Tim Brown is a dynamic speaker who promotes Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).
Last month he began his presentation to hundreds of Porterville educators with questions. “Did you come to this event today ready to learn? What impact do you intend to have on the next generation? What’s your internal motivator?”
Brown’s goal as he speaks with educators is to inspire reflection and connection as they implement PLCs. Schools and districts that function as a PLC embrace high levels of learning for all students. To achieve this, they need to have a clear and compelling reason so that each of them can take responsibility to manifest it.
Brown feels that teachers and administrators need to be “engines of hope” for kids. Conveying to them that what they do in class each day is important and that they can do it. He said that his message to students is, “We’re not going to give up on you even if you try to give up on yourself and this class.” Knowing that hope is not a strategy, he insists that committing to every student learning every day will help educators find a pathway to make this happen.
Learning is the priority and it is communicated by everyone all day. Using interdependent collaborative grade level and department teams, schools can take a systemic approach to move from the current reality to best practices.
Brown adopts a growth mindset and invites teachers to figure out what needs to be done differently in order to close the gap. Teachers must come together and double down in order to resist giving up on this daunting task. Avoiding the urge to blame or complain, they can interject humor. Imagine the tooth brush saying to the roll of toilet paper, I have the worst job.
To stay positive Brown advises adopting the attitude that “you’re going to make someone’s day. You get to change the world, today.” He asked participants, “How many tabs do you have open on your computer screen right now?” Being present is also hard, but necessary.
“If what’s happening in the classroom is not good enough for your own children, then it’s not good enough for your students.” Fixing this will take the whole staff and a focus on learning, not teaching. Plutarch said, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lit.” Brown said, “Go ignite change.”
His “big hairy goal” is to have teachers working collaboratively to be accountable for classroom environments where curriculum, instruction and assessment help all students learn at high levels. When all students are not where they need to be, teachers need to ask why and then share best practice to get them all there.
Every member is a key contributor to the team who knows that if they’re too busy to reflect, they’re too busy to learn. Relentlessly questioning the status quo, they engage in collective inquiry. They start with what they want this to look like? Why are students failing? What needs to be kept? What needs to be dropped? What will enhance student production? How can we extend and enrich what students know?
“To become the school you want to be, note your failings and prioritize what can be controlled. Address this extensive list with intensity. Muster the courage to call each other out on erroneous beliefs and assumptions by asking what’s getting in the way of students being able to succeed.”
If learning is continuous, what does that look like in classrooms? By working collaboratively and committing to doing what needs to be done, teachers can improve effectiveness. He recommends that teachers come to meetings and check their ego at the door, and enter with the notions of what they can learn from their colleagues.
Determining priorities and sharing best practices get results. Focusing on results helps teams develop measurable improvement. One of the most powerful tools of a PLCs is a short, frequent cycle of CFAs (Check For Understanding) not just for flexible student groups, but for learning from colleagues.
Brown empowers teachers to take action and be inventive designers by keeping the positive policies, practices, and procedures and eliminating the negative one. For example, it’s not in the best interest of students to grade everything, but rather offer feedback on practice learning events.
The most powerful learning results in taking action. PLCs use collective inquiry as the catalyst for taking meaningful action rather than remaining in the comfort of the familiar. Effort and proper preparation are the main determinants of success.
“When you know why you do what you do, even your tougher days become easier. What you’re doing has more impact when you’re walking toward your purpose. Show up every day as the person that got excited about being part of something bigger than their classroom.”
Kristi McCracken, author of two children’s books and a long time teacher in the South Valley, can be reached at email@example.com.