Catholic School Matters

December 4, 2016


Most of our schools have been engaged in PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) over the past few years. Cultures Built to Last: Systemic PLCs at Work by Richard DuFour and Michael Fullan (2013) examine the phenomenon and offer suggestions for making PLCs more relevant and effective.

The authors posit that PLCs need to make cultural change their focus. Structural change can be mandated top-down such as a change in policy or processes. Cultural change, on the other hand is much more difficult to institute and manage. Changing Culture—simply defined as “the way we do things around here”—involves trial and error and conflict. The authors believe PLCs are the key to changing and shaping a school’s culture.

The authors maintain a simple justification for PLCs—engagement. When 95 percent of kindergartners like school but only 37 percent of 9th graders, there is a problem in our school systems. (4) PLCs work to increase leadership capacity, meaning that all stakeholders collaborate on solving the issues surrounding learning and engagement.

The focus of a PLC must center on the following 3 pillars (pp. 14-15):

1. Relentless focus on learning for all students. This focus on all students doesn’t leave any student behind. The questions which drive this:

a. What is it we want students to learn?

b. How will we know if students are learning?

c. How will we respond when some of our students aren’t learning?

d. How will we enrich and extend learning for students who are already proficient?

2. Collaborative culture and collective effort to support student and adult learning. Notice that “adult learning” is included. We must all become lifelong learners.

3. Results orientation to improve practice and drive continuous improvement. Our WCEA accreditation process can work to support this, too.

The authors then turn their attention to clarification and coherence. They recommend the following strategies (30-31):

1. Focusing on a small number of strategies. If you try to do too much, you will fail at everyting.

2. Making instruction and student achievement the daily agenda. How will any change affect student learning?

3. Organizing continuous capacity building around that agenda. How can we get all stakeholders buying into our strategies.

4. Cultivating a sense of systemness on the part of all. One of our biggest struggles in Catholic schools is getting our site-based schools to think of themselves as part of something bigger and how that kind of system thinking will benefit their school.

The authors then examine the “too loose-too tight” dilemma, meaning that schools which are given too much freedom (or too much autonomy to teachers) or schools which try to mandate too much top-down guidelines. Schools must pay attention to this tension and examine where they must challenge their own assumptions in their culture. Ultimately, we can become schools where we can be autonomous and work interdependently. (38)

The key to this analysis is paying attention to a few principles (53):

· Why are we doing this?

· What will this involve?

· How do we proceed?

· When will we find time to do this?

· Which problems are we trying to solve?

· What criteria will be used to measure success?

Effective PLCs are the vehicle to examine these questions. PLCs build leadership capacity in a school by providing a collaborative vehicle to focus stakeholders on the essential questions and building coherence. PLCs promote adult learning in order to analyze and improve a school’s culture. The leader’s role is to keep the PLCs focused on the important principles to examine a school’s culture.

If you’re looking to institute (or re-energize) PLCs in your school, I recommend Cultures Built to Last: Systemic PLCs at Work.

Dr. Tim Uhl, Superintendent

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"Catholic School Matters" Podcast

Tomorrow, Episode #13 will drop and will include a great interview with Christopher Mominey, the COO and Secretary of Education in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Philly has innovative models and Chris has a great philosophy on the importance of mindset. Last week, Episode #12 included an interview with Dr. Christian Dallavis of Notre Dame's ACE program. He explains the origin and mission of ACE.

Here is the link to the podcast on iTunes. Please subscribe to the podcast so new episodes will automatically download. The show is also available on Stitcher and Google Play. If you don't have accounts with any of those content providers, here is the link to my basic page with the podcasts.

The Week Ahead

Monday 12/5: office (Helena)

Tuesday 12/6: office (Helena)

Wed 12/7: Billings meetings

Thurs 12/8: office (Helena)

Fri 12/9: visit to DLSBS (Browning)

Next 2 weeks: 858 driving miles

Last week: 726 driving miles

2016-17: 16,188 driving miles; 12,112 air miles

What I'm Reading 2016-17

  1. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
  2. Reading with the daughter: The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. Finished:The Silver Chair; Voyage of the Dawn Treader; Prince Caspian; The Horse and His Boy; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Magician's Nephew.
  3. The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey (finished)
  4. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (finished)
  5. The Purple Goldfish by Stan Phelps (finished)
  6. The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen (finished)
  7. Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. (finished)
  8. Reinvention: Accelerating Results in the Age of Disruption Cragun & Sweetman (finished)
  9. Cultures Built to Last: Systemic PLCs at Work by Fullan and DuFour (finished)
  10. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown (finished)
  11. Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time by Margaret J. Wheatley (finished)
  12. The Orange Frog by Shawn Achor (finished)

Montana Catholic Schools

Serving 3900+ students in 24 Catholic schools across the Treasure State

For Principals & Teachers

  1. Here is the slideshow for the regional leadership meetings held in November.
  2. Montana Catholic Schools now has a new Facebook page. and Pinterest board. Please like them so I can share marketing material there.
  3. On the Horizon:
  • Virtual Leadership Meetings Jan 24th 9 am and/or 1 pm
  • 7th/8th grade days at the legislature Feb 24th

American Catholic News

ACE articles

  1. "A Handshake and a Rose" describes one principal's efforts to bring hospitality into his school culture
  2. "Divine Intervention" is the story of one principal's efforts to save her school in East Harlem.

Catholic Schools Closing, Consolidating, & Opening

Leadership Links

Teaching & Instruction


Mt. Carmel-Holy Rosary School