Where does PLC fit with Innovation?

As a great educator asked me in a conversation we were having the other day, “Where does PLC fit with innovation?” We are saturated in a moment in time in education where PLC is the thing. Everyone is part of one(whatever that means as I have found that it looks different and means different things across schools across the nation), but the end goal ends up being teachers doing a lot of the same. Is it good? I don’t know. Does it lead to the typical managing system where we teach for the middle? Get out our binders, turn to page 33, and now recite to kids….. I find myself struggling because I realize that we must do more to ensure learning is taking place. We must start viewing students as our students and not my students. But in doing so are we actually achieving the other goals of innovative, problem solving, 21st century thinking students or cloned versions of one another?

Great teachers are being asked to do more and more and more to prove that they are already doing the art of teaching. They are asked to document all their work that they already know is working. They are asked to lead the way, come up with answers that the big education institutions cannot develop while the inadequate teachers just tag along and use whatever paperwork or data is often collected. Nothing ever changes besides the good ones getting burned out. In this system our good teachers lose their chance for innovation because they are being forced to be mediocre as they are constantly being asked to bring up the inadequate. Students become numbers, not people. Focus is on data, not relationships. What I believe is that PLC’s are easy to manage and many schools flock to everyone doing the same thing mentality because it is easy to chart and manage. Real learning does not happen with management. Real learning is messy. Real learning happens at different stages, speeds, and paces.

I say this but I am lucky enough to be part of some good PLC’s. We actually do get quality work done. We challenge how we teach. We are constantly trying to get better. But I feel that with all the work it was what I did 10 years ago because that is just what good teachers do. It often reminds me of the typical school punishment where one kid is being a butthead so the whole class misses recess. Punish everyone because we are a “team” instead of going after the issue at hand.

Once again, I don’t know. My head spins. I read about PLC and like I say all the time it is one of those things that works really well in theory land, but in reality it is a whole new beast.

I have a fear. A big fear.

As education continues to push for a robotic like structure in classrooms and teaching I see innovation losing out. I see teaching being the focus and not the learning. Students will continue to lose sight of the excitement for learning. All the negative that comes with disengaged students will rise and we will have not solved anything that we hoped the spreadsheets would prove.

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Why is “innovation” crucial to education today? Or maybe it isn’t? #IMMOOC

Why is “innovation” so crucial in education? What impact do you see it having on our students and ourselves long term?

These are questions that plague my brain. At one end of the spectrum I see innovation being the epicenter of much of what I try to instill in my philosophy of education as a teacher, coach, mentor, father, and husband. Much of what I try to create in students is an innovative mindset for them to believe that they can indeed solve complex problems.


I struggle with the concept. I struggle because I want everyone who walks into my room to be innovative. As much as I know that we want EVERY child to be proficient, competent, innovative, growth mindset, have grit, etc. I realize that being innovative can be something that we try to accomplish. In the end not everyone will be innovative. It is not how the world works. I believe that everyone has POTENTIAL to be innovative, but for many it will never move beyond potential into TALENT.

Ponder this…..

Jonathan Huebner states in his paper titled, “A possible declining trend for worldwide innovation” that:

The rate of innovation peaked in the year 1873 and is now rapidly declining. He defines innovation as “The number of important technological developments per year divided by the world population.”


It is important to read the paper, but basically it boils down to the fact that innovation is declining. It peaked a hundred years ago and continues to decline because we are reaching our limits. Now because of this he asks some powerful questions that I believe could spark the next wave of innovation in face of saving innovation.

  • What are the implications for the economy, government and society of declining rates of innovation?
  • What standard of living corresponds to the economic limit of technology?
  • Will the level of technology reach a maximum and then decline as in the Dark Ages?
  • Did the failure of ancient people to invent the printing press cause the Dark Ages?
  • Are there any key inventions that could reverse the current decline in the rate of innovation?
  • Are improvements in the flow and processing of information the primary sources for increases in the rate of innovation?
  • Are there any other reasons for the decline in the rate of innovation during the 20th century besides the approach of an economic limit of technology or a limit of the human brain?
  • What is the relationship between innovation and democracy?
  • Does democracy depend upon innovation?

But I don’t think all is lost either. I am currently reading Kevin Kelly’s new book The Inevitable and he brings up a different mindset from the study above. In chapter one he discusses the internet and how 20 years ago today if you would have said there would be the Internet as we know people would have laughed at you. It simply was not imaginable that people would do all this work for free as we have down to crowdsource the Internet that contains 60 trillion web pages.

Think about this as he reminds us this has all been created in 8000 days. People would have lost their mind to have the power of the Internet back in the day. Because of this we are reminded that indeed, “the impossible is more plausible than it appears.”

The Internet is just getting started and how it operate, look, and function in another 30 years will be mind-blowing. We cannot fathom the concept yet because all we know is what we know. The day will come where we can search literally anything about anything whenever we want. The internet is in its infancy as we speak.

As he closes a chapter he states, “Right now, today, in 2016 si the best time to start up. There has never been a better day in the whole history of the world to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more opening, lower barriers, higher benefit/risk rations. better returns, greater upside than now.”

With this thought we must ask ourselves what are we doing to tap into this moment ourselves and with our students? Are we truly doing all that we should to take advantage of the moment?


Innovation cannot be a goal because I feel it is a natural outcome of many circumstances. We must work to develop the mindset that allows for innovation to take place. We must provide the context for students to push to new limits. We must model and mentor how to think, how to learn, and how the world operates so they can begin to truly ask, “What if?”

Innovation is amazing when it happens which is why it is called innovation. Innovation itself is not crucial, but providing the environments, atmospheres, confidence, and skills to allow innovation to happen is crucial.

Students must be given the chance. Innovation cannot be a grade. It cannot be an expectation. It cannot be something that is written up into a recipe. It just is and happens when it happens.

However, teaching the same, teaching to the middle, teaching wth practices we know are not what is best while we know it is not what is best, will not lead to innovation.

I guess in the end does your learning conditions allow students to innovate or suffocate?

If only education were that simple that it could be boiled down to a yes or no option. You see, I believe that all ideas in education are good in the land of theory. I have read more than my share of books and research and each time I read one I can see how it would work……

Until you put it into practice in a real classroom of one adult, 30+ kids of which half have a need that really must be adhered to all times, and a mixed bag of other variables depending on the school, time of year, and time of day.

This is where it gets muddy. Technology is not an answer. A new system of “x” is not the answer. Competition is not the answer. Unions are not the answer. Standardized tests are not the answer. Nor are they they problem either.

What works best for me as a student cannot be applied to everyone. We are all different. We are all trying hard. We are all trying to make sense of the world as it changes, as people change, as our needs change, and doing so in a time where teachers have never been asked to carry so much upon their shoulders.

If innovation was easy and readily available these issues would be solved. And this is why we must nurture the minds of the youth so they believe they can innovative and help to one day be part of a solution…….. and perhaps that solution is the answer to one of your problems if you happen to be so lucky.

Regardless of your opinion if you think innovation is declining with little hope or you have the optimistic mindset that the moment is now you are pushing for innovation. Both mindsets require and are asking for innovation to either save us or to take advantage. We are all in this together striving for the same thing. The question now becomes HOW?





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PLC Post 1: What Do I Make Of It All?

My school district is taking a decisive action step towards PLC(Professional Learning Communities). We are currently in the trenches of working to get everything aligned and making sure we move down this path properly. I have been fortunate enough to attend a three day PLC workshop by Solution Tree and listen to the mavericks like Rick DuFour, Becky DuFour, and Mike Mattos speak.

However, I still struggle with how to properly implement and make PLC actually work. It is not my job to figure it all out, however, as an instructional coach I feel like I need to have my feet firmly planted on the ground in the ideas and know where I can be of support.

It is hard to deny that PLC’s are best practice. So much research supports all the notions that PLC suggest. I don’t agree with every point and like anything it must be adjusted to a certain extent for it to work in any school. BUT, when we implement we can adjust so much that we offer a PLC Lite version that is not really PLC.

We are lucky that our building has many pieces already in place. We just need to work on the daunting task of culture and creating a laserlike focus with goals that are based on student learning and not teachers. However, in order to improve student learning we must embrace the notion that we as educators must be constantly learning as well.

This post will be the first of a series where I begin to share my thoughts and ideas.

To start with I am digging into the book Learning By Doing as well as my handouts, notes, and research from other texts. I would love any pushback, challenges, resources, and/or thoughts you have.

I am cautious to use the word PLC because I feel like every school has it in place, yet I don’t see anything so amazing that the names of the schools are all over the place. It is one thing to call yourself a PLC and quite another to actually do what is expected. It is hard. It is difficult. And to be honest, seems almost impossible in some capacities. That is not to say we don’t try and make efforts to make it work, but to achieve the true culture transformation of what PLC’s are after is difficult.

A couple key ideas that I am sifting through in my head at the moment.

Most educators and admin prefer the status quo or what is familiar in their current journey even when they recognize it will not take them where they want to go. This happens for a variety of reasons, but I struggle with how do I help them change? We are a volunteer system so educators do not have to work with us. Perhaps it is not my job to help them, but when you see it happen how do we not do something about it? It reminds me of the bully campaigns where a bystander who does nothing is just as guilty. I struggle with challenging and helping educators to work towards a new path to reach their goals. How much do you push before they push you away?

One way to perhaps help is with clarity. The murkiness of education drives me nuts. We must be clear and concise. I will share soon our plan to help educators see clearly how we as instructional coaches can help. We must lead by example. We cannot complain and then not do anything. Perhaps this will help with the issue above. Time and time again I read about clarity and I cannot agree more.

PLC is not a program. It is a concept. Many things in education are concepts. How do we marry them all together? That is a challenge that seems almost impossible.

If it is the schools job to help students learn, then we must make sure we provide time and resources for our adults to learn as well. This cannot be forgotten and must be a goal for any school.

Collaboration where educators really work together on student learning. Do we really know how? How do we make sense of the data? Do we have quality data? Are we even focused on student learning or teachers teaching? Most places have staff that are willing to collaborate on topics as long as the focus stays out of, or stops at their classroom door. We must learn to work collectively and collaboratively. This is tough. It is tough for many reasons.

Until we actually start to do differently we cannot expect different results. Many times we sit in training and PD and are given handouts and ideas, but there is no implementation. We must work to actually move into action in order to see results. This is the challenge.

There is a major disconnect between knowledge and action. I see this when I present at conferences or run my engineering classes at night or with my robotics teams. We have knowledge but have no idea or any desire to move into action BECAUSE we are afraid it might not work OR we just don’t have the skills to morph the knowledge into action.

I see my place as an instructional coach helping educators move from point A to point B. The challenge is help them identify point B and how to realize when they arrived. This must start with educators who want to work on this. This cannot be done with every single educator because not all are ready. This will take time as this is a huge mindset and cultural shift.

Lastly, we must build consensus. I really love this idea. Consensus around shared knowledge and not just a collection of opinions. So often we gather and share opinions. However, if we have a goal, know why we have the goal, and can measure our success then we collectively build a shared knowledge of strategies and ideas that work. This is the key!

These are just some thoughts. As I dig deeper I will continue to share.

Until next time…..


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