Building the Boat While Trying to Sail It: Rolling Out a New Professional Learning Community Plan
“I found today’s training truly unhelpful. We as teachers were asked to figure out how to solve equity in schools without any tools, strategies, or best practices. If we knew ways to improve equity, we would be implementing them. Asking us to ‘pick something to try,’ without presenting even one strategy over the course of a day and a half of training, does not feel like the supposed top-to-bottom approach sold to us. It feels like yet another challenge our overworked and underpaid staff have to independently figure out.”
That was the feedback that we received from a teacher after presenting our Public Learner protocol and PLC (professional learning community) plan for the year to our staff. I read it and immediately felt my face warm from the blood rushing towards it. As I was the one who facilitated the meeting, I felt personally attacked. Like damn, why is this man so mad? What did I miscommunicate? Does he feel some kind of way about me? Nevertheless, in my role as an Assistant Principal and through our work with Lead by Learning, I knew I had to look at his feedback as valuable data and for what was being communicated quite clearly, our intent did not align with the impact it had on some of our staff.
I am the type of person who is fine with building the boat while trying to sail it. I do not need to have all of the logistics and details explained to me before I jump into a project; if I am passionate about a goal, I am willing to pursue it and figure out everything along the way. I accept mistakes as a part of the process. I am fine with exploring where a process might take me. In processing the feedback from our Public Learner protocol rollout with my fellow administrators, I realized that a significant portion of our staff needs to have a fully constructed boat with a navigation system and clear destination in order to get on board with a PLC plan. We understood that while having staff develop their own foci under a larger umbrella focus and try out different strategies can be a bit messy, there were more resources that we could provide to stir the ship.
We went back to the drawing board during our Lead by Learning facilitated administrator meeting to figure out the next steps to ensure that our conversation was rooted in data. It would be easy to take the feedback we received from this one teacher and throw the whole process out of the window and replicate PLC systems we have used in the past that have not necessarily served us. Nevertheless, we also had to look at the fact that based on the staff meeting Exit Ticket only 30% of staff were reluctant to move forward with our Public Learner protocol-focused PLC structure. So the question became “how do we get the reluctant staff on board?”
With the support of Brooklyn, our Lead by Learning Program Facilitator, we were able to distill our conversation into two concrete next steps. The first step was to acknowledge and allow for differentiation across different PLC groups in terms of how they could best utilize the Public Learner protocol and what their needs were in regard to working towards equity in their department. The second step was for each of us to utilize our PLC leads to strategize with them the best way to move forward and empower them to do so. Through our conversations with PLC leads in concert with our monthly Lead by Learning training, we began to see a shift in the work that teachers were doing during their PLC time. Every single teacher was now actively participating in conversations about teaching and learning, no one was spending the time checking their email or preparing for the day’s lesson, teachers were being inspired by strategies that other teachers were implementing and trying them out for themselves, teachers were looking at attendance data, having conversations about how to support Black students when showing graphic videos of oppression, and sharing data on how grades improved for students as a result of targeted one on one weekly meetings. The boats were sailing!
Through the process, I gained a greater appreciation for staff feedback as it is valuable street data and my principal has helped me see that teachers were frustrated because they did not want to make mistakes. They want to do what is asked of them to best serve our students and that is a good thing. The more clarity we can provide and one-on-one conversations we can have with our teacher leaders the more confident they will be to get on board with our PLC structures. By the end of the year my relationship with the PLC leads became one of a partnership where we were able to discuss how the PLC process was going, celebrate successes, and strategize around areas for improvement. My administration colleagues and I know that the PLC process was a bit murky at the beginning of this school year but we listened to our staff, adjusted, and are excited to make even more shifts next year to strengthen our PLC work in service to our young people.
Whitney Dwyer has been an Assistant Principal at Dublin High School since 2021. Prior to working at Dublin High she had the honor of working at MetWest High School in Oakland for 14 years. In 2021 was awarded Oakland Unified School District’s Teacher of the Year Award. Throughout her extensive career in education her goal has been to use education as a tool of liberation for disenfranchised communities.