Thursday, January 6, 2011
The PLC Mindset and Trust
I was on my way home yesterday listening to NPR on the radio, and a segment came on about the Cirque Du Soleil and the process the trapeze artist use to develop trust. Do they have some type of rigorous, multi-step process they run through to develop trust in one another? No. It something we all use, and probably the most important tool there is in developing trust in one another. What's that magical tool...? It's called "talking to one another." The trapeze artists are constantly taking with each other. They're talking when they are away from the show, they're talking to each other high above your heads when you're waiting for them to zoom down out of the sky. What are they talking about? Could be anything from what the guy in the second row is wearing to how their left pectoral muscle is a little sore. I think in developing trust, what they are taking about is not as important as to the fact that they are talking. In my opinion, the fact that they are regularly conversing leads, almost unconsciously, to the development of trust between them and the ability to perform when the "chips are on the table." (Granted, what they are talking about becomes most important after the trust is developed.)
Professional Learning Communities (PLC) are not things. It's not a seven step program, or a goal. A PLC is the development of a mindset. The PLC mindset is a group of individuals, working towards a common goal, and all expected to contribute, evaluate, and foster the continued learning of the entire group. Ultimately this learning is used to continue improving on their groups goal(s). In schools, most of us have developed pieces of this mindset, or even the whole mindset but usually on a much smaller scale. We have a buddy teacher, or we have a grade level team, or a teacher at another site that we trust and regularly practice our version of the PLC mindset. One of the the strengths in a PLC mindset comes from greatly widening our circle of influence and influencers. This however is not a comfortable thing for us to do. The effectiveness of PLC mindset is highly dependent on the development of trust amongst its members. In my opinion and effectiveness of the PLC mindset is almost solely based on the degree to which there is trust amongst its members.
Here's the rub, if the most effective way for developing trust among each other is to simply talk to each other, how the heck do you do that when there are close to 1000 members in the PLC? For that matter, how do you do that when there are only 40 members in the PLC? If you were to graph all the people that you would consider your contacts, people that you have interfaced with, and take into account all the conversations you have ever had with those individuals, and then chart them on a graph like so:
I bet those that you feel you trust the most are those that have high marks for previous conversation. Sure their will be exceptions to the rules, as there are probably people you have talked to a lot that you trust about as far as you can throw them. (Wouldn't you like to know who that person in the upper left of the chart is...?) But my guess is they will be the exception and not the rule.
What are the solutions for developing trust in a PLC if the logistics of being able to frequently talk with each member face to face is just not possible? I think one such solution is the advent of electronic social media. Whether you call it FaceBook, or Twitter, or your own BuddyPress deployment, encouraging members of the PLC to share what they are doing, feeling, thinking, in brief, sometimes nonsensical bursts of content can begin to provide members of the PLC with a statement of who each of us are and begin to allow us to develop that important trust component when the logistics of doing that in person, face-to-face, is not possible. Now I'm not suggesting that you have to friend every single person in you PLC mindset group, but it may not hurt. Also, if we literally did "friend" everyone in the PLC we may suffer logistics from getting through everyone's posts, but with proper filtering skills, and with a conscious effort in being economical with the amount of information that we post, it could be done. By having those asynchronous conversations with each other online maybe those online conversation can help to develop trust in one another? What do you think?
(Creative Commons licensed photo courtesy of JMRosenfeld on Flickr.com)