A Shift In Expectations

“As educational leaders, we can’t just stop at ‘we believe all students can learn at high levels’…we have to have the same belief and expectations for the adults in the system.”

As educators, we understand that our beliefs and expectations can be foundational to the success of the students in our classrooms.  Beliefs and expectations that will play out daily in the lives of each child in our schools.  And very often it is necessary to consider and reflect upon those very same beliefs and expectations…for they serve a crucial role in the very success of those same children.

As the Dufours and Eaker remind us in Revisiting Professional Learning Communities At Work, those same high expectations are rooted in “the confident belief that all students can attain mastery of the essential learning and that the staff has the capability to help all students achieve that mastery.”  Or as Lezotte states in the same work…“high expectations for success will be judged, not only by the initial staff beliefs and behaviors, but also by the organization’s response when some students do not learn.”

A monumental task in moving your school or district forward with the work of a Professional Learning Community requires leadership to take on the assumptions, expectations, and beliefs that pervade the culture of the system.  For better or for worse.  Whether positive or negative.  A very difficult prospect at best, painful and uncomfortable at its worst.  Yet, very necessary.  Necessary in that creating the culture is a crucial step that leadership must tackle early in the PLC process.

For a school or district to truly develop a shared mission and common vision collectively…they must exhibit the values and/or collective commitments that will allow for that very mission and vision to be lived and carried out.  Both in the expectations and in the behaviors of all members of the learning community, including leadership.

A mission and vision that truly moves the whole of the learning community requires that the beliefs, collective commitments, behaviors, and actions are modeled and lived out by the leadership.  Which requires creating an environment that promotes high levels of learning not only for the students, but for the adults in the building as well.  Very often the idea of learning is focused squarely on the students.  And yet, that very same student learning requires the adults in the system to increase their capacity and ability to invest in their own ongoing learning.  Or in the words of Michael Fullan…“developing the collective ability – the dispositions, knowledge, skills, motivation, and resources – to act together to bring about positive change.”

If creating lifelong learners is an expectation for the students in our classrooms.  Then that same expectation has to be lived out in the lives of the adults in the system.  We must serve as the model.  As the lead learners.

There must be a belief and expectation for learning and improving professional practice for all adults in the building.  It is a leadership imperative.  Creating an environment and culture that promotes learning, at all levels.  As stated in Revisiting Professional Learning Communities At Work, “it is impossible for a school or district to develop the capacity to function as a professional learning community without undergoing profound cultural shifts.  Those who cultivate PLCs must engage in an intentional process to impact the culture.”  And that starts with leadership!

Whether we are infusing Professional Learning Communities, ramping up our Response to Intervention, integrating Project-Based Learning, or learning to utilize a variety technology tools…leadership has to exude a positive belief and expectation that supports the learning of the adults, as well as the students.  If we truly want change to reach the level of the student desk…then leadership must engage and create learning opportunities and expectations for the adults in the system.  Especially if we want to truly transform the culture of the learning community.

Very often leaders don’t believe that the adults in the system can engage around change and new learning.  Yet, according to Andy Hargreaves, “a professional learning community is an ethos that changes every single aspect of a school’s operation.  When a school becomes a professional learning community, everything in the school looks different than it did before.”  Including the adult learning…AND how leadership creates those conditions and leads that learning.

Which, for me, is the inspiring piece to the “flipping” phenomena and movement.  It eventually turned us towards the adults in the system.  Towards our own staff and faculty meetings.  It forced leaders to consider, think, and do different in how they approached this learning space.  From a focus on announcements and mandates to learning and capacity-building.  From surface level meetings to in-depth learning experiences.  To leadership leading the learning.  From a focus on the what, to the how, and the WHY.  Leadership modeling expectations.  Leadership challenging the status quo.  Differentiation of learning wasn’t just for the classroom anymore.

The shift must remain squarely on learning.  Moving us from presenters and conveyors to builders of engaging collaborative structures, for the adults as well as our students.  It must touch everyone in the learning community.  And knowing our WHY serves as the linchpin…for changing behaviors, and ultimately, expectations and beliefs.

Just because we are adults does not mean we lose our love of learning.  If we subscribe to an ethos of creating lifelong learners, then our actions must model our words.  And it often requires a reminder of our WHY…

“True impact isn’t about fame or fortune…it is about touching the lives of others in a truly authentic way.  That is the difference and the difference maker.”


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