PLC work is a complex beast with many variables. Personalities, varying levels of experience and beliefs about education are just a few variables that PLCs must consider when building collaborative teams. Leaders must guide teams to come together to be the best for kids. Leaders set expectations for 'What' teams must do to provide the best instruction and supports for all kids. In the leader's desire to push the campus toward alignment and synchronicity in the ideals of being a PLC, leaders are prone to make a critical mistake by going one step too far. They will succeed in clarifying the 'What', but will cripple teams by telling them 'How' they want the 'What' to be done.
Leaders that want teams to succeed must support teams in figuring out the 'How'. The 'How' is the pathway in which teams will work together to get the 'What' accomplished. Leaders can't possibly know the 'How' for every single team. They do not have the same vantage point, experiences, educational tendencies or language to design all of the learning structures necessary to accomplish the mission and vision of the campus.
So, what do leaders do to empower teams to decide 'How' they will do the 'What'?
Honor the Different Starting Points and Needs of Each TeamLeaders must take steps to recognize and respect the different needs and starting points at which teams begin to incorporate the 'What' into their daily work. Teams need to know that the pathway on their PLC journey is based on the collective experiences of the members. If leaders tell teams 'How' to do the 'What', leaders will set a bar that is beyond the reach of the PLC or set the bar so low that teams will feel the need to abandon their current work to meet the leader's desire of 'How' the work must be done. Either way, teams will lose valuable time and confidence because of confusion caused by the leader.
Example - A kindergarten PLC with a strong foundation will be much further ahead than a 2nd grade PLC with half of the team new to the school; therefore, their starting points and needs will look and sound much different to begin working together. Leaders must provide vastly different levels of support to each PLC.
Offer OptionsWhen leaders define the 'What', they must realize that teams need a variety of options to help them process 'What' it looks like. Format for submitting work, structures for making plans or instructional designs are just a few of the major road blocks that many teams encounter because it locks teams into a specific way of thinking about the 'What'. Leaders must provide teams with several examples of format options and graphic organizers. These options must be presented by the leader with the explicit understanding that the options represent possibilities for the starting point rather than the proverbial box to fit into. In offering options, leaders must intuitively know the tendencies and thought processes of each team. When leaders know the work styles and team mindsets, options can become more personalized to the needs and thinking of each team rather than the "One Size Fits All" mentality.
Example - The way that a high school English PLC will go about implementing Tier 1 interventions will look much different than interventions in a high school Algebra PLC because of the nature of their content. A leader will know this and offer different options to each team so that they can have the autonomy to make intervention plans centered around the students' learning needs within each given content.
Warrant AutonomyA Professional Learning Community is a team of professionals that must work and learn together to reach learning goals. Leaders impede the team's professionalism and culture for learning when they fail to articulate that it is the team's responsibility to find the best way to meet the goals of the campus. This means that leaders must warrant or charge teams to design 'How' they will go about the work of being a PLC. Teams must have the autonomy to select actions that will help them meet campus goals or initiatives, and leaders must create the environment for this autonomy by giving them guidance and support in creating team values and norms.
Example - When teams ask for the way in which the leader wants a given task to be done, the leader must resist the urge to answer the question and provide guiding questions to help the team create the best method that they will work together in a way that is effective and efficient. This action fosters trust in the team and stability in its work.
Final Thoughts on the Leader's Role
Leaders have intense pressure placed upon them from federal, state and at times, local expectations. The task is daunting to say the least. In order for leaders to meet these demands, they must look beyond the trap of short-term data-based targets to focus on creating the conditions for empowered PLCs. Once leaders create these conditions of trust and professionalism, they can focus on their primary task, leading, guiding and supporting PLCs to create their own path of student success and isn't that 'What' leaders should be doing?