Professional Learning Communities, School Leadership Teams, and grade level teams are an excellent source of ideas. Most ideas lead to change.
To change, you must first see what is possible. Changing what teachers do, what grade levels do, what schools do, and ultimately, what education does starts with you changing your own thinking. The tragedy of September 11th provides an illustrative example.
"Information was filtered through existing mental models related to terrorism and hijackings."
The authors suggest that our mental models could not predict the use of airplanes as weapons because it did not fit with our current mental models about airline hijacking.
"During the September 11th attacks, the information was filtered through a set of mental models that made it hard to see what was really happening until it was too late."
Contrast with the passengers of Flight 93 who instantly developed a new mental model to deal with the new reality.
"The passengers and crew of Flight 93 were presented with a picture that was similar to the hijackings earlier that day. What they suddenly developed, however, was a different mental model. They were able to quickly make sense of what was happening and to act on this new understanding. And that made all the difference"
PLCs and School Leadership teams must be able to make sense of what is happening and to act on this new understanding. Data Driven Decision Making is based on this assumption. Data helps teams make sense of what is happening.
Mental Models control how we think and react. According to the authors, mental models, "...not only shape what we see and how we understand the world but also how we act in it. In a real sense, what we think is what we see, and what we see is what we think."
So, I know you are asking, “Rob, what does this have to do with education and PLCs?” It has to do with education and PLCs because the world is quickly changing around us. Correction, the world has changed! The question is, do you see how it has changed? As educators, we often cling to outdated training, strategies, methods, curriculum, ideas, and beliefs, even when the educational situation has changed significantly around us.
Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective people talked about the concept of “Sharpening the Saw.” That is, we take the time to improve our skills and abilities to make our selves “sharper” or more effective. What if, however, those skills and abilities are no longer useful? No matter how much time a teacher spent improving their use of Word Perfect, the ditto machine, or running a movie projector, it will not make him or her any more effective. Those mental models no longer apply. Teachers who have not adapted to the use of Professional Learning Communities, Data Driven Instruction, or technology may instead be spending time “sharpening" mental models that no longer apply.
As the authors of The Power of Impossible Thinking put it,"Sometimes we don't need to merely 'sharpen' the saw; we need to throw it out to pick up a power tool. If we are focused only on sharpening, then we might not see the opportunity to apply new technology that can radically change the way we approach the task."
This is the underlying principle of Disruptive Technology as described by Clayton Christensen in his book Disrupting Class. What you think is not useful or effective, suddenly becomes very effective and replaces the prior model, idea, strategy, curriculum, technology, etc. PLCs must become aware of this possibility and practice a level of awareness that sees, what I call "Disruptive Ideas" on the horizon.
I recommend that we who want change take the time to occasionally immerse ourselves in the world outside of education to learn fresh and innovative ideas. This approach was detailed in the book The Medici Effect. Ideas from outside education can have a positive impact on education. Ideas learned elsewhere can make you a more valuable member in your PLC or SLT. Also, we need to constantly challenge our own “mental models” and those around us. This change is the heart of Education Innovation. Having differing mental models and differing exposures to other ideas creates Cognitive Diversity. A Cognitive Diversity is good for Professional Learning Communities and School Leadership Teams.
As famous management guru Peter Drucker famously said,"There is nothing more wasteful than becoming highly effective at doing the wrong things." We need to be able to put down our old mental models and be wiling to pick up new ones. So put down the saw and pick up a chainsaw