Saturday, April 11, 2015

PLC Disruption: Next Steps

Sometimes at PLC (professional learning community), there is disruption.

I believe that this disruption results, in part, from constraints due to time and the lack of a strategic process. We're rushing to get it all in, be heard, and make decisions without the time to analyze with depth and care.

How can we minimize this disruption?

I believe that the book, Getting to Yes, Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Fisher and Ury, holds promise for elevating and deepening the work we do at PLC in the following ways.

Fisher and Ury offer a good negotiation strategy that emphasizes the following points:
  • Separate people from the problem, and recognize that people have "emotions, deeply held values, and different backgrounds and viewpoint; and they are unpredictable. They are prone to cognitive biases, partisan perceptions, blind spots, and leaps of illogic," and as the authors assert, "So are we."
  • "Be hard on the problem, soft on the people."
I took their research and work in addition to my experience and created the process below to guide deep PLC work. 

Choose a Facilitator
Decide who will be the person that leads the discussion from beginning to end for each initiative. This person will make sure that everyone has a chance to speak, and that the conversation continues to focus on the identified issue, problem, or goal. The facilitator may be an objective individual or perhaps the person who has the most responsibility for the initiative. 

Identify the Problem
Next, employ a strategic process. Start with identifying the problem you want to solve or goal you hope to meet. Spend time discussing the issue at hand and agreeing on the language. If the group does not agree on the initial question, problem, or goal, there's little chance you'll make effective progress. 

Determine Strategy and Timeline
Then schedule the strategic response with realistic expectations about time. For example a strategic response may include the following steps:
  • Identify needed time, research, roles, and pre-discussion efforts and share.
  • Determine each individual's responsibility with regard to reading information prior to the discussion, adding comments/questions, or other preparation activities.
  • Individuals share perspectives. Identify ideas for change, growth, or solution.
  • Discuss, synthesize, and integrate ideas.
  • Create a solution path, time line, roles, and assessment points.
  • Create communication protocols and venues related to the initiative. For example rather than multiple emails, it's helpful to create a collaborative document for follow-up questions and idea share.
  • Reconvene, assess, and revise as needed. 
As you engage in process, remember the following points from Getting to Yes.
  • Allow team members to tell their story and express their interests and concern.
  • "Speak to be understood" and "speak about yourself, not about them."
  • "Shared interests and differing but complementary interests can both serve as the building blocks for a wise agreement."
  • "Make a list to sort out the various interests of each side."
  • ". . .give your interest and reasoning first and your conclusions or proposals later."
  • Be mindful of tone, attitude, affect. 
  • ". . .know where you are going and yet be open to new ideas." ("An open mind is not an empty one.")
Clearly hierarchy plays a role in PLC work. Hierarchal values differ from organization to organization, and the underlying philosophy, values, beliefs, expectations, and rules of hierarchy need to be explicit for successful PLC work. Do the all members of PLC have voice when it comes to decisions presented? Who will make the ultimate decision with regard to the identified issue?  Is the issue worth a PLC discussion with regard to the power and/or interest the PLC members have with regard to the ultimate decision? Perhaps the issue is better suited for a different group at a different time.

Time also plays a critical role in PLC work. How much time is available, and does the time match the depth of issues presented? If issues require more time, is that time available? 

Prioritizing, lead time, and focus also matter. What is the overarching aim of the PLC? What kinds of strategic goal setting and planning at the start of the year help the PLC group stay focused on that aim, and how will the work at PLC translate into more effective teaching and learning?

I created a PLC Process template below which may be used as teams negotiate, plan, and problem solve around challenging and important issues, goals, and problems.

PLC Planning Document

Effective planning and precise language matters with respect to successful PLC work.

1. Determine a Facilitator (Project Leader)  and Note Taker for the Process. The facilitator will bring the process from start to finish making sure that everyone has voice, related information is shared, and the identified process is implemented, assessed, and revised as needed. The Note Taker will document the process with words, links, and images. The facilitator may be an objective individual or the individual who has the most time, investment, or responsibility for the issue.

2. Identify Problem, Issue, or Goal. Team discusses and agrees on language:

3. Determine the Following:

  • Who has ultimate decision making power over this issue, problem, or goal?
  • When does a decision, solution, or goal have to be made?
  • What are the real or perceived limitations?
  • What shared protocols do you want to employ? (The PLC may already have protocols in place.)
  • What limitations will affect this process?

4. Create Process (Possibly use some or all of the steps below.)

1. Identify Reading, Research, and Roles to Prepare For Share/Decision Making

2. Individuals Share Ideas and Perspectives

3. Collectively Organize and Synthesize Information

4. Discuss Further Actions.

5. Make Decisions and Action Plan

6. Create a Timeline for Action Plan

7. Create a Communications Vehicle/Protocols for Team Share, Questions,Other Communication

8. Decide on Assessment Dates and Follow-Up Meetings to Revisit and Revise if Needed.

9. Determine How the Work Will Be Chronicled and Shared in the End

4. Implement Process