Joe Ianora

Joe Ianora is principal of Del Amigo High School in California. Previously, he was principal of San Ramon Valley High School for nearly a decade.

The Forest or the Trees: Navigating Substantial Cultural Change at the School Site

In my career, I have found that some people are “big picture” people and others are not. Helping a large staff navigate the big picture of a PLC can be a daunting task, but understanding the big picture is critical to establishing a PLC. Also, when implementing a PLC, it is important to reinforce the big picture with small steps.

Change is difficult for any staff and with good reason. Over the past few years, so many responsibilities for teachers have been added that it is sometimes overwhelming to consider even a small change. When the change seems too big, it is often overwhelming. When a task seems overwhelming, we have a tendency to give up. So, it is incumbent on the PLC leadership team to break down change into more manageable parts.

Breaking the PLC concept into more manageable parts can help a staff experience small success, as well as keep a continued focus on the big picture. An example of this is writing a mission statement. The mission statement addresses the fundamental question, why do we exist? Spending an afternoon or a staff meeting attempting to discuss and then write the mission statement is a daunting task. What I have found is that when I introduce the idea of smaller, simpler steps that lead to the mission statement, I’m met with less resistance and more productivity.

Here is an example of a smaller step: ask teachers to divide into groups and complete one of two tasks. Task one is to list all the characteristics they would like students to possess once they have finished the class. The second task is to list what they want students to be able to do as a result of being in the class. When data from the two tasks are examined relative to a mission, the task of writing the statement becomes much simpler. It is easier for us to take data and then go back to the original question (Why do we exist?) and answer it. While navigating substantial cultural change is never easy, you can make it a manageable process.

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