Kelly E. Middleton
Professional Learning Communities: The Intersection of Customer Service and School Culture
Updated: Oct 22, 2018
I'd like to dedicate this post to the late Richard DuFour (February, 2017) and Rebecca DuFour (July 2018) and their incredible, inspiring work to bring PLCs to schools and districts across the country.
Research has shown that having a positive school culture is key to the overall success of a school. In fact, the top 1% of schools all share a tangible energy upon entering the school, as Dr. Bill Daggett found in one study. So how can a school change an apathetic or even toxic school culture around?
One way to increase the positivity of your school culture is through cultivating a “professional learning community,” PLC for short. In a PLC, teachers get a chance to come together to discuss teaching methodology, work cooperatively and support each other. In my opinion, the only way to have truly great schools is to have time where teachers work together and examine each other’s work. Since school leaders do not have time to give all teachers hours of one-on-one attention and guidance, they can benefit from setting aside time for teachers to work together and collaborate.
Above all, PLCs create community. Staff who interact create relationships with each other, and, as you may know from Concept #4 in my book Competing for Kids, it’s all about relationships when it comes to public education. Cultivating a PLC gives teachers a structured reason to talk to each other, which may lead to more interactions like going out for dinner together after work or attending a school play or sporting event together. When this level of community involvement is going on with your staff, your school is on the right track. That enthusiasm and engagement is infectious and it is only a matter of time before the students catch it too. Wouldn’t that be nice? PLCs lay the foundation for teachers to create a school culture in which students can flourish - the best form of customer service a teacher can give.
I was sad to hear of the recent passings of Richard and Rebecca DuFour, a husband-and-wife writing duo who worked tirelessly to promote PLCs to the education world. Their passion for improving our schools will be missed, but we can continue to learn from their work. After reading one of Richard and Rebecca's many books, Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work, I was inspired to create PLCs at my schools. I can attest to the power of letting teachers take on leadership roles, demonstrate their passions and share teaching best practices amongst their fellow teachers.
Besides PLCs, The DuFours gave me a reminder about getting initiatives like customer service to stick within a school district or any other organization. I give the DuFours credit for providing me these seven steps to make sure initiatives like giving great customer service to students become a staple in my schools.
They said you must always:
Plan for the initiative. So how are you routinely planning for customer service in all operations?
Celebrate. How do you celebrate your customer service?
Ask questions. What questions are you asking about your customer service?
Allocate time to the initiative. How are you allocating time for customer service?
Be willing to confront anything that goes against the initiative. How have you confronted bad customer service?
Model the initiative. How do you you model great customer service.?
Monitor the initiative. How are you monitoring your customer service?
These seven steps have helped me keep the focus on customer service over the years. I go back to this list every now and then to double check that I'm on the right path with my customer service objectives.
One of the great reasons writers write is to create something that endures even when they are gone. The DuFours' work establishing PLCs as a practice in school systems is their gift to education and their work will live on through those of us who have learned the lessons in their books and teachings. And for that I (and so many other educators) am eternally grateful.