29 May 2009

Jumping the Shark II: Teamwork

Last fall, I posted about an educational term that I thought had more or less "jumped the shark": Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). I have nothing against PLCs themselves, but the term is being applied like a giant band-aid for whatever isn't working in schools. I expect that any day now, we will read about how PLCs are being used to cure cancer and end world hunger.

The real PLCs out there are collaborative groups of educators focused on student instruction. While they are not quite as mythical as unicorns and virgins, they are a bit of a rarity. I do see and hear a lot of efforts to develop these functional groups. I think that discussions about professional practice and how it makes an impact at the student level can only benefit kids.

As always, I have a big "but" where this is concerned.

First of all, there should be choice as to whether or not to participate in a PLC---with no stigma placed upon educators who don't want to take part. I was thinking about this over the weekend after reading an article in The Big Fresh about Lone Wolves in the teaching ranks. The basic consensus is to just form whatever relationship you can and not drive yourself to distraction because the person is not a team player.

Which brings me to my current thinking about the word "team" as it applies to the educational workplace. As I've mentioned here before, I find its use somewhat offensive. I'm a person---not a thing---I don't want to be referred to as a collective noun. More importantly is the association of the word "team" with "competition." Education is not a game. We are not out to beat anybody and run up the score. We are here to do the best we can for each child. Meanwhile, "team" implies that there is a "captain" who gets to do as they please while the rest of the group works to satisfy his/her goals---rather than goals in common for student ends. Education is about collaborative action on behalf of a student. A collaborative effort means that everyone's voice is important and each person brings value to the discussion. In a team, one person's voice will always be important and the rest only have value inasmuch as they agree with that person and or can do the specific work s/he wants.

I sat in on a meeting recently where the leader used the word "team" seven times in 30 minutes. Some of us have been keeping count at these meetings (although no betting pool has been established yet about the number of times the magic word will be used. Too bad it's not a drinking game---would sure make meetings more fun.). What we've come to realize is that being part of this person's "team" has nothing to do with collaborative action. The term is used to mask the intent...to offer a false sense of participation so that we might not notice that we're being crapped on (with nary an umbrella in sight).

Diana Senechal, who was guest-blogging over at Joanne Jacobs' place, wrote about The Worship of Change and how those who don't automatically embrace new ideas in education are viewed as impediments and are defective. (Reminds me a bit of the Fundamentalist and Believer theory.) There is some truth in that observation---and I certainly count myself among the guilty in making that assumption on occasion. But I think that a lot of how you look at it has to do with the intent of the Lone Wolf/impediment/not-a-team-player. If their motivation is just to be obstructive, regardless of issue, then yes, a person is a real impediment in the derriere. However, some people slow down processes because they can't see how the change would be good for kids.

This is where collaborative action---not teamwork---comes in. This is where there is discussion and search for common ground. It's not a time for the captain to lead to the field and crush an opponent. Teams may well have their place where games are the focus and winning and losing matter, but they have no more use in educational settings. RIP: Team.


Clix said...

I dunno. I'm pretty sure that our administration - and probably other teachers, too - see me first and foremost as a member of the (infamous) English department. And I'm proud to be in that collective. We are a team, but more than that too... we're a professional family.

One idea I've been exploring just over the last day or so is how often fundamentalists are resistant to change because of the investment required. I have difficulty remembering to change the date each day, let alone making sure that the standard/objective/essential question is current for each class. And I'm fairly new!

It takes TIME to change habits. And sometimes, even before I've internalized the procedures, there's ANOTHER change coming around the bend, and I need to unlearn what I've been trying so hard to master!

I think leaders would have much more luck if they gave an overview of the whole picture, and then broke it down into baby-steps.

Dr Pezz said...

If the leadership in my district is believed, a PLC is the cure-all for every ill in the district. Of course, we've had a number of panaceas run through my district.

However, my department runs much like the typical PLC model, and we have (in my opinion) some of the greatest successes in the building. Still, my school in particular likes to take a great idea and fit it into what is already being done instead of revamping what isn't working.

Not Quite Grown Up... said...

"I expect that any day now, we will read about how PLCs are being used to cure cancer and end world hunger."

Ha! I think my district believes this to be true!