Far too often in education, we spend time thinking about a question. It’s a question that will sometimes cause stress. It will sometimes lead us to look for new programs or resources. And at times, it creates overwhelm because we then feel like there is too much to do. The question I’m thinking of is “What more should we be doing?”
Depending on your perspective, that question may not feel like that big of a deal. But here’s the issue, if we always ask about what we should be doing more of, we end up with so much to do that we aren’t able to do any of it well. We can’t sustain the practice. Adam Welcome loves to talk about how schools in general are really good at collecting programs and things, but they are really bad at getting rid of those programs or things that are obsolete. This is something that I have definitely noticed (I have seen your pile of textbooks from 3 adoptions ago that you just can’t bring yourself to get rid of!).
The other issue I see with asking about what more we can do is that it leads us to a deficit mindset. That’s the thinking that leads us to only focus on the things that aren’t going well or the things that we can’t do enough of. Deficit thinking leads to a sense of hopelessness before we have even started anything.
One of the pain points that I have noticed in my time as a leader is that every spring and summer, I spend time with our leadership team. We look at the data we have, the growth we’ve made, and the areas to target for continued growth. Based on that information, we develop a school improvement plan that is focused entirely on the data that we can connect to the learners that we know in our building. Then, invariably, we come together at a beginning of the year administrative meeting, and there seems to be some new initiative or some new curricular resource that must be added to our plans. When that happens, the intentional design of the school improvement plan that was developed as part of our thoughtful work must be either revamped or potentially scrapped for a period of time.
I do have one quick caveat since I know that some of the people who read this blog are colleagues of mine, or maybe even are among the group that sometimes brings those initiatives to us… Oftentimes those initiatives involve us in doing good work that is for the benefit of our students, but it sometimes feels for the leaders in the buildings that we have now been given one more new thing to cram into the already busy schedule of the school year PD plan.
So, imagine if you could, hearing the following statement at your back-to-school meeting:
Much like Chris Lehmann, I believe that “Schools are better when they create spaces and expectations for reflection.” A formalized process for reflection is a necessity. This reflection can certainly occur as an individual, but I think the power of the reflection comes from when you are able to chat with others about what happened in your classroom, how the students responded to the learning opportunity, and what your data shows you about student learning and growth.
This is why I see such value in the PLC process. It’s the perfect place for the reflective process to take place. The four key questions of the PLC guide us toward reflection on a question that is much better than the one I mentioned at the beginning. Instead of asking ourselves “What more can we be doing?” we should be asking “How can we do what we’re already doing, better?”
Think about the power of that mindset shift with your team. Instead of coming into a PLC meeting with a deficit mindset that might imply that we don’t yet have the tools to be successful, we come in with the belief that within our team, we have the answers to help ourselves improve. That’s collective teacher efficacy at work.
And here’s the reality of this process. Sometimes we will start with reflective practices, we will begin by trying to problem-solve within our team, and we may find that the tools we have available to us are not working. This is where things get exciting for me. Now, your PLC team can begin some work in action research. Do some professional reading, ask for help from an administrator, work with your curriculum coach, or collaborate with another team that might not be having the same problem as you. Whatever you do, find a way to keep trying until you find something that does work for your students. Again, this is not about finding something new, it’s about refining something that we were already doing, but wasn’t working as well as we’d like it to be.
Another thing to keep in mind: as you begin to refine your processes, be sure to identify the pieces that you feel are already going well. Having an idea of the things that are working will help us feel more comfortable as we make shifts in the areas that aren’t working as well. Also, keep in mind that if you try to solve too many problems at one time, you probably aren’t going to solve any of them. Pick one area of growth to focus on and stay focused on that. Remember what your team’s limitations are for time and energy!
So, the next time you are together with your team and able to reflect on what’s been happening, be sure to focus on the question “How can we do what we’re already doing, better?”
How do you think that might shift the conversations in your work? As you reflect on what you can do better, how might you use that to set your own short- or long-term goals for your own learning and growth? Share your thoughts in the comments below!