Mark Weichel

Mark Weichel, EdD, an assistant superintendent, is a former high school building administrator and junior high school teacher who played a vital leadership role as his school transformed into a successful PLC.

Focusing on What Matters

I currently serve as director of secondary curriculum for Papillion-La Vista Public Schools. About eight years ago, the district began to learn about and ultimately implement professional learning communities. Each school provides time within the school day for teachers to meet, collaborate, analyze data, and identify actions that are impacting student learning and teacher effectiveness. The professional learning teams in our district have evolved into highly functioning teams because they focus on the fundamental elements that have the greatest impact on learning. The focus for teams throughout the district has been on curriculum, instruction, assessment, continuous improvement, and authentic literacy. Professional learning teams spend time ensuring all teachers understand the curriculum and are implementing it with fidelity in every classroom. They discuss, plan, and implement the elements of effective lessons, and use assessment data to guide instruction, provide feedback to students, and identify students who need additional support. When students are struggling, there is an intervention schedule in place to provide additional support.

As many education reform efforts come and go throughout the years, the professional learning team model has continuously evolved in our district. All teachers understand the model and are effective and contributing members of the teams—they keep the focus on improving teaching and learning. The district has established a culture where teachers develop the capacity to engage in honest talk about teaching and learning. Our district has proven if the professional learning teams continue to focus on the implementation of the most powerful elements that impact teaching and learning, student achievement improves.

Our district has experienced significant improvements on state and local assessments in reading, math, science, and writing. In the spring of 2012, four elementary schools demonstrated 100 percent proficiency on the state writing assessment. All elementary schools had an average score between 94 and 100 percent proficient. Papillion-La Vista School District was number one at all levels—elementary, middle school, and high school—on the state writing assessment compared to all class A schools. Our two high schools were ranked first and fifth (Class A, state of Nebraska) on the governor’s report for overall performance on the state writing, reading, math, and science tests. The district also witnessed double-digit percent proficient improvements on the state math test. At the local level, student performance on district common summative assessments are improving every year in all core content areas. All told, adults focusing on what matters has benefited students.

Comments

florenciapaden

As a ESL teacher, I believe in having a foundation for my students. Our school uses these foundations of the PLC: Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals. Thats what makes our school effective and successful. Thank you Richard DuFour, EdD, Rebecca DuFour, MED, Robert Eaker, EdD, and Thomas Many, EdD for the insights of the four pillars of the PLC.

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nikeshaJ

PLCs are important to schools and effectiveness that they have on their students. Schools shouldn't have PLCs on a daily basis because I believe that this would take away from the educators planning time. I like how the teachers at the school mentioned in the article discuss what they have taught or plan to teach, plan for their upcoming lessons and use assessments to guid their instruction. Use data to guide instruction is crucial when planning to remediate or challenge students. I plan to suggest to my princpal that we bring some type of data to our PLC's to assess each week or bi-weekly. Great article. Once we implement things like you have done in this school we shoudl see our students score Proficient and Advance on our tests.

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Mark Weichel

Great --- it sounds like you are off to a great start. I started with PLC's in a very similar way that you did by attending a multiple day institute.

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Mark Weichel

Thanks for the positive comments and example that you have shared.

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Mark Weichel

I agree very much with your thoughts about teachers being able to do great things when they are moving in the same direction towards a similar goal. It seems like this should come naturally, but it doesn't. Good luck with PLC's in your school.

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Mark Weichel

On a recent post, I wrote, "The first PLC that met weekly in the building where I helped bring in PLC’s started with a group of World Language teachers. In exchange for their weekly meeting where they stayed after school, they were allowed to leave early on the monthly staff development day. Their willingness to be creative and get something started helped spark a change in the entire school. I have also heard the DuFour’s share in panel discussion at last year’s Seattle Institute that they have seen fabulous schools who have PLC’s that have started with committed teachers. To be school-wide, the principal has to be on board. However, teachers can do some wonderful things to start the momentum."

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Mark Weichel

Agreed. I have found that PLC's don't cost much, it just changes what you might have spent your time and money on before you implemented PLCs. Thanks for the post.

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Mark Weichel

Thank you so much.

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Mark Weichel

The first PLC that met weekly in the building where I helped bring in PLC's started with a group of World Language teachers. In exchange for their weekly meeting where they stayed after school, they were allowed to leave early on the monthly staff development day. Their willingness to be creative and get something started helped spark a change in the entire school. I have also heard the DuFour's share in panel discussion at last year's Seattle Institute that they have seen fabulous schools who have PLC's that have started with committed teachers. To be school-wide, the principal has to be on board. However, teachers can do some wonderful things to start the momentum.

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Mark Weichel

I have heard Mike Mattos say at a PLC Institute that the PLC tipping point occurs "when a team decides that every child is my child and failure for any child is my failure." To answer your question, the educators need to see the "why", not just meet because they have been required to do so and reach the tipping point.

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Mark Weichel

I would agree that once a month is not frequent enough. Our district has made PLC time weekly and that has allowed for timely conversations.

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Mark Weichel

That is unfortunate that it sounds like PLC's are just being used by name. It sounds like the teams in your building need help seeing "the why" of PLCs. In my experience, we had a committed group of teachers who really wanted to have time to implement PLC's and we really structured that time so that everyone knew how it was to be used.

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Mark Weichel

To me, one of the hardest things when implementing new curriculum is ensuring that every teacher has a thorough understanding of each standard and indicator that they are being expected to teach.

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Mark Weichel

In my experience, it was having a team at the school who learned about the process and decided that there was really no other way to work. From there, a great deal of hard work went into developing school-wide interventions and specific protocals for our collaborative weekly team meetings. Reading articles and books, listening to others like the DuFours, and trial and error.

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dladd

Denisie says:

As an educator, it is important to attend PLCs on a daily or weekly basis. A school attending PLCs on a daily basis should be commended. I believe if a school wants to maintain a recognized campus,they should offer higher educational courses to staff interested in obtaining a Masters of Education in any specialized area.

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pcollins

I think the implementation of PLCs is a great idea, and I commend the fact you found the time to meet once a day and discuss what really matters. We use this concept in my school, and it really helps promote student achievement. Teachers meet collaboratively once a week and target students needs based on state or district standards. I am in my third year of teaching, and I find these meetings helpful becuase I learn new strategies and activities to help differeniate lessons to target student needs. We offer Saturday enrichment for our more advanced students and remediation for our sturggling students. It is really amazing what teachers can accomplish when we are all on the same page and are working towards the same goal, which is student achievement.

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nherrera4889

It is admirable how much your district has accomplished! I think we can attest that your success is due largely to the implementation of Professional Learning Communities in your schools. Districts who do not have a system such as this one in place should seriously consider creating them. It is evident that the students are benefitting tremendusly from it.

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Mark Weichel

Well put. I agree with your points about "honest talk". I believe that being able to trust one another and collaborate about what it takes to helps learning improve is a key.

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Mark Weichel

You bet. Thanks for the post.

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Mark Weichel

Thank you -- to clarify, teachers in PLV typically get time on a weekly basis to meet and on monthly staff development days.

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Mark Weichel

I am glad that you have been able to learn more about what a PLC is about. This site is a great place to start!

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Mark Weichel

The teachers and administrators at PLV ARE incredibly dedicated and hard working. Your question touches on one of my favorite things that I have heard Dr. Rick DuFour discuss. At an institute, Dr. DuFour shared that, when beginning PLC work, there are a few assumptions that are made. "1) Educators matter, 2) Educators care, 3) Schools matter, 4) If educators and schools have a significant impact on student achievement, they serve a fundamentally moral purpose, and 5) We now know how to create schools that help more kids learn at higher levels." So, dedicated educators who matter, care, and recognize the importance of the work is critically important to the success of any school.

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Mark Weichel

The district has had once a month staff development days for years. Teachers did some PLC-like activities on those days. About 9 years ago, a large group of principals and teachers heard Rick and Becky DuFour present at a two day conference in Omaha. Everyone was sold and conversations began to occur that asked how to have more time for PLC work. At the secondary level where I was working at the time, the proposal was to have late starts on Wednesday mornings. Teachers meet at 7:30 for about 50 minutes every week in addition to the once/month. Each school has its own recipe but all focus on the four critical questions of a PLC. I hope that helps answer some of your questions.

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Mark Weichel

Principals play a key role in creating and guiding teams and team leaders. In some schools, team leaders are assigned. In other schools, I have seen team roles shift throughout the year so the leadership role is shared. In my experience, it is important to identify roles on a team. "Building a PLC at Work" has an excellent reproducible document that starts on page 114 that can be worth considering when structuring teams participation.

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Mark Weichel

Thanks for the kind words regarding the PLV district. It sounds like you recognize some key areas that need improvement on your own team that would help it improve. In "Professional Learning Communities at Work Plan Book", there is a document called "Critical Issues for Team Consideration". This document is also available on this allthingsplc.info site. Your team might want to look at evaluating how you are doing on these items to help determine what needs attention to shift the focus of your teams.

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Mark Weichel

I couldn't imagine functioning in a school or district without PLCs. A thoughtful conversation about how to help begin your PLC journey sounds like a good first step for you and your school.

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Mark Weichel

Nicely put. Congratulations on the improvements you have seen in your school.

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Mark Weichel

It is great to hear that you have time to meet again during the school day!

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cnalley

I am amazed and impressed to hear that your school sets aside time every day for PLC. What an amazing gift for your teachers. I can only imagine the incredible depth your teachers are able to reach and how your student progress must be climbing! This should be the goal for every school. Students would tremendously benefit from teachers having the time every day to collaborate on student learning, standards, curriculum, etc.

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alexkmd

This is my school's second year working in PLC's and it has not been successful as well. Mark stated that they have been working on PLC's for the past 8 years. I am hoping that ours will improve as the years go on. I admire that the teachers in his district can engage in "honest talk." I feel this is where my school struggles. Most of the time people do not feel free to voice their true opinions about what would be best for students because we are so often shot down by administration. The PLC agendas are decided by admin. and we often don't agree. Another problem I feel is that we only meet once a month. There is not much we can accomplish in 1 hour a month.
I, too, have the same questions as avt514. I would also like to know - How often do most schools/districts have their PLC's meet?

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EHJ1126

I am impressed by the time and effort you have expended in making sure PLCs are about improving teaching and learning. Some PLCs revolve around sharing data without a real plan as to how to use it. I recently joined a new school district and I am not quite sure how long PLCs have been in use here, but this year the administration has made it clear that the focus is on student achievement. Thanks for sharing how the schools in your district used assessment data to guide curriculum planning and intervention.

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sarah.klodt

I am excited to see school districts working to advance the profession of teaching. I am a newly graduated teacher looking for the perfect school to share my passion for educating the children of our future. As I continue my professional development through a masters program, I have been introduced to the idea of PLC's. Not realizing it, I did participate in a few PLC's during my teacher candidacy. The school I was at elected to pick a book the teachers would read independently and discuss during weekly PLC meetings. The book was about implementing explicit direct instruction which the school was trying to implement. As a teacher candidate, I was overwhelmed at the additional tasks performed by already stretched educators. Looking back, I am grateful that I was able to participate in the PLC and gain more insight into the life of an educator. As a new teacher in a new district, I wonder how you bring past experiences into the new? The district I am in seems to be behind a few years, how do you respectfully implement the things you know to be vital in professional development and the advancement of student learning without offending your new 'boss'?

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nshale

I think it's great that the district has chosen to focus on what reall matters; how to get teachers together to ensure our children are learning. I think we need more honest talk within the classroom and school walls. We as educators must be comfortable enough to share our strengths and weaknesses as well as our concerns. Developing a Professional Learning Community is essential if we are to work together to develop the brillant minds of the children we teach.

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ensigns

From reading some of the other replies to the original post and see that it's pretty much a mixed bag of the successful PLC's and those that have a long way to go to success. From what I've read in the past and here it seems that it has to do with teacher and administration buy in. If teachers think of the time given towards a PLC as a positive instead of just a time to complain about issues they are having it seems that it would work. But a lot of the time I can imagine, if it's handled as a mandate rather than an opportunity then it could be a negative and used to triangulate and a big waste of time.

I think that if administration merely dictate that a PLC is going to happen and doesn't treat it as a opportunity to improve then it's likely to fail.

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avt514

My district has been implementing and stressing the importance of PLC's at all campuses for the past 3 years and honestly it has not been successful. Staff members usually use this as a venting time to discuss students behavior, and problems they are having. Many teachers have not bought in to PLC's, and administrators do not stress the importance of it, it seems they only push it because the district is mandating it.

I agree with pmontfort, and propose the same question to jkonett, 'wht contributed/contributes to a successful PLC?' How can my administrators get everyone on board? Do you have any ideas or suggestions?

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EKursinski

Hi Mark,

I admire your post and the perseverance your district has to always improve. It seems like you are addressing the students' needs as the evolve, as you put it. It sounds like whatever you and your fellow PLC members are doing is working marvelously. For that, I commend you.

I wonder though, do you share this information with the students? Do you allow them to know that you are collaborating with other educators to address their needs as they come?

What do you think is the hardest thing you encounter when dealing with developing new curriculum?

Thank you!

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Mark Weichel

Hi, Anthony. This is a great question. I really like and often reference the document "Stages of Team Development" that is found in the book entitled, "Building a PLC at Work" on page 89. As the document suggests, teams need to understand that each of these stages exist. By examining and focusing on the tasks that leaders can use to offer support, your chance for success will increase. Take a look at this reproducible document as a great place to start. Also, I have seen examples of where training and support for PLC leaders to learn from each other on a regular basis has been very successful.

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Mark Weichel

That is great to hear! I can honestly say that my work load in a PLC did not take more work than a pre-PLC school --- just different work. More focused work! It is worth it!

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pmontfort

While PLCs as an organized body is new to me the underlying concept is not. For thirteen years I worked in district which instituted "Subject Committe Meetings" where teachers would meet in subject clusters to discuss issues related teaching the particular subject, plan/structure tests and assessments among other tasks. My attitude toward these meetings was one of disdain, reluctance and disinterest since I was being pulled from the classroom to attend meetings that were mandated. Much to my relief these "Subject Committee Meetings" were short-lived.
Currently, I teach the Use of English course at a tertiary institution. The aim of this course is to help students achieve a level of competence which will enable them to use the English language efficiently in their chosen fields of study and work. However, the department (comprising ten lecturers) realizes the increasing inadequacy of its program given serious constraints related to staffing, adequate time and attending to individual student's needs, at a time when the need for a strong program is a growing challenge.
While the staff members have been making valiant efforts to keep the program going, we recognize that changes must be made in a number of areas. For the past three years we embarked on a series of meetings to discuss plans for the reorganisation and revision of the program. Much has not been accomplished. We often leave these meetings mentally exhausted, physically drained, defeated and frustrated.
Reading your post on a successful professional learning community and reading through the materials assigned this week for a course I am taking, I realize why both ventures failed. They were not properly organized, structured and scheduled. The whole purpose behind it was lost.
I would like to ask like jkonett, 'what contributed/contributes to a successful PLC? Your insights

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pmontfort

While PLCs as an organized body is new to me the underlying concept is not. For thirteen years I worked in district which instituted 'Subject Committe Meetings" where teachers would meet in subject clusters to discuss issues related teaching the particular subject, plan/structure tests and assessments among other tasks. My attitude toward these meetings was one of disdain, reluctance and disinterest since I was being pulled from tne classroom to attend meetings that were mandated. Much to my relief thes "Subject Committee Meetings" were shortlived.
Currently, I teach the Use of English course at a tertiary institution. The aim of this course is to help students achieve a level of competence which will enable them to use the English language efficiently in their chosen fields of study and work. However, the department (comprising ten lecturers) realizes the increasing inadequacy of its program given serious constraints related to staffing, adequate time and attending to individual student's needs, at a time when the need for a strong program is a growing challenge.
While the staff members have been making valiant efforts to keep the program going, we recognize that changes must be made in a number of areas. For the past three years we embarked on a series of meetings to discuss plans for the reorganisation and revision of the program. Much has not been accomplished. We often leave these meetings mentally exhausted, physically drained, defeated and frustrated.
Reading your post on a successful professional learning community and reading through the materials assigned this week for a course I am taking, I realize why both ventures failed. They were not properly organized, structured and scheduled. The whole purpose behind it was lost.
I would like to ask like jkonett, 'what contributed/contributes to a successful PLC? Your insights will be very valuable to me.

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lateisha12379

I am very excited to have found this blog. I am currently working in an academically unacceptable school, where PLCs should be in place but are not. I do not believe it is due to a lack of effort, but a lack of information. Many of my colleagues can tell you the benefits of a PLC, but are unable to explain what a PLC should consist of. This article perfectly breaks down the elements a PLC should consist of, and the benefits related to effective, consistent PLC's. The idea of PLCs does seem a bit overwhelming but it is also extremely beneficial for our students, and that should be our main focus. I had the pleasure of going to New Orleans for a three day PLC workshop with Solution Tree last school year and the information I received was absolutely phenomenal. I am now trying to take the information I received and implement it for the benefit of my students, all while teaching my colleagues what I learned. PLC's are a essential for the success of our students, and we as educators must get the ball rolling to start effective PLCs in our schools.

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jeanamarie613

I am only a second year teacher, but I was lucky to get a job in a district that has experience with PLC. Within my school we have common planing with the entire grade level. Also, we have a "team" of four teachers, one in each of the areas of math, science, english, and social studies. Within this team we all have the same exact students, which makes it easy to reflect and work together. Throughout the week we have two scheduled meeting on Tuesdays and Fridays during our planning period to talk about collaborations or maybe even how to help struggling students. During this time we can also pull students to talk to them individually along with the counselors. Within my two years I found this is a group tool for reflecting and improving lessons. Also, since the entire grade has the same planning this gives time for me to meet with my counterpart in math. We are able to talk about where we are at, and even share ideas. Coming from a school that had no PLC to this school district was a great change! I enjoy having this time with other colleagues. Our building is continuing to grow and implement more PLC opportunities, including meetings before school to meet with the entire building of teachers. I hope other schools can develop PLC's to help them collaborate with one another.

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orleta

I have much experience with PLC's. Even though I am excited about what they can accomplish and what they are suppose to accomplish, my experience has not been one of great mention. I thought that PLC's were only created to go over statistical data from Standardized tests, but I found out that this is not the case nor is it what they were intended to do. When doing research this week for my Masters Program, I became livid about what my school and state was doing and how they are handling PLC's. Hopefully my administration will learn the true purpose of PLC's.

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Camarata

I have very little experience with PLC's but I have heard good things about them. It seems that your district has had a good amount of success with them. I would imagine that it is very important for the teachers to be dedicated in order for PLC's to work. The question I would ask is would a PLC work without dedicated teachers and administration? Or would PLC's fail like other initiatives that lacked teacher enthusiasm.?

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jkonett

PLCs are a new concept to me. My school has monthly school wide meetings, but they do not stay focused on student learning and teacher effectiveness. I would love to hear details of how you started such a successful learning team. How are the meetings structured? How many hours a week do you work together? Eight years is not really a long period of time to become such a successful district; how did you make this such an effective process?

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bhaering

I teach at a school that implements aspects of PLC's. Are the collaborative meetings your teachers have structured? Or, lead by anyone?

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smurwin

Professional learning communities or PLC is new terminology to me. My school doesn't exactly fit the definition of a PLC. My grade does not have common planning like other grades do. We have "common planning" maybe two or three times a year to graph our student data on a wall then say what things we are doing in our class to increase student achievement. In the past our grade would try and plan every week for upcoming lessons. When we did this in the past we never discussed the questions or answers to the three questions that drive PLC's: What do we want each student to learn, how will we know when each student has learned it, how will we respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning. We became creatures of habit, we do the same thing every year regardless of its effectiveness and student differences. I wish my school was more of a PLC like Mark described. Reading the great improvements his school made seems like a far reach from my school now but I would love to take the ideas to my school. I think my school population would definately benefit from being an active PLC school. Does anyone have any good ideas on how to get started?

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C.Wood

I too have learned the value of a cohesive professional learning community. I love how you said your community "keeps the focus on improving teaching and learning" because that after all is the ultimate goal of a PLC. This is because teachers need to be continuous learners in addition to what they teach their students so that they can find the ways the methods that best meet the needs of their students. I can testify to the fact that much more can be achieved if everyone involved is striving for the same goal of student achievement in a PLC. PLC's are great because teachers can be presented with data and insight into what is and is not working in their classrooms. Furthermore, and maybe more importantly, is the time teachers have to spend together to bounce off ideas and offer suggestions to one another. I am glad to hear how well your district is doing and I know it is because of the willingness of your teachers to work hard together to do what it best for students. Many PLC's do not accomplish as much because teachers don't really want to participate and all the enthusiasm is gone and they simply go through the motions or find things to argue about. It seems your district has got it right because scores are improving and it is evident that teachers enjoy spending time together on a daily basis. My school system does not follow the same PLC system but we have time to collaborate once a week with teachers that teach the same subject. The collaboration is just not as effective and meaningful because other issues usually direct the conversation and everyone is concerned about their individual classroom. I hope to one day be a part of a community like the Pillion-La Vista School District "because they focus on the fundamental elements that have the greatest impact on learning." These are the components that ultimately have the power to improve student achievement which is one of our main goals as teachers.

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Henry Morgan

I have done a lot of reading recently about PLC. I find it to be very interesting and informative concept. It has arrested my interest, motivating me to introduce it to the principal of the school I am currently teaching. Having read the above article, I am convinced that it is an effective avenue to aid teacher development that is geared toward student learning. This concept is something I will pay closer attention to in order to gain a better understanding of how it functions.

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legeorge2004

PLC's can be taken lightly in some school districts. Some teachers feel it's a time for relaxation away from the kids and they tend to focus on the non-important things. I know first hand because I've experienced them both in my 10 years of teaching. Now we are focusing on the same plan as Papillion-La Vista School District. You have to have teachers that are agressive and willing to go that extra mile for the PLC plan listed above by Weichel. Our scores have imporved as well over the years, we have moved from #20 to #8. Before there was no professional learning going on during PLC's and our scores showed it. We did not take out the time to implement effective learning in the classroom. I like to see schools improve across the nation, I also like to hear that teachers are still learning. Teachers have to become life-long learners in this field because our field is consistently changing we must do the same as well. Nice article.

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joelrz1345

I really like this viewpoint on PLC. Our district is involved as well and at times its hard to implement with budget issues, scheduling issues and general logistics. We have had serious scheduling issues to overcome, however every time we are able to, I am amazed to see how useful PLC concepts can be. With the common core looming, it will be a great help to get these issues resolved and move forward.

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highland1

It is very important to have time for PLC! Last year my school went through budget cuts and we had to eliminate time that our team could meet. It was very difficult to accomplish anything last year because everyone was on a different page because we weren't able to meet during the day to figure out what each teacher is doing and how we could improve our daily lessons. This year we have our old schedule that allows us to meet up again. I has been a huge difference so far! We are able to work together as a team which helps us develop out new curriculum aligned to the common core!

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anthony grazzini

I completely agree. As we reach the mid-point on our third year of the journey as a Professional Learning Community, I can see the transformative affect of the PLC process. Unlike past reforms that attempted to "fix" teachers, being a PLC means that educator learn and work to improve learning for each other, the students, and our community.

Yet as "caseycurtis" pointed out in his reply to this post, we too, still have teams that do feel overwhelmed. Currently we are researching how other districts have supported the development of their team leaders, developed targeted professional development based on individual team needs, and identified ways build institutional knowledge in order to help our team refine the process and keep the focus on improving teaching and learning.

I was wondering if you have any advice regarding how to support struggling teams that get bogged down in the minutia rather than focusing on the most powerful elements of the PLC process in order to have the greatest impact on student learning,teaching and learning, student achievement improves.

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caseycurtis

I am so happy that I came across this post. My school has just recently started implementing a "true" PLC, and so far we are very overwhelmed!! It is so refreshing to hear that we are moving in the right direction dispite this feeling, and it gives me hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel!!

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