In part 2 of the PLC Commitment to Learning series, I will be discussing the true foundational piece of the PLC CTL Pyramid: Collaborative Professionalism. Addressing the deficiency needs of any organization or team requires a common understanding of actions and values that guide the collective work and dialogue of those individuals.
Collaborative Professionalism is a re-framing of the idea of professional collaboration, seen commonly in the professional learning community (PLC) movement in education. Andy Hargreaves and Michael O’Connor have done extensive research involving collaborative structures and effective schools around the world. Their work was released in 2018 in a report from the WISE Foundation.
The reason collaborative professionalism is so fundamental to the effective and successful work of any PLC is because it defines the work and values of those who are engaged in the day to day interactions of a PLC. Collaborative Professionalism is about more than merely collaborating and coming together as a team or group. It’s a normative process that seeks to change the behavior and attitudes of those who are engaged in collective work. Collaborative Professionalism is about how people collaborate more professionally while also working as a profession more collaboratively. This understanding is a fundamental shift in the thought practices and work experiences for most PLCs.
For PLCs to be more effective and ensure the success of every student, there has to be not only more collaboration among teachers and leaders but more professionalism involving good judgement, valuable data, professional and respectful dialogue, thoughtful feedback, and a collective responsibility for each other’s results (staff and students). Collaborative Professionalism looks quite a bit different from what many PLCs tend to exhibit on a routine basis. Collaborative Professionalism looks and sounds different from professional collaboration (the typical description of PLCs). A key feature of Collaborative Professionalism is the idea of “collaborative inquiry.” This is the notion that effective PLCs have a relentless pursuit of equitable approaches that support all students. The best PLCs treat this pursuit as a moral imperative for collective responsibility. Moreover, the team embraces an “inquiry stance” as the fundamental approach to the craft of teaching.
While the idea of Collaborative Professionalism may sound good and few would argue bringing more effective dialogue and professionalism to the PLC process on campuses is a bad thing, there are some factors that need to be addressed to ensure collaboration and professionalism are both realized. Two areas that must be addressed are collaborative leadership skills and the systems/structures in place to promote and establish collaborative professionalism.
PLCs tend to fail or exist in a level of mediocrity because collaboration can often times be more of a directive than an experience and valued asset in developing a culture of shared growth and responsibility. To shift our thinking on collaboration and the professional qualities that must permeate such work, it is imperative that leaders have a deep understanding of collaborative leadership.
For collaboration to be valued on a campus it must first be valued by leaders and effectively modeled for the organization. Peter DeWitt has written a book titled Collaborative Leadership: Six Influences That Matter Most which proves to be a most helpful resource in guiding leaders towards a more collaborative leadership style. In his book, DeWitt makes the argument collaborative leadership requires purposeful actions that enhance the instructional talent of teachers, build deep relationships with stakeholders, and builds collaborative/shared learning together. Collaborative leadership is not about manipulation but rather rolling up one’s sleeves and diving in to the work necessary to build open communication and transparency. Effective leadership practices set the priorities for Collaborative Professionalism to occur on your campus and builds the climate that supports such endeavors.
Finally, there are some essential structures and best practices that need to be in place for Collaborative Professionalism to have a fighting chance. Collaboration is one of those things that not everyone embraces. The teaching profession is still influenced heavily by an individualistic view of the teacher’s role in designing lessons, interacting with students, and addressing the day-to-day challenges that arise. Simply announcing that collaboration or PLCs shall occur on a campus isn’t enough. In fact, if that is all that occurs then PLCs are most assuredly doomed to fail. Instead, consider the following as you build a culture of Collaborative Professionalism on your campus or in your district:
- Be intentional as a leader and take the time to develop a shared vision and goals with your staff.
- Identify group norms and don’t take it for granted that teams will just collaborate on their own without norms to guide their dialogue and collective work.
- Promote dialogue and relational trust. This is best achieved when the leader models this and routinely engages in both with all stakeholders.
- Find time for teachers and staff to be collaborative and protect that time as some of the most sacred time throughout the year.
- Have a clear process for carrying out collaboration on your campus and commit to it. Build collaboration time into calendars, agendas, and professional learning events for the year.
- Use a gradual-release approach. Don’t be afraid to model what you want to see from your teams and engage more heavily with teams that need your support while empowering more effective teams to run with it!
- Move towards the roar! Deal with conflict and don’t let it fester. When you see a team that is struggling, be the support and encouragement they need and help them address the issues at hand. Remember, it’s a moral imperative to collaborate!
- Give it time! Developing a culture that embraces collective effort, dialogue, and values takes time. Be like a rat on a Cheeto in sticking to the work but know that anything worth savoring doesn’t happen over night.
Part 3 of this series will focus on the other deficiency need of a PLC, Consistent Response. I will examine how effective PLCs define their responses to student struggle and make those responses consistent and available to all students.