Matthew Treadway

Matthew Treadway, EdD, is the former principal of Freedom Elementary School in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, where he led his staff in developing a collaborative culture centered on the three big ideas of a professional learning community.

Every Bulb: Interdependence and Mutual Accountability in a PLC

For so many reasons, Clark Griswold was and is a national treasure. Like so many other movies, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is one that you tend to watch over and over and over again. And it’s just as funny on the 1,000th viewing as it was the very first time. This scene in particular is one of my favorites from the movie: After spending hours and hours meticulously stapling 25,000 lights all over the exterior of his home, Clark Griswold prepares his family for a light show for the ages. After the anticipation of superior exterior illumination, the disappointment is monumental when the lights refuse to shine. In a quote that gets zero attention from a movie that is packed with true dandies, Clark explains to Russ, “You know, son, it’s probably a bad light. If one doesn’t work, the whole thing doesn’t work.”


This quote always resonated with me. It reminds me of the trees I had growing up. It seemed like every year, we had to scour the branches for the bulb that had gone out and caused every other light on the same line to stay dark as well. It was a chore at the time . . . and yet, I think it highlights a pretty important reality for any organization. It demonstrates the significance that every single individual has for the whole. At least in the case of any successful organization I have ever been a part of, there is a dependence on every single person to do their part. One bad bulb can impact the product of the whole. 


Perhaps there is no better example of this truth than a school that operates as a professional learning community. In discussing the second of the big ideas that characterize a PLC, the authors of Learning by Doing state: 


The fundamental structure of a PLC is the collaborative teams of educators whose members work interdependently to achieve common goals for which members are mutually accountable. These common goals are directly linked to the purpose of learning for all. The team is the engine that drives the PLC effort and the primary building block of the organization. (DuFour et al., 2016, p. 12)


Let’s examine that a little further. Just like the frequently forgotten line from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, the words written above, found in the very first chapter of Learning by Doing, carry a lot more weight than might first meet the eye. When you truly consider what it means to be interdependent, the insinuation is clear: I cannot do my job without you, you cannot do your job without me, and we cannot reach our goals without one another. Oh, and by the way, those goals are shared and common between us. We aren’t working for different things. Our work is aligned toward ensuring that ALL students learn at high levels. And because our work is aligned, we hold ourselves mutually accountable toward achieving it. That means every member has a responsibility to do their part. Even one person pulling in the opposite direction damages the momentum of the whole. 


Educators, as you examine the makeup of your school organization, ask yourselves a few reflective questions. Are you truly reliant on one another? Do you work interdependently with the person across the hallway, the person down the hallway, and the person in the front office? Where do specialists like special education teachers and interventionists fit into your work? How about support staff? Is that collaboration a nice-to-have or a must-have on your team? And, when you think about all of those individuals, are you truly working in lockstep toward the same goals? Are those goals clear and understood by every member of your team or only partially recognized among them? Finally, do all members really have a stake in the game? Do you hold yourselves and each other accountable in reaching the goals you have agreed upon? If not, that’s okay. It’s just your current reality. But in knowing that the lights only shine bright when every bulb is working individually, the last reflective question is most critical: How can you move your organization toward being a team that works interdependently in achieving common goals that all members are mutually accountable to?




Chechik, J. S. (Director). (1989) National Lampoon’s Christmas vacation [Film]. Hughes Entertainment.

DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., Many, T. W., & Mattos, M. (2016). Learning by doing (3rd ed.). Solution Tree Press.

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