Professional Learning Communities
are a proven element of building successful schools. While a major
proponent of PLCs, I argue that creativity is often lost in the meeting
process and the examination of student achievement data.
Author of Group Genius, Keith Sawyer,
has spent years researching what makes for effective creative teams.
Not just effective, but teams that are creative and innovative at what
they do. Keith has identified seven key characteristics of creative
1. Innovation Emerges Over Time
“Successful innovations happen when organizations combine just the right ideas in just right structure.”
main issue here is time. Having enough time for teachers to meet and
not only plan lessons, analyze student learning data, and prepare to
meet student learning needs, but time to get creative. Often problems
re-surface because teachers only have enough time to manage the
problem, but not truly solve.
Secondly, the processes and values that schools choose to use when teachers meet is a key factor as well. According to Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma and Disrupting Class,
“The reason why innovation often seems to be so difficult for
established firms it that they employ highly capable people, and then
set them to work within processes and values that weren’t designed to
facilitate success with the task at hand.”
2. Successful Collaborative Teams Practice Deep Listening
“Most people spend too much time planning their own actions and not enough time listening and observing others.”
Stephen Covey might say, “Seek first to understand.”
Deep Listening is a doorway to trust and understanding. Being able to
hear and truly understand the issues, feelings, and values involved in
a team’s discussion requires that team members put aside their agendas
and spend time listening deeply to what other team members have to say.
Deep listening will help teams understand what Tim Hurson, author of the book Think Better,
calls “What’s UP.” What are the underlying principles at work here?
Teams need to listen to each other to understand these underlying
principles and trust that they will be addressed in their work
3. Team Members Build On Their Collaborator’s Ideas
“When teams practice deep listening, each new idea is an extension of the ideas that have come before.”
other words, the best ideas are a mash up of the team’s ideas. Ideas
are like Legos or Tinker Toys. Individual ideas can be combined and
built into a great idea. Much like a recipe, the individual ingredients
work best when they are combined into a wonderful dish.
4. Only Afterwards Does The Meaning Of Each Idea Become Clear
a single idea can’t be attributed to one person because ideas don’t
take on their full importance until they’re taken up, reinterpreted,
and applied by others.”
Often, we react to the new idea by attacking or fleeing from it, "We can't do that." or "It'll never work."
Teams need to avoid attacking or fleeing from and idea by not being too quick to respond to ideas. Like a fine wine, ideas need time to breathe.
Think of the team like a band of improvisational actors. “Individual
creative actions take on meaning only later, after they are woven into
other ideas, created by other actors. In a creative collaboration, each
person acts without knowing what his or her action means. Participants
are willing to allow other people to give their action meaning by
building on it later.”
5. Surprising Questions Emerge
most transformative creativity results when a group either thinks of a
new way to frame a problem or finds a new problem that no one had
Teams need to take time to reframe
problems and ask questions. The major weakness of most PLC teams I have
watched or participated in is a failure to ask questions of themselves
and each other and a failure to reframe problems to get to underlying
Believing you have the answer or the solution before
you are even sure of the real issue is a failure of many PLC teams.
Teams must learn to question their assumptions, their ideas, their
data, and their plans.
Questioning and problem reframing might lead to the surprising result of finding new problems. “That’s
critical because creativity researchers have discovered that the most
creative groups are good at finding new problems rather than simply
solving old ones.”
6. Innovation Is Inefficient
innovation makes more mistakes, and has as many misses as hits. But hit
can be phenomenal; they’ll make up for the inefficiency and the
Failures are part of the process. PLC teams
should expect for some of their ideas not to work. That is part of the
creative process. Think of the story of Edison and the light bulb. It
supposedly took Edison thousands of attempts to get it right. But when
he got it right, he changed the world.
“When we look at an
innovation after the fact, all we remember is the chain of good ideas
that made it into the innovation, we don’t notice the many dead ends.”
7. Innovation Emerges From The Bottom Up
Principals and managers, get out of the way.
improvisational collaboration of the entire group translates moments of
individual creativity into group innovation. Allowing space for this
self-organizing emergence to occur is difficult for many managers
because the outcome is not controlled by the management team’s agenda
and is therefore less predictable.”
Principals, you need to let go of the process and let PLCs develop their creativity and innovation.
Most Principals, “…like
to start with the big picture and then work out the details. In
improvisational innovation, teams start with details and then work up
to the big picture.” This is especially true when teams are
creating and innovating from student achievement data. PLCs need to be
free to discover the big picture based on what they discover through
These 7 signs of creative teams would demonstrate your PLC to be more creative in their approach to the PLC
process than the typical team. It is important that PLCs ask and discuss what they want
students to know, how they will know if students know it, what will
they do for students who know it, and what will they do for students
who don’t; but to do so creatively will make the team all the more
effective and innovative.
The model I have advocated here at Education Innovation is the Professional Networked Learning Collaborative. The PNLC operates around the values of ICE3(Imagination, Innovation, Inquiry, Collaboration, Creativity, Curiosity, Exploration, Experimentation, Entrepreneurship) Creativity and Innovation are two of the key components that are expected of PNLCs. The PNLC embeds creativity and innovation into its work because it is a core value of what the PNLC is. In either case, PLC or PNLC, the more creative the approach the easier it will be for teams to adapt, meet the complex needs of students, and reach the goal of all PLCs or PNLCs....results.