Mr. Tom Winters recently sent out an SLT update to the entire district staff. Below is one teacher’s response, from his/her PLC perspective. We would love to hear from more teachers!
Our General Science 2 team has a fantastic and unified team of people. The history is interesting going way back 15 or 20 years such that, in spite of the normal coming and going of talent, the underlying foundations of the team have persisted in maintaining a high quality professional team. Stupid me, I thought all other teams on our site and across the district were like this and only recently in the last couple of years have I realized we’re more of an exception. This realization has become evident as colleagues, district leaders, and our own site team come to observe what we’re doing which really surprised all of us in 8th grade science.
Here are a few things that have helped us maintain our friendships, professional capacity, and outlook to do our best. (I only share these not to brag but to reflect that sometimes, there’s a gap between what we ‘get’ from reform efforts and what actually ‘gets done’ when teachers get back to their sites.) Each 8th grade science teacher willingly has internalized the following values/morals/ethics. A few might be classified as soft-skills but each of these translates into a vision and commitment towards excellence.
- Humility – None of us on our GS 2 PLC believes that we’re better than our colleagues, much less perfect and we make fun of ourselves when we make mistakes. The bigger the mistake, the greater the cause for celebration during PLC. We hand out ‘monkey wrench’ diplomas during PLC and have them framed on our team wall. We especially like share faults that our students catch and we find ways to reward each other and our students when they catch us making a mistake of action or omission. ‘We know how not to do X, Y, Z, next time’
- Forgiveness – Today is the best day to make an improvement. No baggage allowed, no ‘go backs’, and no gossiping about how someone screwed something up whether it was yesterday or a decade ago. Each person on our team makes a sincere, immediate, and clear effort to make things right by apologizing. Almost always, there’s a hug, a joke, or a funny moment. When things go sideways, it stays in the team and everyone is 100% confident that nobody is going to go outside the team to gossip.
- What we’ve seen is that lacking 1 and/or 2, it’s almost impossible to get anything done, regardless of the organization, team, or relationships among individuals. Nothing will ruin an effort faster than arrogance and a ‘payback’ mentality.
- Charity – Show others you care by saying good morning, please, thank you, and I’m sorry every time, every day. If you have something you created, you modified, you think someone can use, give it away. No transaction, no ‘you owe me’, nothing. Freely give of your kindness, your smile, talent, resources, etc. We like to remind one another that we don’t own our classrooms, we don’t own the lab equipment, we don’t own the master schedule, etc. It makes it easy to share. We show charity by rotating the burdens of leadership, section assignments, and so on.
- Empathy – a principal always reminded us that ‘everyone has a story’ and in a high support / high trust relationship those stories are shared with food, snacks, and sometimes tears. The fabric that’s woven among our team is strong enough that any professional tasks always pale in comparison to the human needs that we all have. At the end of each PLC session, we close with ‘Happy Monkey Time’ so we all share some personal or professional success that was significant to us as individuals, no pressure to make any glamorous pronouncements, just honest personal successes and a highlight of the week’s most rewarding moments.
- Supported Risk-Taking – Sometimes it’ll be just one person from the team, sometimes two, sometimes all of us that are trying something new in either professional development, leadership, or instruction. No matter who or how many, we all pitch in to make sure that person has every support possible. Communications, materials, contacts, insights, and a feeling that they’re not alone or that when the process is over their effort is forgotten. There’s a real importance to embedding that experience moving forward into our daily practice as a way of honoring what other people contribute.
- Individual but Public Accountability – There are regular checkpoints that we all have agreed to for materials, planning, sharing, supporting, revising, fixing, accepting. These checkpoints were agreed to in PLC with full consensus and we openly share with each other when we feel we’ve missed the mark. Nobody picks on anybody, nobody has hard feelings, everyone provides feedback for improvement with the realization that nothing we do is ‘one and done’.
- Self-Directed and Team-Directed Reflection – Similar to above but we have lots of ‘thinking aloud’ and ‘if we had no limits, here’s what we would do’. These conversations allow full access to big vision items with pull-back to a tighter focus on the daily instruction. I’d actually have to say that we rarely – almost never – look at our instruction from a ‘daily’ perspective. We view our instruction through outcomes and interventions for success because it allows us to focus on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘when’.
- Continuous Improvement – Think Deming and the Toyota Way. Lots of lessons we’ve embedded from those foundational models and here again, the concept of human capital as a resource to be developed is at the core of our interactions with one another. Seniority, rank, educational degrees, financial status, religion, sexual identity, all take a back seat to the idea that all of us have chosen to be part of an active team that wants to improve what we do (relationships, instructional delivery, content mastery outcomes).
- Direct and Open Communication — Some of us are super assertive, some are deferential, some are great listeners, some are always coming up with lots of random ideas, some are really good at ‘bean counting’… we openly accept and honor individual strengths by not only recognizing them but by eliciting contributions from those who have a strength that we don’t have. We work really diligently to make sure our ‘bean counter’ checks NGSS standards, our random idea person generates innovative ways to approach content, our assertive person keeps us on track, our deferential person is listening and points out things we miss by going too fast…. Synergy has never been better exemplified but it’s always there whether we have ‘new interns’, ‘new BTSA’, or 20 year veterans. Everyone works on improvement of what we do.
- Willingness to Volunteer – Whether it’s sharing a classroom, travelling on assignments, or covering a class on prep. Our default position is yes and the ‘no’ only happens in extenuating circumstances. Nobody counts, nobody keeps track, everyone steps up for each other and for our students.
I share these with you because oftentimes, even with programs that have a great track record, or processes where things are clear and well organized, or in organizations with superb talent… the outcomes aren’t always easy to produce. Over time, it’s made me realize that people have to be willing to ‘go in dumb and come out smart’. Individual Humility –> Organizational Pride