Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Most Successful PLC

So, Will pointed me to this New York Times article An Internet Jihad Aims at U.S. Viewers:
Unlike Mr. bin Laden, the blogger was not operating from a remote location. It turns out he is a 21-year-old American named Samir Khan who produces his blog from his parents’ home in North Carolina, where he serves as a kind of Western relay station for the multimedia productions of violent Islamic groups.
I think there’s a lot to think about there (a whole lot), but it also reminded me of something someone said at a recent convening I attended. I don’t mean to offend anyone with the following statement, but I think it’s also worth thinking about. They made the statement that the most successful Professional Learning Community they knew of was Al Qaeda. They have a passion for their subject, are trying to meet a perceived need, have individual cells that are operating both independently and in conjunction to try to achieve their goals, make effective use of technology, and have a strong belief they can change the world.

The point this person was making was two-fold (I think). First, that PLC’s aren’t necessarily a good thing in and of themselves - even if they’re successful - it depends on their purpose and goals. So as we utilize PLC’s in our schools, we need to keep in mind that the goal is not successful PLC’s, the goal is student learning and growth.

And second, that a small group of people with passion, commitment, and a belief they can make a difference can change the world. If our PLC’s operate with those same attributes and beliefs, then why can’t we change our schools – and the world - for the better? This brings to mind two of my favorite quotes,

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
– Margaret Mead

Some men see things as they are and ask "Why?"
I dream things that never were and ask, "Why not?"
– Robert Kennedy

I think as we work on our school's vision and implementing PLC's, we need to continue to ask, "Why not?"


  1. Hi Karl,
    I like what you said here a lot. Just want to add a little correction (can't help it, it's the English teacher in me): the quote attributed to Kennedy (which I used for a long time too) is not really his originally. It comes from George Bernard Shaw. Kennedy picked it up and used it in one of his speeches and it has come to be (inaccurately) attributed to him. Kind of like Nelson Mandela's use of the "Our greatest fear" quote in his Presidential inauguration speech. He borrowed it from someone else, but many think it's his (or maybe Coach Carter's from the movie)

  2. Jim - thanks, I did know that (hey, I check Wikipedia!). But I still left it at RFK because that's how I was exposed to the thought - and most likely everyone reading this - so I am quoting Robert Kennedy, even if he was quoting someone else.

    I thought about putting something about RFK quoting George Bernard Shaw, but worried it would interfere with the thought itself and - for that matter - I don't know if George Bernard Shaw wasn't quoting his mailman. Of course, Shaw has another quote that is perhaps relevant to schools, "Schools and schoolmasters, as we have them today, are not popular as places of education and teachers, but rather prisons and turnkeys in which children are kept to prevent them disturbing and chaperoning their parents."

  3. Karl,

    I like what you said here. Very interesting. I think the motivation to learn piece is critical. When it comes to using a personal learning network, I have seen that the power doesn't take hold until someone is engaged and has the drive to use them (extremists are a great example of the motivated). Otherwise, the learning falls flat.

    So maybe the critical piece of this puzzle - that we are trying to solve is how to motivate. This can be difficult.