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The Speed of Trust is the New York Times best seller about “the one thing that changes everything.”  Today I earned a chance to engage with the author (Steven M. R. Covey) on a multi-national conference call.  Starting at 1:00 EST Steven gave a live talk about the nature of his newest book.  As I listened, blogged and tweeted I thought about how all of the elements of his book fit so nicely into the role of the administrator in the creation and cultivation of the Professional Learning Community.  Yesterday at school our Learning Team engaged in a values activity where 60 values were paired down to 3 that the team of 10 had to agree on.  Trust came first.  Clearly in a school setting if trust is high, speed and outcomes will also be high.  I am willing to test this theory with our outcomes, student outcomes.

During the conference call Covey attempted to answer the 700 questions that were submitted to him for the 1 hour session.  He got to 10 of them.  Funny enough my question was posed to him 5th.  How to improve the culture of high trust when trust is extended to upper management yet it is a challenge amoung collegial groups in “subordinate” groups.  His answer was simple:

Formal Leaders need to go first.

1.  Inspire Trust first

2.  Extend Trust next.

This is the job of the leader.  Always modelling trusting relationships.  And then let it build.

Covey’s definition:  Trust=confidence, confidence, the opposite is suspiscion.  Instead of a text book definition he stated “you know it when you feel it.”  The essence of trust comes from others perceptions of your character and your competence.  You must inspire integrity and deliver results.

Why is Trust the new commodity?  Covey states there are 3 major reasons. 

1.  Trust fuels collaboration and is the currency that makes the world go round and relationships develop.   The nature of the current economy has shifted to a collaborative community rather than a competitive market.  This is the essence of the Professional Learning Community.  He states that “Trust is the one thing that changes everything.  It is a performance mulitplier.  Everything is made better by it.  Lack of trust creates a tax on the system.  If you get better at trust it will make you better at collaborating, innovating and engaging people.” 

2.  Trust is not all that you need but it is the foundational piece.  It is the highest leverage piece.  He does not advocate for only focusing on trust but states that is the single most important foundational piece.  (He sounds an awful lot like my Dad.)

3.  We operate increasingly in a low trust world so we must leverage that with high organizational trust.  If you have the ability to create and cultivate trust in a low trust world you have an advantage over all others to create and cultivate even more.

He then chose to answer a number of pre-determined questions:

Q–Why is the book called The Speed of Trust? 

A–You can build it faster than you think.  Once you have it nothing is as fast as the speed of trust.  Without it you have to take many more steps to get to the same end.  Trust goes up and Speed goes up and dividends go up.

Q–How do you demonstrate Trustworthiness as a leader? 

A–Model it.  Credibility is needed so model the behaviours.  People look to your character and competence.  Results plus credibility cultivates trust.  The steps are three fold.  1.  Declare your intent.  2.  Signal your behaviour.  3.  Do what you say you would do!  Tell your organization what you are going to do and then do it.  Talk straight.  Tell the truth.  (Sounds like my Dad)   It is like driving on the highway.  “When you are driving a car and want to turn left, signal a left turn for the people behind you to learn your intent.”  Signalling intent is very important to the relationship.   Just as important as declaring your intent.  But more importantly than all is doing what you say you will do.  Follow through, making and keeping committments.  This builds or trust very quickly.

Q–What about when people on the front lines do not trust eachother? 

A–Trust is reciprocal in nature.  Low trust or high trust perpetuates itself.  Covey’s next book is scheduled to be on the reciprocal nature of trust.   Listen first and involve people in the problem, be transparent so that there are no percieved hidden agendas, talk straight.  People might think “I may not like what I hear but at least I trust it to be the truth.”  Covey states: You must behave your way out of a problem you talked yourself into.  Rather than blaming say “I am responsible” and then fix it.  Time is needed to behave your way out of a situation of eroded trust.  Steve  Barkley Pondered Out Loud on Relational Trust to this effect.

Q–Can you trust too much?

A–Yes, we all call this blind trust.  This is not a valuable technique.  Steven is obviously not an advocate.  He does not advocate blind “lack of trust” either.  Rules and regulations should not be made for 5% of society.  Neither extreme is where you want to be.  A third alternative is “Smart Trust.”  Trust and verify.  Lead with trust and then verify.  If risk is so great (life and death) you may want to verify first but really, leading with trust is the best way to build relationships. 

Steven Covey’s concluding thought was a quote from Confucious as he responded to the question of what made good government:  “Many weapons, Much food and trust.  If you must give up one it must be weapons first, then, if you had to, you must give up food second.  Never give up trust, for without trust we cannot stand.”

Thanks to M.R-R and L.P. for allowing me to use “the office” for this call!

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The use of protocols in Professional Learning Community meetings is essential to the continued growth and evolution of  a school.  Gains in student achievement depend on the learning and learning processes of the adults in a building.  If we expect our teachers to differentiate for students we, as instructional leaders, had better differentiate for their learning styles.  I believe that the appropriate use of protocols in PLC meetings do many things but most importantly they:

  1. reduce the threat of exposing yourself to the group and allow you to become vulnerable with colleagues
  2. increase risk taking behaviour and sharing through structured and formal practises
  3. allow for shared leadership as the facilitator is not the “Sage on the Stage” but simply the choreographer (there is nothing simple about it of course)
  4. engage all learners
  5. can be adapted by participants to be used with students of all ages

I refer to brainstorming  in light of a recent Blog post on Education Innovation that I read weekly.  The spoof “demotivation”  poster (that I was sent years ago-prior to PLCs in our setting) below depicts the concepts behind ineffective PLC time the best I think.  I am reminded of meetings my significant other would describe in one of her career settings.  She laughs every time she views this poster and states, “It’s so true!”  If we know this as educators and we know what makes the difference in PLCs why do we still revert back to old, less effective habits? 

The Power of Meetings

None of us is as dumb as all of us.

Recently I engaged a staff of Early Years and Primary teachers from 4 neighbourhood schools in the Interview Design and Dialogue Protocol to elicit as many consistent and common ideas around a battery of questions about the current state of balanced literacy in schools  (I adapted a protocol form from Jon Saphier of Research for Better Teaching).   More importantly was the form in which this process was done.  There was chart paper, stickies and markers but this was secondary to the fact gathering phase which was done far more precisely and structured than traditional “brainstorming.”  Using the design process we essentially eliminated any risk by engaging in one on one dialogue to start.   The only stuff that made it to the chart paper (dialogue: the second to last phase) had been consistently communicated across the length of the interview phase. 

Teachers in 4 groups of 8 heard 4 responses plus their own to the one question they asked.  They then met in “like question groups” to discuss and chart the most common and consistent responses to the questions.  An example of one question was: “What evidence of a balanced literacy approach exists in a classroom in our District?”  8 individuals asked this question 4 times and recorded the responses.  8 response pages with responses from 32 individuals became one side of a piece of chart paper.  Talk about precision.  Essential to the protocol was that once the question was asked all you were “allowed” to do was record.  This was an interview and not a conversation.  

I immediately thought of the above poster when I read the title (Dumber Together) off the Education Innovation RSS feed on my Netvibes page.   While the intent of its inclusion is humour it has been true for me in limited instances.  My goal as an instructional leader is to make this “demotivation poster” irrelevant.   A reader @Education Innovation comments that the information presented is unsourced.  Maybe . . . but haven’t we all been there before?  If the answer is yes than why, when we take over the reigns, do we seem to perpetuate this form of Professional Learning.  Brainstorming sessions can be effective.  There must be a sound protocol to make them work for everyone however.  I continue to work through the many protocols presented by the National School Reform Faculty in an effort to engage with adults in meaningful and unthreatening ways.  As I stated earlier, gains in student achievement depend on the learning and learning processes of the adults in a building.  I am dedicated to the use of protocols to make sure that each of us is as smart as all of us.

InterviewDesign from Jon Saphier at Research to Better Teaching

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