Last week, I once again, encountered the often heard Professional Learning community (PLC) concern, from a task force of local teachers and administrators regarding highly effective collaborative practices for grade level or course based teacher teams.
Aren't you just trying to make us all the same? Where is our individual freedom and choice to do what we think is best?
The question is a legitimate question, especially for those faculty or administrators who don't quite understand the "Loose-Tight" nature of the PLC culture in such a way that they can clearly articulate to one another what is and is not a choice for the teaching and learning of all students in a grade level or course.
I call this the Aspirin Principle.
There currently exists overwhelming research that one aspirin a day (for heart patients) significantly reduces heart attack or stroke. Here is a summary of one such report from Duke University in 2006 http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/11/061116100758.htm:
The researchers found that patients who took low-dose aspirin had a 26 percent reduction in the risk of a nonfatal heart attack, a 25 percent reduction in the risk of stroke and a 13 percent reduction in risk of death, compared with similar heart patients who did not take aspirin. Taken together, Berger said, patients on low-dose aspirin had a 21 percent reduction in risk of experiencing a major cardiovascular event, a measurement that is the combination of the rates of nonfatal heart attack and stroke and of cardiovascular death.
Seems that taking an aspirin a day should not be a choice for these patients.
Yesterday, another medical report was released that confirmed reports from a massive research study last December that an aspirin a day reduces cancer deaths. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101206201240.htm
The results, published in the Lancet, showed that aspirin reduced death due to any cancer by around 20% during the trials. But the benefits of aspirin only became apparent after taking the drug for 5 years or more, suggesting aspirin works by slowing or preventing the early stages of the disease so that the effect is only seen much later.
You can read more about these studies, but it makes you wonder, shouldn't we all take the same action? Is taking the aspirin and increasing our chances of success a choice? Really? This type of "tight" choice making decision confronts learning teams in a PLC all of the time.
Consider the known research and value benefits of creating daily lesson designs that honor effective student-engaged learning. Marzano's meta-analysis of the research (2007 and 2011) shows large effect sizes with anywhere from 14%-18% gains in student achievement in mathematics, reading and writing if the "Choice" is made to do so.
Do faculty members or administrators have the right to fly outside the student-engaged learning as a choice boundary and not actively engage students?
In fact, you and your colleagues have an ethical, professional, and moral obligation to ensure every student takes the aspirin of student engaged learning and reduce their risk of failure. What is "loose" however, is the use of many different structures or methods to implement actions that serve the "tight" choice of student engaged learning. How to design lessons that achieve this tight value can and should be loose. As a PLC leader you must give the faculty and staff autonomy within defined and well-articulated boundaries.
Achieving clarity also meant that as long as the spirit of the vision and value (student-engaged learning) behind the use of "Students sitting in teams of four" was being honored, then teacher learning teams should have significant freedom of choice and ownership about how to get it done well (loose, facilitative leadership with autonomy on the implementation side).
The choice for how to implement student-engaged learning could and should be loose. However, whether to embrace student-engaged learning and implement this vision value was not a stakeholder choice anymore—not a choice of the students, parents, teachers, leaders, or fellow administrators. No need for debate. At some point you must lead the organization into full implementation of a research affirmed vision. Otherwise, why are you leading?
When the PLC leader exhibits tolerance of the vision and values of best practices as a choice, then chaos reigns, accountability becomes random happenstance, wide variance and inequity become an enemy of the school or program, celebration becomes less focused and empty, and the “direction” of the work becomes lost.
Like good parents, professional learning community leaders set boundaries on adult behaviors and actions, then support and defend movement within those boundaries. They understand the benefits of "Taking the Aspirin" as a vital behavior within the organization and allows for choice on how to get it done.
What needs to be your Aspirin moment in 2011-2012? Start looking ahead. What must you and your colleagues become "tight" about in 2011-2012? Every child in a specific grade level or course has the right to experience teaching and learning with educators that understand what is and isn't a choice.