Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Do you have a SKUNK in your PLC? You should.

Over the last ten years, I am not sure if there has been a more well-intended, but poorly implemented educational practice than Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).  PLCs are wonderful and they are not unique to education.  Collaboration, team building, debate, and discussion are all part of healthy parts of any successful organizations. They provide a platform for innovation and continuous improvement.  Entire industries have been built on the simple concept of putting a group of well meaning adults in a room and expecting them to somehow collectively improve not only their individual performance but those of the entire group.  

So what is the problem?  One of the biggest mistakes we make is isolating ourselves from people who disagree with us. We often don’t invite the “skunk” into the room.  Too many times, especially in education we are too cordial.  We view “debate and discussion” and an argument or even worse personal disrespect. Without healthy debate, however, your PLC will never be as effective as it could be. When discussing ideas, innovation, or even student work if there is not a “skunk” in the group that will be the voice of dissent or at the very least offer a different perspective your PLC will never move past compliance level.

Next time you are working with a team or group look around and listen.  Is there a person on the team willing to stick their neck out and challenge the status quo? Excitement and learning occur when we decide to create the future we need, not simply defend what we already have.  Unless your team is willing to stay ahead of the curve, you will fall behind.  Allow the skunk in the room….they are not always right, but they are not always wrong either.


  1. I think that the desire for consensus is the natural inclination.
    Some PLC's are approached in a presentation style as opposed to a collaborative approach. The desire to not allow the skunk is a side effect of the approach to a PLC, from the facilitator as well as the participant. We must see these as collaborative discussions looking for an answers as opposed to presentations looking for approval.

  2. This is similar to the classroom. As teachers, we want our students to engage in rich dialogue and challenge each others' thinking with questions. We need to carry this process to our own PLC time!!

  3. The skunk = cognitive dissonance. That's where the great change occurs!

  4. Yes- cognitive dissonance! I'm currently reading Results Coaching, and ran upon this in reference to cognitive shift: "...break away from the norm, be creative, use imagination, initiate something new, act in new ways". For insights that come from fields other than education, you've got to check out "Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard" by Dan and Chip Heath. Very short and easy read, phenomenal model for facilitating long-term changes.