Sunday, 19 March 2017

Thoughts on a Leaders Professional Learning Group

Each term leaders from across our cluster get together to have a day-long Professional Learning Group (PLG).  I facilitate the day with the Education Programme Leader who works across the cluster.

As a cluster, we have been working together since 2015. It has taken time to build trust in the group and to start sharing some of our ideas and issues. It has been interesting to watch the group come together and form some understanding of each others context and focus as well as pulling together in one waka as we begin clustering and we begin to be an effective team.

“If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”
From Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

It has also taken time to understand the mechanics of how we are teaching in terms of using Google tools and how to support staff and learners in using the tools. Underpinning the technical expertise is the learn, create, share pedagogy we are using. All of this has been a steep learning curve and has taken a lot of time and head space for people. We are to some extent creating the waka as we go. We do have a course mapped out by others who have plotted a similar course. However, this is our waka and we are still learning and inventing as we go for our context.

Interestingly we are now building a culture of trust even though some personnel have changed over time and sometimes another staff member attends the PLG due to the leaders other commitments. I wonder if this culture of trust is in part due to the fact that as a cluster we regularly meet together in toolkits and share learning in each others schools. This means that no-one is completely new to the group and is representing a school that others know something about already. People make professional connections and to some degree personal ones. We know where we are from and where we stand.

I have been reflecting on the Five Dysfunctions of a Team. A really interesting book by Patrick Lencioni was written as a leadership fable.  This is written from a business perspective and can be applied to any team situation. The book looks at why teams are dysfunctional and reflects on some potential issues to address. It paints a picture of what a healthy team looks and feels like.

In thinking about our Leaders PLG team we are at the stage of building the team to be better. We are starting to see elements of a better team come out in our PLGs.  I'm so impressed when people engage in conflict in a healthy way. We are starting to be able to openly talk about what is happening in each other's schools and to recognise strengths and weaknesses in our situations and maybe each other. People are speaking up and asking questions whereas in the past they have been silent.

If they don’t weigh in, then they won’t buy in.

In working towards being collaborative we are using questions and giving autonomy to the members of the group. We looked at what leading by example meant for each of the leader's role in their school and recorded what we each saw as good practice on a shared sheet. 

We then focussed on three specific areas to discuss: 
  • attend and run toolkits
  • use visible teaching on a site and visible learning on a blog
  • participate in google+ communities

We were able to have discussions where not everyone agreed and we focussed on the topic rather than the individual. Sometimes we have agreed to disagree, for the moment at least, as beliefs are challenged.

We can still work in a range of areas. Perhaps the next is holding one another accountable and our regular PLGs are the obvious place to do this. We need to recognise and decide how we can achieve our shared goals rather than just our school goals. We have started with a few small things such as agreeing on when testing and moderation will occur as a cluster. The shift in thinking is one that needs to occur at all levels of the cluster; principal, leaders, teachers, support staff and learners. It is one that will be tested as we continue to look at cluster-wide data and agree on an achievement challenge. 

As one of the leaders of the PLG I am challenged by the ideas about what I need to be so as to effectively help the team to function well. I choose to have these roles as goals, to be open and accountable, to seek feedback and to keep learning. 
We are in the same waka pulling together. We are not in competition with anyone but we are working towards a common goal of improved student achievement in our low-decile cluster of schools. This is a goal we are all passionate about and we have taken some great steps towards our goal as we build an effective team.

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