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January 31, 2011


Where is this ship headed?

by Chris Lindholm

The message has been communicated clearly – ISD 191 staff want to know where we’re headed.  Do you blame them?  Doesn’t everyone want that? 

I have shared a few of my thoughts regarding where we are headed in two recent posts, “Teaching and Leading is Tough Business” and “Anyone for the KISS Approach,”  yet I believe that I need to do more to be transparent and communicate what is being discussed in the many forums of a large district.  In particular, we are currently in the process of redrafting an integration plan, a Q-Comp plan, and a 2011-12 PD plan, and the conversations are necessarily intertwined.  To the goal of being more transparent, let me share a bit more… 

I have signed us up for the hard slog to being a Professional Learning Community, and I willingly take the blame for a top down decision.  I’m committing us to (with or without integration dollars or Q-Comp funding or staff development set-aside funds) embrace the hard work of true collaboration that is focused on results.  We will welcome reciprocal responsibility and continuously work to align the work of adults to better deliver on our mission.  We will not accept “silver bullet” sales pitches, and we will recognize that every student comes to us with unique needs to address.  We understand there is no magical PD program or curriculum that solves all of our challenges.  We understand that we are the paid professionals responsible for educating and caring for the students charged to our watch.  And yes, we accept the challenge to collaboratively ensure that every student is prepared for post-secondary success before leaving us, and we will tenaciously pursue that goal with each individual student. 

Rooted in my belief that great schools are led by strong principals, I have asked all ISD 191 principals to read Learning By Doing and to engage in weekly dialogue about how to create that kind of environment in every BES school.  We are discussing how to establish meaningful teams and how to increase leadership capacity at all levels.  We are looking at how to draft school improvement plans and how to focus the work of adults on real results and avoid the pitfalls of undisciplined “coblaboration” (DuFour, p. 117).  This summer, several of us hope to attend a DuFour conference further developing our understanding of how to create this kind of culture in our district.  Through this ongoing process, I have made very clear that every principal is to establish a meaningful building leadership team (some are already in place) and to facilitate an annual process to create a school improvement plan and a building level professional development plan aligned to the district strategic plan.  Details about templates, deadlines, and the exact count of reps on a leadership team haven’t been micro-managed to ensure that principals have the flexibility and freedom to address building needs – yet the expectation for meaningful leadership is consistent.  Decisions on specific details will not be rushed.  Good decisions take time and deliberation and improvement is a process, not a one time event.  Our principals have embraced this journey collaboratively and have been appreciative of the opportunity to exercise real, meaningful leadership.  Their collective wisdom and passion on behalf of our students is a treat to witness each day. 

So here is the real bummer…  Being a true PLC is not a magic bullet that makes the processes of change easy or clean.  I can’t give principals a polished template for a school improvement plan anymore than I can stand in front of a committee of teachers and articulate a pretty organizational chart for teacher leadership staffing that will solve all of our problems.  Both situations or issues call for a team of committed people to roll up their sleeves and give it their best shot.  It won’t be perfect and will definately need tweaking as in unfolds, but in the end we will all be engaged, responsible for, and focused on the results.  That is what PLCs do – they focus on the messy work of getting the mission accomplished.  A PLC is “an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve” (DuFour, p. 11).

ISD 191 principals are focusing their meeting scheduled for Wednesday on chapters 5 and 6 of Learning By Doing.  Chapter 5 is on creating a collaborative culture and how to construct meaningful teams while chapter 6 challenges us to establish a culture focused on results.  There isn’t one recipe, but there is a clear target.  So… In an effort to be transparent about where our conversation is headed, here are some of the questions we will be wrestling with:

  • How do we ensure teams are truly focused on the 4 questions PLCs zero in on instead of practicing “coblaboration?”
  • How do we make sure the work done is hooked into a district-wide curriculum management plan?
  • What district structures are necessary to ensure equity across the district?
  • Can we carve out time for teams to work as a PLC during the school day?
  • What changes need to happen to ensure the majority of our meeting time is focused on the 4 key questions? 
  • How do we train staff (and ourselves) to do the right work instead of engaging in negative talk?
  • Can/should we implement both long-term teams and flexible grouping?
  • How do we strike the balance between district wide consistency and building level flexibility?

Chapter 6:

  • Exactly what does it mean to tie building goals to district goals and team goals to building goals?
  • What is a high caliber school goal, team goal, and district goal?
  • Do we all need to use the same templates?
  • How does this tie to Q-Comp?
  • Is this the template for school improvement plans and team goal setting?


As always, I’m looking forward to good dialogue and learning from the principals here in BES schools.  Each conversation leads to more clarity about the PLC environment and what we need to do to make it happen here.  Exciting days are ahead in 191!!


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