This week, I had the distinct privilege of hearing Dr. Anthony Muhammad speak at the Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) At Work Institute. Dr. Muhammad is a world-renowned speaker, educational consultant, and author. His work centers largely in school culture and organizational climate and connecting both to the PLC ideology. I attended two of Dr. Muhammad's sessions addressing the topics of culture and collaboration in our schools. I was particularly interested in hearing Dr. Muhammad's words of wisdom on overcoming frustration and push back from staff members who are resistant to the shifts we are making in our PLC work.
Let me just pause this post right now and say this: If you ever have the opportunity to hear Anthony Muhammad speak, do it. He is engaging, intelligent, insightful, and tells it exactly how it is. There's no possible way I could recount the points he made so perfectly as he put them, but I'm going to attempt to because they were really, really powerful and so spot on.
When it comes to PLC work, I often hear (and, full disclosure, have even used myself) the term buy-in - as in, "We are trying to create buy-in from our staff". Anytime we are talking about buy-in, we are generally referring to a population of staff who are holding out, resistant, or reluctant to embrace a shift or change for any particular reason.
What I learned from Dr. Muhammad is there are some problems with this term buy-in:
- Buy-in implies the idea is something that is to be bought and - consequently - returned if I don't like it.
- Buy-in begs the question "What's in it for me?"
- Buy-in says "I have not been sufficiently entertained to be convinced this is a good idea in which I will agree to. "
- Buy-in feeds what Dr. Muhammad refers to as a "Descriptive & Deflective" toxic culture.
- Buy-in is weak and subjective.
The goal of PLC work is to better meet the needs of our students. If your school or district has adopted the PLC methodology, it's pretty safe to say that what you've been doing hasn't been working. When it comes to improving instruction and learning of our students, we don't want buy-in, we need commitment:
Commitment is an essential sign of a healthy school culture. It's prescriptive, not deflective. It's going all in, saying "We are devoted to increasing learning and achievement for all our students."
The thing about commitment is you have to do it whether you like it or not. It's not about what you like or don't like with commitments. Commitments are things you have to do regardless of how you feel about them. Think about your year-long gym membership commitment, or your credit card commitment, or even your relationship commitment. We don't always like these things, but we do them because we've committed to them! There's no "buy-in" when it comes to paying my monthly gym membership...it's a commitment I agreed to, and I pay it whether I like it or not!
This isn't just true for PLC work. Any steps that are intended to increase student achievement for all learners need to have the buy-in factor erased. There's no buy-in needed to follow a student's IEP accommodations, so there shouldn't be buy-in needed to incorporate engagement strategies into your instruction.
So when it comes to increasing student achievement in our schools, why are we still waiting for buy-in, when it's commitment that we actually require to make any sort of progress? We are public servants, not independent contractors. Our specific purpose is to educate all children in our community. There's no buy-in needed; it's a commitment we agreed to when we became teachers. So let's stop asking for buy-in and start requiring commitment.