Keeping a PLN (and a PLC) Civil

#INFO233 PLN Post 7

I began teaching at El Cajon Valley High School in 2007. As a relatively new teacher I was tasked with being the Professional Learning Community Team Lead for a team of English Language Development teachers. In order to prepare people in my position, all the PLC Team Leads at my school were given a copy of Revisiting Professional Learning Communities At Work.

6a00d8341c721253ef0120a5226c31970bAt that point in my career, I didn’t necessarily see myself as a leader. So, I appreciated having that book as a guide for how to develop effective PLCs. I remember slowly reading through the text throughout the year (I’m a slow reader and it’s a pretty thick book). The explanations and guides for how to run an effective PLC made a lot of sense to me. Yes, we should be learning together. Yes, we should be talking about how we instruct students and sharing our instructional experiments with each other. Yes, we should read some research together and discuss how to implement the best practices that we’re reading about. I saw all these great ideas for improving our ELD program.

Some of the improvements suggested by this text were readily adopted by my fellow PLC members, and some were opposed. I couldn’t understand the opposition at the time. I thought that if we were going to have an effective PLC and serve our students well, then we should implement as many of the ideas in this book as we could. Opposing the ideas in the book, refusing to even read about them, these behaviors seemed so anti-improvement, so anti-progress.

Believing that the ideas in the book represented improvement, I basically resorted to ideological campaigns fought in the email and PLC meeting battlefields. In my mind, I built myself up to be superior to any colleague who disagreed with the ideas I saw as so obviously beneficial. I emailed point-by-point rebuttals to their concerns. I tried using peer pressure to turn reluctant PLC members over to my “side.” I wrote off their educational experience as simply many years of doing things the wrong way.

I’ve since apologized to some of them, and I believe that the majority of the people I work with see me as someone who they appreciate working with, someone who is fair and helpful, but I am sure I permanently damaged my relationships with a few people at my school.

Teaching is such a personal thing. Educators’ beliefs about teaching are an extension of who we are as people. When the ideas about education I was attracted to came under attack, I felt attacked. So, I attacked back, not recognizing (for a long time) that I was hurting some of my colleagues. And I’ve found that when you hurt someone, they’re not too keen on trying any of your ideas. When you hurt a member of your PLN, the trust required in a learning community is damaged, and people stop learning from each other.

 

I’m not proud of how I acted during this time in my career, but I am proud that I was able to reflect on my behavior and recognize that I needed to change. I still have colleagues who have different educational philosophies than I do. I have colleagues who hold ideas that I see as detrimental to how humans learn. But I don’t feel the need to bully those colleagues into believing what I believe (as I did back when I was the PLC Team Lead). What good can come of that? None. I’ll still voice what I believe about how to improve our school. I want our school to improve, but I recognize that trusting each other enough to disagree with each other and still be productive together is one of the most powerful ways our school is going to improve.

So, keep your PLN (or PLC) civil. Learn from each other, and when you disagree, be sure to remember that it’s a conflict of ideas, not a conflict of people.

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