they trust that all dialogue is meant as civil discourse. I want people to not only say what they mean but act the way they mean. I want words and actions to match, to make sense, to be effective.
Responsible. People make good on their promises to the best of their ability. People complete their work to the best of their ability. People respect the work and effort of others. People share their abilities with others to help them.
Kind. A space where people stop to help when someone is in need. A space where people don’t drop trash expecting a custodian to pick it up. A place where people stop and notice when others look good and tell them. A place where people stop and ask, “How are you?” and really listen for an answer and don’t accept, “I’m fine,” if the tone is not fine. A place where people at the copier see someone else’s copies and take them to them. A place where people find random notes of thanks in their mailboxes or on their cars at the end of the day. A place where people honestly care for everyone because it is the right thing to do and from this kindness their own lives are better.
I want a school that is a model for the neighborhood, city, state, country, and world where people are trusted because they are present, authentic, responsible, and kind.
Once you build a community of trust you can have a PLC focused on student achievement, but first you have to build a community of trust.
While the key to my vision rests squarely on the shoulders of the teacher-leaders running Da Vinci, it will begin solely with me as the executive director. No matter how tired, harried, or stretched I become, I must hold to the tenets of trust. I must:
- Stop and be present even when running late, if only to say, “I’m running late to an appointment, can we talk later?”, and then follow up immediately.
- Be authentic and avoid the trap of keeping information unshared until it is fully fleshed out.
- Take responsibility and follow through on any promises I make or appointments I schedule.
- Be kind and take the time to do the things I did when I was a curriculum specialist and department chair.
- Find the time to ask every person at Da Vinci at least once a week how they are doing and take the time to really listen.
- Take the time to bring small gifts and ease the burden of the students, staff, and parents as often as possible.
At first it will be hard, but as others take up the tenets, it should get easier and easier in a culture of people who live the four tenets of trust.
I just don’t know how you write that in a charter application that will satisfy the gatekeepers of charter approval, since, so often, simplicity is doubted or made complicated.