It’s Not a PLC Without All Three Letters!

Over the past few months, I have had many experiences with colleagues and other educators  that have truly inspired me and pushed me to be an even better educational learner and leader.  Unfortunately, I have had a few that have also disturbed me.  I have had trouble thinking of a way to describe exactly why some of my interactions left me unsettled until a couple of weeks ago when a colleague and I facilitated a series of professional learning sessions for our schools’ Instructional Leadership Teams.  As a part of our learning together, we revisited the critical components of professional learning communities.  In doing so, it got me thinking of each of these three words “Professional” “Learning” and “Community” and it hit me…  every time I have been disappointed in an interaction, an experience, or another educator, it is inevitably because one of these three critical components was missing.  I believe deeply in the power of professional learning communities as a catalyst for ongoing change, improvement and innovation in education; as such, I also believe it is incumbent on all of us in the field of education to be professionals, to be learners, and to work as members of communities or teams.

As I think about each of these words and their characteristics, here are few ideas that resonate with me (Please feel free to add to the lists in your comments):


  • Professionals have specialized knowledge and expertise in a particular field initially gained through extensive education and ultimately through continued practice and learning in the field.  When we seek out a professional, we have confidence in their abilities.  We expect them to keep their knowledge and expertise up-to-date, and we expect them to perform at high levels and produce high quality work.
  • Professionals do what it takes to get the job done and to get it done well.  They are not bound by time clocks, and they understand that it often takes more than the allotted time in a “work day” or “work week” to meet the demands of the job.  Professionals produce results and exceed expectations.
  • Professionals use good judgment, communicate effectively and politely, they maintain their poise and treat others respectfully.
  • Professionals take responsibility for their actions, and they do not blame others for their lack of success.

I LOVE working with and interacting with educational professionals!  They inspire me, push me, challenge me to be my best and make an incredible difference in the lives of children.  Professional educators transform classrooms, schools and communities because of the work they do every day.  I encourage all of us to push ourselves and our teams to always remember that when we say we are educators, it should also mean we are professionals!


  • Learning means to seek out new knowledge and better ways of doing things.  Learners read, connect and share in order to stay current and get continuously better at their craft.
  • Learning is a critical component of being a professional educator.  Educational research has exploded in the last several years.  We know more now about how to create highly effective schools and classrooms than we ever have before.  Learners seek this out and make changes to their practice based on their learning.
  • Learners take responsibility for their learning.  They don’t wait for someone to tell them what to learn; they seek out new learning on their own.
  • Learners take risks, try new things, and learn from their successes and their failures.  They make deliberate efforts to create new knowledge when they are uncertain about something or when they have had less success than they had hoped.
  • Learners seek feedback.  They search out the opinions and advice of others and welcome a second set of eyes or a second opinion.
  • Learners reflect!  They take time out once in a while to reflect on their successes and their failures, and they make adjustments accordingly.  They have confidence and understand that through their own learning and reflection they will grow in their craft.

I read this tweet yesterday from Steve Anderson @web20classroom and it resonated:

“I dunno about you but if I want to learn something, I go learn it. Not for credit or for licenses. I learn it ‘cause I want to.”

As educators, we are in the learning business – it is what we are ALL about.  Schools and Districts across the country have mission statements that promise to graduate students who are committed to life-long learning. Almost every minute of our work days committed to the learning of others – we should value it for ourselves.


  • A community is a group of people who have a set of shared interests and who support each other in achieving common goals.
  • Community members get involved.  In order for a community to thrive, people need to work together.
  • Communities have a certain set of norms or rules they follow in order to be respectful of each other.
  • Community members take responsibility and they don’t allow an individual to undermine the work of the group.  They act in ways that demonstrate the community values.
  • Community members make decisions based on what is best for the group and what will best help the group move forward in achieving its goals – they do not make their decisions based merely on self-interest.

Strong communities do amazing work.  It’s true that all of us working together can accomplish so much more as a team or a community than we ever would be able to working alone.  The work of teachers and administrators can no longer be done in isolation.  With all of the changes coming at us in education right now, we must insist that our work is about “us” and not about “me”.

Initially in my planning of this post, I thought I would share with all of you the recent encounters I have had that led me to reflect on Professional Learning Communities, but I decided against it. Not only would it be unprofessional, it would not contribute effectively to our collective learning, and would only serve to undermine my community, which all in all is doing unbelievably fantastic work!

Are Your Kids Just “Doing School?”

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about my 8 year old daughter and watching school play out for her in my role as a parent.  School has a different impact on my son.  Hayden is 11 years old and will start 6th grade tomorrow – his first day of middle school.  Like my daughter, he is very bright and has recently been identified as Gifted and Talented.

Hayden “does school” (a phrase I picked up several years ago during a workshop presented by Robert Marzano and Deborah Pickering).  Unlike my daughter he does not dislike school.  He finds it tolerable.  Mostly he looks at class time as something he has to endure to get to recess, lunch,  and P.E. where he can hang out with friends and play sports.

Hayden knows we expect him to do well in school, so he does.  He is well-behaved in class, he completes his classwork, and he turns in his homework. He does not want to get in trouble, he does not want to struggle, and he does not want to fail.  He is always a recipient of the report card comment “Hayden is a pleasure to have in class.”

Hayden always does what his teacher expects of him – he does no less … and he also does no more.

Despite the fact that Hayden has always scored advanced on his standardized tests, he mostly submits “proficient” work and receives “proficient” marks on his report card.  That is the standard that we as educators often set– strive to be proficient.  I have watched this play out in my household in a number of ways, but here a few examples:

I have witnessed Hayden study for several spelling  and vocabulary tests;  once he knows 16 of the 20 words (enough to score proficient), he no longer cares if he learns the rest.

I have marveled over watching him write his spelling words five times each (my thoughts about the assignment aside)… He works vertically – writing the first letter five times down the page, then the second letter five times , the third etc. until he’s finished.  I am certain that the way he completes this assignment has done nothing to improve his spelling – but the assignment is complete and turned into his teacher.

He has been asked to read books of his choice for homework and then write summaries of what he has read.  During one school year, I watched him frequently “make-up” three sentence summaries about something he had not actually read.  When I first challenged him on it, his response to me was “My teacher doesn’t even read them, so it doesn’t matter.”  Despite my best efforts, the teacher’s lower expectations won out over my higher ones of him, and he wrote very poor summaries of things he had read (and things he hadn’t) all year long.   It just was not worth the weekly battle in my home to get him to write better summaries when his teacher accepted the lesser ones and always marked them with a little red star.

If Hayden is asked to write an essay and the teacher says it needs to be 250 words, he will write 250 words – not 251… seriously – I have watched him count, and even if he has another great idea, he is finished because he has met the expectation.

When Hayden’s teachers have high expectations and raise the bar for him – he perseveres through the challenge and produces amazing work – advanced work.  He has had many teachers do this for him.  Unfortunately, he has also experienced instances of low expectations, and much to my horror as a parent and an educator, he has always met those too.

As an educational leader in a district that entered Program Improvement a few years ago, I have spent a lot of time working with my colleagues figuring out new and better ways to help more of our students attain proficiency in language arts and mathematics.  We have had several  great, and necessary conversations about helping more students reach proficiency in reading, writing and mathematics – and they have resulted in far more students attaining that proficiency.

Now, however, I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about how we push beyond “striving for proficiency”.  As I watch my son “do school”, I know there is so much more I want for him.  I want him to excel as a reader, as a writer, and as a mathematician, but I also want him to engage in challenging work that requires critical thinking, and creative and collaborative problem-solving.  I want someone to push him to take an educational risk and let him know that it is ok to do so and that it is ok to fail.

I want the same for the students in the schools in my District.  It will require us to take some risks that may push ourselves out of our comfort zones.  It will require continuous learning and collaboration. It will require us to have different types of conversations and to think about evaluating learning in new and different ways.   I am excited about the possibilities.