Self-Directed Teams Contribute to Sustainability

We received a question from a school where teachers were upset that the administration seemed to be dictating what was to occur at their team meetings. Teachers resented being micromanaged, and administrators felt that teams needed specific directions and focus to ensure teachers used the time productively. Here is how we responded:

Assume good intentions on the part of both teachers and administrators and search for common ground. Both sides should be able to agree that if teachers do not use the collaboration time for the purpose intended (that is, if they don’t collaborate on the right work), there will be no gains in student achievement. Both sides should also agree that teams must become self-directed if the process is to be sustained when the principals leave a school, and micromanaging does not contribute to sustainability.

We have found that the best approach is for principals and team leaders to agree on the work to be done, a timeline for completion, and the evidence that teams will present to demonstrate their work, and then give the teams autonomy to determine the agenda for any particular meeting. When teams are unable to provide that evidence, then the administration can step in to help them address whatever problems they are experiencing.

For example, if you go to you can get a copy of the 18 critical issues we contend represent the “right work” for collaborative teams in a PLC. Some of these issues are addressed annually, and some are recursive--or are repeated over and over as part of a continuous cycle. For example, a team will create team norms and SMART goals for the year only once. They will establish the essential outcomes for a unit, agree on pacing, and develop preassessments and common formative assessments repeatedly for each unit.

So, our advice is to have the principal and team leaders agree on a timeline for when the work is to be done, create clear expectations regarding the product that will be created, and let teams set their own agendas until there is evidence that they are struggling. For example, the timeline might look like this:

  1. After your second meeting: Present your team norms and SMART goal.

  2. After your fourth meeting: Present the essential outcomes for your course and for the first unit you are teaching.

  3. After your sixth meeting: Present your first common assessment.

  4. After your eight meeting: Present your analysis from your first common assessment including areas of celebration, areas of concern, and your strategies for proceeding.

  5. After your 10th meeting: Present the essential skills for the next unit and a preassessment for those skills.

And so on. In this instance, the first step is done once during the year. The other steps could occur for each unit. The team understands the expectations for providing evidence of their work but has some latitude in what happens at any given meeting.

The approach we are presenting works best when leadership is widely dispersed, and so we recommend that principals work directly with team leaders to clarify expectations and help resolve problems, task by task. It also demands that principals demonstrate reciprocal accountability, Richard Elmore’s phrase for the premise that if leaders are going to hold others accountable for completing work and achieving goals, then leaders are accountable to them to provide everything they need to contribute to their success. For example, for each product a leader asks a team to create, the leaders should be able to address:

  1. Why questions: Why should we do this? Can you present a rationale as to why we should engage in this work? Is there evidence that suggests the outcome of this work is desirable, feasible, and more effective than what we have traditionally done?
  2. What questions: What are the exact meanings of key terms? What resources, tools, templates, materials, and examples can you provide to assist in our work?
  3. How questions: How do we proceed? How do you propose we do this? Is there a preferred process?
  4. When questions: When will we find time to do this? When do you expect us to complete the task? What is the timeline?
  5. Guiding questions: Which questions are we attempting to answer? Which questions will help us stay focused on the right work?
  6. Quality questions: What criteria will be used to judge the quality of our work? What criteria can we use to assess our own work?
  7. Assurance questions" What suggestions can you offer to increase the likelihood of our success? What cautions can you alert us to? Where do we turn when we struggle?

We have attempted to provide principals with everything they need to answer these questions for each product in the second edition of Learning by Doing.


Dick Dewey


Thank you for writing; and, congratulations on your proactive approach and the forward progress you are making on your PLC journey. The fact that you have tied this progress to an “active” strategy that you can replicate (i.e. the use of guided questions by leaders in your PLC meetings) places you in a better position to consistently replicate this success toward sustainability. And, bless your heart for your passion to get better and bring others with you!!

My first reaction to your question is that you have one important tool that is already in your “tool bucket.” That tool is YOU! Permit me to set the stage with a bit of research; then, I will respond directly to your question.

Dr. Richard DuFour often says, “The people who tell the stories determine the culture.” Winston Churchill reminds us that, “First we shape our culture and then it shapes us.” Toward that end, Dr. Thomas Sergiovanni helps us understand that to run a school, you need technical expertise, human expertise and educational expertise. To run a GREAT school, you further need to progress with intentional symbolism that is based on the stories that you tell and that to which you pay attention. Intended symbolism repeated over time, influences and eventually becomes intentional culture.

The Pareto Principle, often referred to as the 80/20 Rule, reminds us that 20% of a set is generally responsible for 80% of the related result (e.g. 20% of the products and people generate 80% of the profit, and 20% of the product and systems cause 80% of the product or system problems).

Anthony Muhammad, in his book on Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division, helps us better understand why people resist change (persist in current behavior).

1. People resist (persist) when they are given no CLEAR REASONS to change.
2. People resist (persist) when they don’t TRUST the person who tells them to change.
3. People may keep their familiar tools (in a difficult situation) because an unfamiliar alternative….seems even more difficult.
4. People may refuse to change because change may mean admitting failure.

I’ll refer you to Patrick Lencioni’s books on The Five Dysfunctions of Teams and Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of Teams to dig deeper into the importance of building TRUST. The matter of providing CLEAR REASONS to change can be addressed through constant efforts to build shared knowledge….build shared knowledge….build shared knowledge.

The last piece of research that I want to share deals with two comments on the importance of CELBRATION in your school setting:

“Well-constructed recognition settings provide the single most important opportunity to parade and reinforce the specific kinds of new behavior one hopes others will emulate.”
(Tom Peters)

“An excellent predictor of the future behavior (of any learning community) is to examine the people and events it elects to honor.”
(Marcus Buckingham)

Putting all of this research together, I come back to my first comment. I can tell, just by reading your contribution to the discussion on this website, that YOU are a key leader in your learning community. I would further predict that many other members of your learning community listen very carefully to your words and watch your actions. You already have a guiding coalition of “Top 20’s” that is moving your learning community forward. The “Middle 60’s” are listening. Formalize that guiding coalition and keeping (intentionally) telling your stories.

YES>>>>Have that discussion with your administration. Show them the contents of this blog discussion. Gather some of this research that I have referenced and bring it with you to the meeting.

Work together as a guiding coalition to identify and master the characteristics of high-performing collaborative teams. Model for others and celebrate your successes in formal and informal building settings, once again reminding everyone why collaboration is Big Idea #2 on this journey. Build shared knowledge. Tell stories with intention; act with intention. Then, be intentional again!!

Of course, you want to bring ALL faculty/staff members along on this journey. Toward that end, consider posts tagged with the keyword ‘motivation.’ You might find these helpful, as well.

I wish you the very best on this important journey of quality learning for ALL students.

NOTE: Another wonderful resource (and one of my favorites) is Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work (2nd edition).

Thank you,
Dick Dewey, PLC at Work Associate

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My school started PLC about 2 years ago and initially we were told that we were in charge. We were the ones who were going to lead the PLC and that administration would stay out. So we were allowed to pick which PLC group we wanted to be a part of based on area of interest. Some examples of our PLC options were health and wellness, differentiated instruction, technology etc.... Once we all picked a group to join, administration started to dictate what our meetings would be about and what we needed to do and what to present at the staff meetings. Our staff got extremely frustrated because they felt like this was just another thing added to their already busy schedules and the fact that administration shot down every idea presented, it did not help get staff on board with this PLC thing. In order for PLC to work I believe more freedom needs to be given to the teachers and administration give up a little of their power and work collectively to help our student be successful. PLC is a great way for teachers to come together to communicate, share, deal with challenges as a group. It is the idea that ten brains are better then one.

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I know that the school district I am working for continues to build on a proactive approach to efficient PLC meetings. We are still far from success because many teachers who are involved in these meetings are not open to a collaborative approach in learning new instruction. If there is one strategy we could take from this posting, it would be the guided questions for leaders to use at a meeting. These questions would keep teachers focused on the goal. As for a school who doesn't have success in their PLCs, would there be a building representative who could speak to the administrators in behalf of the teachers who are seeing no success in the offered PLC meetings?

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My school's PLCs agree that there has been limited to no productivity during our team meetings. I believe that if we had an agenda like the one presented in the first posting we could see growth and future actions that need to be in place for our students. Although, until the administrators make those changes, we will continue to have meetings that are hindering the success of an effective and collaborative team.

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Our administration at first was directing us on what to do and we felt that we were at a stand still and what was expected wasn't what we really needed to do. Administration met with the teams leaders and they discussed the use of PLC time and decided to give us the time to work on what we feel will benefit our students learning the most. Now that we have changed I feel we have a lot more to work with and are able to continue the on-going process of PLC time. We will be able to better serve our students. We report back on what it is we use our PLC time for so that if we are at a standstill, or not doing what we need to do, then the administration can step in. I like that administrator and team leaders are able to dicuss and work things out so that we can meet the students needs best.

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Our school is about to institute PLCs at an inservice this coming Friday. Historically, they have assigned teams to participate during inservices, and I am concerned that this might have an effect on the usefulness of the PLCs. Are they just going to be work groups, or will they be networks of professionals invested in the outcome?

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I believe that both teachers and administration need to agree on the agenda of PLCs. In the end the teacher as well as the administration will all be held responsible of the achievements of the students in the school. I, too, have been in meetings where teachers get off focus and off topic. It seems to help some teachers to stay focused knowing that the administration wants certain things to be discussed and covered in a meeting. I feel that teachers need to be able to help to plan the agenda for it is them that will carry out the decisions that are made in the meeting.

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I agree that now that school administrators are now leading the PLCs they are disjointed and non-useful. The same things are discussed each meeting and no new are appreciated unless they are approved by the principal. This has been rendered the meeting antagonistic, without any progress toward real opportunities in student improvement.

I believe PLCs can be useful but not the way they are presented at the moment at my school-site. Sellers

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I have enjoyed being in PLCs over the past ten years and wish that they had more lasting power. It seems that our administration has always driven our efforts to organize into groups that they predetermine. The best group I was ever involved in was based on my TEAM or POD working and being involved in it together. We joined a summer institute of professional development on a classroom management style. We all bought into the program and still use aspects of it everyday in class. It has provided us with continuity in our POD and many others in the school have taken part as individuals and like how it has benefited us as teachers and also our students.

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I absolutely agree with the whole topic about not wanting administrators to dictate our PLCs. For example just yesterday we had our usual meetings within our individual schools and the good thing about it all was that we were able to choose what we wanted to discuss. However we did have to follow certain guidelines because we were looking for student weaknesses within the 3rd and 4th grades, which then meant that we had to find solutions to help us improve student learning in certain areas. It was up to us with what areas to look at pertaining to math and reading. We also had a time-line of what needed to be done at a certain time within the school year and at certain meetings. We had to give a pretest on this date, show that we were reteaching these certain weaknesses to the students, and coming back with data showing some improvement, and so on and so forth.

Overall we were able to choose what we wanted to discuss so that way we weren't limited and didn't know where to begin in our conversations/discussions. We sat down with the principal and went over what we were going to discuss and how we planned on making changes.

The only improvement that I think needs to made is that principal sits in on our meetings more often (as we are discussing) so that way he is able to put forth his very own input. That way we are getting the principal's viewpoints and we all know that the more heads we put together then the more success we will have within our meetings.

Definitely teachers need to have more choice on what they want to discuss rather than the topic being chosen for us. What is the point of that really, if they really want to us teachers to make changes for ourselves and improving student learning. We are the force within the classroom and we know what we need to discuss with our teammates and what needs to be improved throughout our grade levels.

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PLC time in our district is the same for all forty-three schools. The administrators go to a monthly meeting and plan the content of the weekly meetings for the month. For the most part these weekly PLC times present useful information and provide continuity within the district. But often the topics do not correlate with our school philosophies and we spend the majority of the time pointing out how it does not work for us rather than actually finding a way to make it useful to our staff and school.

It would be more beneficial if we could spend one week a month discussing issues with our grade level teaching partners, one week reporting and giving input as a whole school, and the other two could be used as the district PLC time they feel is necessary for the continuity of the district. PLC time is a great tool to keep teachers learning and reflecting on their work, but choice would be nice.

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I agree that teachers and administration need to agree on the agenda of grade level and committee meetings. Most of my school's PLC meetings just seem like another task that needs to be done before teachers leave. We could accomplish so much more if teachers could find things that would motivate them to participate and administrators agreed with the topic. Also, setting goals, norms and time lines in my grade level meetings would cut them in half. If administrators gave us clear expectations teachers would be motivated to reach goals.

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My school has been a PLC school for as long as I have been there. I have actually been made the team leader for my Geometry PLC for the third year in a row. I agree with the author of this blog that there needs to be a middle ground between what we the team accomplish in the meeting, and what the administration expects us to accomplish. I think the expectations of the administration are unrealistic for the time frame that we are given.

We are given one hour every other week. We spend that time focusing on common assessments, and pulling data from those assessments. Unfortunately, we are frequently running out of time in our meetings because we are doing what the administration is requiring of us. They ask us for the data from our common assessments. After we tabulate and pull that data together, it appears that nothing is being done with it.

Instead of pulling data, we should be spending time focusing on different teaching techniques (especially since half of our team has never taught geometry before). I am quite frustrated at this point because it does not seem like we can cover what the administration wants and what we want, in that one hour every other week. Hardly anyone on the team is willing to meet other times, so we are stuck with our limited time frame.

I am looking for help if anyone has some suggestions on how we can find this balancing act in our PLC. Thanks for your reading and hopefully your response.

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This post was of particular interest to me as I feel that my school has a major PLC problem. I work at a school that feels very strongly that they "are ahead of the rest," and while on paper that is frighteningly true, it is NOT the case!! We spend almost 2 hours a week in our PLC meetings, and I have yet to feel that we accomplish anything. I feel this roots strongly from the administration determining what we are speaking about and even controlling the thought process we seem to have about the subject. I hear about schools with wonderful PLCs and wonder how they are run. This post was a great insight for me, as I will be able to go into ours with a different mind set. Perhaps if I approach my PLC leader in a different way (using some of these ideas) we can begin to steer in a direction that is more beneficial. There are many of us who are frustrated with the current process and if we can at least find the right direction perhaps we can help each other get where we need to be.

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Yes, I completely agree. I feel that administrators, team leaders, and grade level teachers should plan and agree on what will be discussed during these team meetings. It is also very important for administrators to be present so this way we are able to communicate what concerns we may have, what has worked or hasn't in our classrooms. Administrators can talk about expectations, their view when conducting walk-throughs, as well as feedback. Team meetings are very critical and the time spent on them should be quality time.

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Our school officially started establishing PLC's across the board in all subjects two years ago. For some of our departments, science for example, this was an easy switch because we already collaborated on curriculum and instruction practices in the classroom. For other individuals this was a huge switch, especially for those who preferred to go their own way and were of the opinion that collaborating was a waste of time. Our principal even took a "hands off" approach and allowed each PLC to determine what areas they were interested in collaborating on. Our schedule was also changed to allow teachers in the same PLC to meet during the school day durinig a common prep period. This approach helped each group hit the ground running and provided an incentive for starting a PLC. Those groups that are still a part of a successful PLC enjoy the opportunity this provides and are a good example for other groups to follow.

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In the past, the school board administration required that our PLC's had the same focus as other schools. This is the first year that schools have been permitted to choose their own topic for PLCs. While grade level teachers collaborate on a daily bases, the actual monthly PLC meetings are very boring and not as effective as I feel they can and should be. Actually, my school district had PLC meetings today. I was not able to attend because of another training. The problem we are having at my school is that more than half the teachers in the building are temporary teachers who are just passing away the time until the school officially closes. We seemed to have lost everything we have built in the past, but I think we can make the most of the time that we do have PLCs by focusing on what is important to the teachers involved, not what the administration wants us to discuss.

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I also feel that I am blessed to be in a school with supportive, but not dictatorial administration. Our administration allows each grade level of teachers to submit a tentative calendar at the beginning of each school year. Our PLC meetings throughout each grade are held every Tuesday. One Monday, prior to the PLC meetings our leadership team members meet with administrative staff in order to redeliver any needed data to our grade level teams on Tuesday. We are required to turn in meeting minutes on Wednesday of each week. We elect a time keeper, secretary, and task keeper. This ensures that we do not get off task while meeting. Our secretary then turn in the minutes to the administration helping to keep them abreast of the tasks we are tackling and the accomplishment being made. This has been successful so far and nao one feels overwhelmed.

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Our school has been working as a PLC for the last 8 years. In the time that I have been there (4 years), we have actually experienced a "hands-off approach" from our administrators. We are free to direct our team in a direction that we see fit so long as it pertains to our action steps. As a result, we have looked at various steps and chosen to reword or delete steps that are no longer necessary or relevant. We present to the staff twice a year on the progress our team has made. This year we are focusing on a book study to improve content literacy among our students.

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We are in our 4th year of district-wide PLCs. What we have experienced is leadership that is willing to support and wants to ensure sustainability. At the beginning, they stressed "non-negotiables ". This was quite off-setting because it felt very forced and left little room for productive work. (It felt like busy work) We began seeing the value of PLCs ourselves, so the work became more authentic and deep as we pressed on. Initially, I believe that it is necessary to have that hard-nosed leadership, because if we would not have had it, we would have quit PLCs early on and would have missed out on the value of them. I do believe that leadership should have their own PLC so that they understand what it looks like and what it takes before they begin trying to lead it at a building or district level. It is one thing to go to a conference and learn about PLCs, it is another to actually practice it.

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This is my 7th year teaching in my current district. Some of the frustrations that I have read through this blog sound very familiar to me. Our district seemed to have a different goal each year and little seemed to connect from year to year. Two years ago, we began the Ohio Improvement Process. Teachers, principals, and administrators began meeting together as a District Leadership Team. Before this process began, there was very little conversation between these groups altogether. It was uncomfortable in the beginning, but as we grew to know, trust, and respect each other our district flourished. Members of this team communicate with Building Leadership Teams and Teacher Based Teams. We all have a common goal of meeting AYP. Our Teacher Based Team creates Common Formative Assessments which are shared at the BLT and district data is compared at all levels.

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I think at first, our school was little turned off by PLC's because it was coming from the district level down to use, and we felt like it was just "another thing" the district was having us do. When it was actually explained to us, we realized it was something we were already doing. As a team, we make SMART goals based on our student needs and then meet to talk about them throughout the year with our principal and my teammate and I meet regularly about it. My only complaint is that our principal requires us to do our PLC work in the library, instead of in our own classrooms. It seems like she doesn't trust us to use our time for the PLC work, and that is frustrating to me. It's a lot more convenient to meet in our classrooms where the student work is, curriculum materials are, and the computer is. I'm hoping that through honest conversation we can get our principal to trust us to do our PLC work in our classrooms.

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Kim Bailey, PLC at Work™ Associate

@knorton It’s exciting to hear when a team is committed to collaborating around student learning such as yours as you’ve described. I’m delighted to hear that you’re considering the use of short-term SMART goals to guide the work of your team. In our experience, they provide the focus and a clear target for which to aim. In addition, there is a heightened level of group accountability when a team actually sets a target for student learning. My guess is that you’ll find your meetings will result in members feeling far more productive because there will be a clear purpose for your actions that are directly tied to specific learning targets.

Here’s a link to a number of printed resources on the All Things PLC Website that support the implementation of SMART goals.

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This blog was very informative to me. I did not realize so many other schools had administrator driven team-meetings. Although I agree that there are certain things that need to be dictated to teachers to get done (i.e. paperwork and dates of certain things), I think it is important for teams to be able to meet and discuss certain things that are personal to their team. I teach in a team-based Middle School and we are required to meet three times a week. I think we would meet even if we weren't required because it gives teachers a sense of togetherness and collaboration. We have the opportunity to focus on student learning and achievement. I like the ideas about short-team SMART goals and will most likely be bringing it up to my team members at our next meeting!

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Rick DuFour

Hi. Your idea about teams using short-term SMART goals is exactly what we advocate. Most team goals are annual: "this year we will reduce the failure rate by 50% in our course," or "this year we will increase the percentage of students demonstrating proficiency on the state assessment from X to Y." But you can't wait until the end of the year to see if you are making progress toward a goal. So we encourage teams to review the results from the common assessment from the year before and set a goal to improve on those results. Even a new team can set a short-term goal for each unit. So "right on" with your short-term goals.

Rick DuFour

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In my experience in secondary schools it is also effective to set small short term SMART goals and revisit them throughout the year - i.e. teams work on a goal for a term and then revise goal or select a new one so long as it is relevant to the overall school goals. Does this align with what you are saying, Rick and Becky?

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I have been teaching for only three years and did go to a PLC training when I started over five years ago. The school I am at now "believes" in PLCs, but I'm not sure we all have the same definition or practices in our teams. I feel that we started the year setting our norms and jobs, but had no structure or direction as to how each session would look, what our goals were or who we were accountable to. Contrary to some of the other posts, I would welcome some structure and leadership in our PLCs. We are given time to meet with our grade level, but often find ourselves debriefing about students and discipline situation rather than focusing on student learning. I believe my school is headed toward "team leaders" this year and I am excited for it. My teammates were all relatively new teachers and I am excited to share some insights gained from this sight and from articles by the DuFours. I especially like the example of a time-line of expectations.

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After reading the "Self-Directed Teams Contribute to Sustainability" post, I have one question. In what ways can a teacher approach administrators who are controlling and micromanages every task? This is uncomfortable but teachers often feel threatened of losing their job or other forms of punishment if they voice opinions about anything that is said during meetings. I realize it appears they are satisfied with the decisions when in fact they are afraid to speak up due to fear. How can this be handled or approached more professionally?

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I agree that it takes an collaborative effort in order for professional development to be affective. At my school, teachers are upset basically for the simple fact they did not understand the expectations of the districts. During meetings, the information were very vague.After changes were implemented in our meetings, my school became more sufficient in being complaint with company policies.Guidelines are constantly changing and we as educators have to adapt. By displaying a cooperative environment that is conducive to learning, everyone is abreast to the challenges that are placed on schools.

My school was presented with the yearly task of making AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress). The task was difficult mainly due to the problem of bridging the gap between various cultures. Teachers did not have a true understanding of the requirements that are needed in order to achieve this goal. The administrators stressed the importance of making AYP, but failed to provide a clear assessment as to why we were not obtaining that goal. Teachers decided to request having representatives to attend meetings with the district during AYP discussions. Questions were asked by the teachers based on meetings with peers. The teachers reported to the school and gave a more concrete understanding as to why our school fell short of the district's expectations. The administrators worked with the teachers in creating a action plan that was geared toward providing adequate assistance to struggling students. We are still not at the point of making AYP, but we we are making gain each year. I credit the success to colleagues working together and refusing to be ignored.

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I am new at teaching but have experienced a school-based professional learning approach where teachers did not have much say as to when and what the meetings contained. I personally felt that I just had to do more work on top of the regular school day and was not too enthused. Even worse I am a very creative person and my approach to teaching and learning was not openly accepted. I think that the give and take approach between administration and teachers is best for all involved including the students!

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Wow, I would not like working for an administration that thought I had to be told what to discuss during my collaboration time. As teachers, we are in the classroom everyday so we are able to spot issues quickly. Dictating what is to occur during this time is not an effective form of collaboration or sharing.

Three years ago, our elementary schools joined in one new building in the district I work in. Moving into this big new building was strange at first. We all had our own little families in our smaller schools and now we were being joined together under one roof. This was a major adjustment for everyone involved. I met teachers that I had never seen before. We all worked in the same district but rarely saw people from other buildings except once a year for opening day! I do not know how many times I heard, "well who cares what anyone else says we will continue to work together like we always have," or "my way works so I don't need advice from anyone else." Now, after three years in our new building you would never know that our school was set up any other way. Well, of course we still have a few teachers here and there that unfortunately do not play well with others. For the most part, we all work wonderfully together.

After reading some of the articles for a course I am taking along with this blog, I realized that we have come a long way! Many of the things I am reading about PLC's we do in our district. We have always collaborated but now it seems so much more meaningful and exciting.

At the elementary, we have 'team leaders' who attend meetings with the administration in order to relate ideas and suggestions as well as new information to their 'teams.' We all still collaborate with the administrators as well but with only two principals in a K-5 building, they are unable to attend every grade level meeting. As a grade level team, along with our Intervention Specialist (I) and Title 1, Reading Recovery teachers, we go over our curriculum as well as state standards at the start of every year and develop/revise our pacing guides accordingly. From this, we look at areas that need improvement as well as areas in which students excelled. In addition to this, we also communicate with the 3rd grade teachers in order to find out the most crucial skills to be mastered for the next year so we can make sure to incorporate those items as well.

We spend a great deal of time looking at data and student progress in order to know what is working, what is not, and what we need to fix or change. Together we develop Quarterly Learning Assessments (QLA's) for our grade level students as a way to monitor student progress, as well as weak areas that need addressed. When we discover that student(s) are struggling or need more support in a given area we implement interventions quickly in order to help those students succeed.

I do like the seven accountability questions that you included. I feel that those are a very useful tool in accountability. Collaboration is a TEAM effort therefore everyone, including the administration should work together as a team, rather than dictate what they want done and not allow teachers to discuss what they feel is important.

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I am a fairly new teacher and in the past two years I have constantly been thinking that teaching would be so much easier if I had another chemistry teacher to bounce ideas off of. I have never heard of PLCs until it was the topic of discussion in my master’s course. I come from a school in which isolation is the only way and collaborating rarely happens. The idea to actually have a meaningful discussion with my peers is exciting and empowering. I want to learn as much as I possibly can about PLC’s and present the information to my colleagues and to the principal with hopes that we can start on a path of creating a PLC in the school district. PLC’s seem to improve a school in every possible way and that includes better teachers.

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I feel very lucky after reading about different schools whose administration dictate PLC meetings. Our administration does tell us what days we will meet; however, we are allowed to dictate our own plan. We share with them our plan for our PLC time so that the administration may join our meetings if they choose. By allowing the teachers to decide what the purpose of each meeting is has been very beneficial. We have been able to work on long range planning when it was necessary as well as weekly planning. When we have just given an assessment we are able to change the purpose of our meeting so that we may compare data. The administration just likes to know what we have accomplished each time we meet as a PLC. One thing that our administration is deciding to do this year is to have the teams keep a written log of accomplished tasks during PLC time. I know many teachers, including myself at times, complain about the amount of time that it would take up when we could be devoting our time elsewhere. Is there an easy way to log PLC accomplishments for administration without taking too much of our time to record it?

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Thank you so much for the list of pertinent questions involving why, what, how, when, guiding, quality, and assurance. So many times at district-wide professional development meetings I hear teachers making comments such as: Why should we do this? Can you tell me why what we are being asked to do today is going to be any better than what we are already doing?

When those questions are legitimately answered, most teachers are willing to roll up their sleeves, pitch in, and get to work. Of course, there are always a few who continue to grumble and complain, but, for most of us, the rationale and purpose behind the request for our actions is sufficient.

I also found great relevance in your time line suggestions. I was particularly interested in time line item number four: Present an analysis from your first common assessment including areas of celebration, areas of concern, and your strategies for proceeding. In our district, we are not quite to this step yet. We have identified essential grade level content expectations. We have collaboratively devised a common assessment for year-end in Reading L/A, and the assessment was given. I truly hope to see this next step (number four on your time line list) in our scheduled professional development prior to the opening day of school.

To me, this step represents a real attempt toward critical thinking and self-evaluation as teachers. Hopefully, it will naturally lead us to collaborative discussion of our teaching methods/strategies as we analyze results of a common assessment devised by us. This is very exciting to me. If this step does NOT appear on an agenda for before-school professional development, I think it would be appropriate to ask about the results of that assessment, and take some time to collaboratively analyze the results of it. In the past, teachers have been asked to give year-end assessments, but we never got much feedback from them. True, we scored them and submitted them to administration, but we never really followed up with any collaborative, analytical, or critical discussion regarding those assessments. To me, that was always the missing link!
Thanks again for all of the information shared in this posting.
Judy Lee

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I now know exactly how my school has been successful and not so successful. The PlC's at my school are always administrator driven with little to no buy in on the part of the faculty. I, like and earlier commenter, am currently taking a master's degree class entitled Teacher As Professional. The assignments this week are all about how to form an effective PLC and it is clear that teachers need to be able to collaborate on the issues they feel are most important and necessary. The PLC's at my school tend to be book groups. While that can be informative, it limits the conversation and collaboration to the topic in that chapter of that book, each week. Sometimes teachers feel the stress of finishing the assigned reading for the week and it actually takes away from more valuable time spent. I am hopeful that I can suggest we as a school do some research into how to create more meaningful Learning Communities this year.

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I have been fortunate enough to be a part of a school where the teachers play a critical role in helping to decide what professional development days as well as planning time consists of. By giving the teachers a voice in the process, I believe that you create more of a 'buy in', therefore creating more meaningful conversation within the teachers. If teachers feel there is no need to their time, they will easily 'check out'. As well, the administration makes sure to give the teachers time to plan across the grade levels, as well as within the grade level. This, too, improves student performance by helping the teachers reach a common goal.

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After reading the information on this posting about how to plan time for PLCs to take place, I am going to bring this information to my school's design team. I serve on my school's design, which is our leadership core within the building. I think the steps as outlined about would good to bring forth to that group to help promote a common idea about how collaboration can take place effectively.

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As summer drew to a close, and the teachers returned to work administration brought down their newest initiative. Many people agreed that these new initiatives were warranted but the execution of the plans is becoming problematic. Many teachers enjoy teaching for the sheer fact that for the most part they are given free reign of their classroom. However due to restructuring and standardized tests it is expected that departments align and as a result of this many teachers lose the ability to have the creative liberties they once did.

As recently as today when my department was aligning our course schedules/syllabus I noticed that the final product, as agreed upon was very far from what I had once done in my classroom. How is it possible to uphold the most recent initiatives while still staying true to my goals and creative liberties as a teacher? Indulging in my creativity has always allowed me to reach my many diverse learners. I worry that by being restricted that my classroom will suffer.

I believe that if I persevere in discussing these issues with my colleagues in the classroom and the administration that I will be able to find a happy medium between what I used to do and I am now expected to do.

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I am currently in my first master’s class entitled “Teacher as Professional” and have been focusing on the topic of professional learning communities this week. After reviewing all of my resources for the week, I’m not sure that what my school entitles “professional development time” can actually be considered an authentic professional learning community. Nevertheless, I am required to meet with both a grade level team and a content level team weekly. While I can completely understand the worry of having an administrator constantly “hovering” over a team meeting, I have found that the meetings that my principal has been involved with have been the most productive.

I will be the first to admit that I do not always go into team meetings with the most positive mindset. This is due in part by the fact that many times the weekly “professional development time” is spent complaining about students and sometimes even other teachers. Often, I take papers to grade and only half listen to the conversation. As an English teacher I am fortunate enough to have a principal who taught English for ten years. When he has been involved with team meetings he has brought resources, talked about some of the classroom lessons he did in the past, and has made useful suggestions for my colleagues and me. While it is impossible for my principal to be at every grade level and content level meeting throughout the year, I think it would be beneficial for him to be involved with these meetings more than once or twice a year. Also, I think that helping to create goals with each team at the beginning of the year would help to keep my teams focused on becoming better educators for our students. In all, I believe that administrators should have some involvement and should monitor the progress of each team. At the very least, it is just another way for teachers to display their commitment to continual learning and growing as professionals.

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My school participates in Professional Learning Communities, but it seems like they always take away from our planning times. I love learning and finding new ways to help our students and school. It just seems like everyone could do better if they weren't always rushing from one place to another to get to meetings. Planning is crucial to implementation of any curriculum.

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Reading Rick and Becky Dufour's post and all of the responses has been very enlightening. My school holds "data chats" each week where we meet as a grade level with administrators, the staff development teacher, and reading specialist on reading weeks. We alternate reading and math each week. In data chats we discuss reading levels, math assessment data, student needs, and interventions. Some data chat weeks are more effective than others but I have always felt they were ineffective in improving student learning. After reading the steps to creating effective PLC discussions in Dufour's post I am very excited to share this information with my administration. Often times we as teachers are not told the topic of the week's data chat until a day or two before and then have to scramble to pull together evidence/data to bring with us. I think the process described in "Self-Directed Teams Contribute Sustainability" is more meaningful to our instruction and student learning in our classrooms and could easily be implemented in my school.

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Having a PLC is extremely important, not just for teachers, but also for improvement in student learning. I work at a school that did have team leader meetings last year, but not PLC. In my team meetings kindergarten and first grade were a team and one of the first grade teachers was our team leader. The information discussed at the team meetings was information from the team leader meetings, between the administration and team leaders. At one of the team meetings we did discuss how teachers assess writing samples, using rubrics, and how the students were progressing in writing. It would have been beneficial if we could have had those type of conversations, discussing student learning, continuously throughout the school year. We did not have faculty meeting last school year, in which I felt it isolated and separated the school; I feel the school was not a community of learners. Teachers did not have a voice in any situation.

From reading some of the other posts I realize that I am not alone and my school is not the only school without PLC. I am concerned of this isolation and separation among teachers in many schools. Student learning will not improve if teachers themselves are not involved in a PLC, learning from each other and evolving as professionals.

I am going to suggest to my school's administration using the model presented in this blog, "Self-Directed Teams Contribute to Sustainability." I am interested in what the administration has planned this year; will they continue with what they did last year or make changes? It seems the school I work at this always making changes; which doesn't usually include teachers' input.

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Chris Jakicic

As a middle school principal I understand the dilemma about whether subject matter or grade level teams are most effective. Most middle school teachers are proud of the way they have been able to work collaboratively to help their students by discussing discipline concerns, individual student issues, and ways to integrate their lessons with teachers who teach the same students as they do. However, this level of collaboration really isn't enough for teachers in schools who expect all of their students to be successful at high levels. In my school we did exactly what you're suggesting. We didn't abandon the middle school philosophy of keeping time for teachers to meet to discuss student concerns, however, we also provided time for teachers who teach the same subject/grade level to meet to discuss the critical questions of learning. It sounds like your teams are struggling with how to use their time and, because they haven't established their list of priority products, or maybe because they aren't meeting with teachers who teach the same content they do. Instead, teams should develop the list of products they need: essential learning for each quarter, common assessments to provide teachers the information they need to know how to help their students, and ways that they will give students who need it more time and support. To do this, teachers who teach the same course and grade level (e.g., 7th grade science teachers) should meet early in the year to develop their norms and SMART goals for their team. Then, they meet regularly to establish essential outcomes, common assessments and interventions for students who need more time and support. In my school teachers met two days a week in subject matter teams and two days a week in their "interdisciplinary team." They kept the fifth day available for teachers to meet with teachers, like you, who crossed grade levels or taught more than one subject area.

As a special education teacher, you will find that if you make the essential outcomes for each course the focus of your students' IEP goals, and if you use the common assessments developed by the team to assure your students are learning the important course content, you will be able to help close the gap for your students. You really can have it all in middle school!

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I've been a principal at two different PLC middle schools. From seeing the PLC process in both buildings, I would recommend meeting as a content/subject area team 2-3 times a week and meeting as an interdisciplinary team 1-2 times a week. This past year, we changed our master schedule so that content/subject area teams had daily meeting times and interdisciplinary teams only had time to meet once per week. Our content teams are required to meet 2 times a week and the teachers love these meetings...they are no nonsense-get down to the business of focusing on learning meetings. The interdisciplinary team meetings have been limited to once per week and staff have shared that due to less meeting times, there is much less "coblaboration" and the time is focused on the intradisciplinary team's goals--social/emotional needs of kids and homework completion. We do require all meetings to have agendas/minutes to ensure that there is a focus to each meeting. In summary:

1. All meetings must have agendas.
2. I recommend content/subject area teams meet at least twice per week to focus on learning.
3. I recommend that intradisciplinary teams meet no more than 2 times a week with a specific purpose. We choose homework and social/emotional support. A school could add writing to that purpose. Teams that meet with no purpose should not meet.

Good luck with your PLC process!


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Rebecca Krier

I am currently in the process of finishing my master's degree and a class that entitled, "Teacher Leadership in Professional Learning Communities." Everything that was stated and has been discussed goes along with what I have learned about PLC's and really hits home with the issues that I face trying to create a PLC at my school. Administration is a huge roadblock in school reform and I'm struggling to move forward without letting that roadblock stop me in the process. A lot of what I have learned is that I need to focus my attention on areas where I can make a difference and that do not require administrative support. The steps (timelines, SMART goals, seven questions, common assessments, etc.) are all ideas that I have learned about throughout the course text, Learning By Doing, and have found to be very effective. The tools are realistic and productive for any teacher leader looking to make a change.

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My school does have common planning time, both at the team level and at the grade level. While I do feel that common planning at the team level is extremely useful, I feel that grade level planning would be better served with an agenda. Many times this year, grade level meetings have disintegrated into complaint sessions, when I, as a new content area teacher, would have benefitted from collaboration or more spare time to plan on my own.

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By reading the blog, and then the comments I have realized that I am not alone, that my school is not the only school that supposedly has a "PLC" but this one does everything else but what is supposed to be done. At my school we do not have a collaboration time. We have a weekly common PREP on Friday, but we never meet not even as grade level teams. We do have a monthly grade level meeting but everything is dictated by the principal, so for each meeting we have an agenda already set for us. I would love to work in a school where a PLC is establish and working the way is supposed, because teachers can grow, and learn so much from each other. I congratulate those that do work and belong to a PLC, count your blessings, if you do.

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I can definitely relate to the frustration of teachers feeling like their team meeting time is completely dictated by administrative demands. I am a teacher that has been working at a PLC school for the last two years. We have regular (weekly) team meetings to look at data, plan future assessments, and work on lesson planning together. However a lot of this time is taken up by housekeeping items and things being passed on from the extended support team. Although I know these things are also important it is frustrating when your whole meeting ends up being taken up by business and then you don't have enough time for the important aspects of PLC like diving into data and discussing how to improve our instruction. It's a tough balance, I do think there is a need for guidance and direction as some teams would just chit-chat the whole time but I also thing at times there are too many things to accomplish so we miss out on much needed collaboration time.

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I have been a part of PLCs for 5 years, at 2 different schools. One school, the principal was completely absent, except for when we needed him. The school I am at now, he's in our meetings at least once a week. I can see the benefits of both. I think it all depends on the team and the staff. The principal needs to know his or her staff and decide how much he or she needs to be in the meetings.

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I agree that establishing goals for the year at large and creating an agenda for individual meetings is helpful to maintain long-term and short-term goals. In my school, the team leader and the principal work together to determine the items on the agenda. In this way, the school-wide perspective can be discussed, as well as, the grade-level specific items. On my team, there is a balance between what we would like to present, discuss, or evaluate and what our administrators and specialists would like to achieve.

As a team, we establish quarterly goals. We use the baseline data to determine which areas of student learning should be targeted. As we gather data, we analyze the information together and determine what was successful and what should be modified or continued.

After reading this blog, I found that this list of questions will be beneficial to my team as we establish goals, make plans for interventions, make changes in our practice, or evaluate the evidence. Several times our principal wanted to start a new initiative in our school and used our team as the first to try it. Since we were willing to incorporate new practices, we would do our best to modify our instruction to meet these goals. However, it would happen so often that our principal would put something new on our plates that we became overwhelmed. We discussed this at a team meeting, and he decided that he would check in with us to establish which goals were doable in the time-frame that he allotted. If we utilize these questions in our team meetings, it will help us to set reasonable goals, to understand why we are doing what we are doing, and to prioritize our efforts to do what is best for our students' learning.

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I agree that there would be benefits to having a specific agenda. At my school, it is all left up to our lead teacher and we spend most of our time listening to her talk about her favorite authors or poets. We rarely get anything accomplished and I always feel very frustrated when I leave the meetings.

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The first principal I had required minutes from the meetings. My new principal does not require minutes. She meets with the team leaders once a month and brings up any items that need to be addressed. As you have said, most of the time at the meetings I attend is spent complaining about issues out of our control or better yet, discussing shoe sales. My colleague and I addressed with our principal and she is aware of the topics (or lack of relevant topics). However, she is reluctant to address this with the rest of the staff for fear of making teachers upset, especially the teachers who are making good use of the time. I do believe that more relevant discussions would occur with some specific direction from the administration.

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I work in a small school and we currently do not have collaboration time. The more I have read and the excitement I feel from those of you who have truly built a quality PLC, the more enthusiastic I get.
Our district this year began by creating small collaborative groups of multi level teachers to fulfill the agenda set forth for us. Unfortunately, we were not told how creating or gathering all this information will help us in our classroom our will help make our students more successful. I am beginning to see that by all of us reflecting on our community (large and small) we truly were on course to start a PLC. We did continue to meet during the year to further our information and refine our results, but our collaborative groups changed. I am excited now to see where this will take us next year.

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I am currently a middle school special education teacher. I teach 6th -8th grade math. My school has PLC meetings on grade levels teams- A and B teams for each grade. With inclusion this year, I am one of the “cross-team” teachers- I teach both A and B teams. I attend a Special Ed team meeting for about 20 minutes in the morning and then one of the 6th grade meetings for 45 minutes during the school day. Unfortunately, I only teach one 6th grade class and do not find this meeting very useful. The participants rarely discuss anything of importance. I attend frequently, but most of the time, I prep my lessons or grade papers. I am tired of listening to negativity and I have nothing to offer to the other teachers’ discussions on the latest sales at the mall! It is frustrating to me as a special education teacher that this time is not better utilized. The teachers need to focus more on the students’ needs in the classrooms. While the team meetings occur at “good times” (during the teacher day), there is no focus/agenda for the meetings. At the beginning of the school year, most of the time was spent in engaging conversation that consisted of gathering and sharing information about the newest students in the building. However, as the year has passed, the conversations have turned to the latest gossip, budget/contract news, and most recently, talks of summer plans. I am thinking that maybe it would be beneficial to meet as a grade level team for 3-4 days/week and then as a subject team for the 1-2 days/week. Does anybody have any experience with grade level team meetings and subject area team meetings? I would appreciate any advice or input.

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Wow! Where do I start? I've red everyone's replies and this is a very interesting topic. I must say that I am blessed to be a part of a school and county that is constantly hard at work to develop our PLC. However, I'm noticing a big difference from where I am and the issues presented in terms of professional learning. First...some "shoutouts" slash mini responses.
To htm7910: I agree with you and your anguish when it comes to valuable time being wasted. I've been a team leader for the past 3 years and I have to stay on top of co-workers when the tone of a meeting seems to turn into a gripe session.
To Lindsey: I'm sorry that you don't have any other PreK teachers to collaborate with at your school. However it is a good idea for you to collaborate with the K teachers and do it as often as possible. At my school, we call it vertical teaming. Every so often we have to meet with the grade levels above and below us to share ideas and discuss curriculum. If you look at most standards you can see which grades certain skills repeat or are built upon. It helps us know exactly what we're preparing students for. By working with the K teachers, you can have your students walking into Kindergarten ready with the base knowledge they need and then some.
To alhartman: I am very slow when it comes to data. It takes me a while to digest it, but once I understand it, I'm good. We have data talks with our data administrator at least 3 times a year (pre, mid, post). We have a great program that shows us our students' scores and breaks each correct or incorrect problem down by the standard it covers. We teachers can monitor this at any time. The data talks are used for discussing the entire grade level. One thing we did this year was took the 10 lowest scoring math standards from the predictor exam and created a week of review rotations. Each math teacher chose 2 of the standards to focus on and we created a rotation schedule. So for example, I taught the same mini review lesson to 13 different classes of students. It took two days to complete. On the 3rd day the rotation would start over but with the second skill I was to review. The 5th day was used for math games.
To Sabrina: Hi. I am also a Walden student.
Here's my concern. Everything discussed about the PLC was very one-sided in my opinion. Yes professional learning is about ultimately helping our students succeed, but I think we are missing the real "L" here. The learning is also about OUR learning as teachers. Everything previously discussed at my school would be considered a part of collaborative planning. However, when I hear the term professional learning, I think of classes and sessions that help better me as a teacher in order to better reach my students. My school holds PL Choice Sessions. Yes, you have to pick something (it is required), but choosing is easy because our school has taken surveys and asked the teachers and staff about what areas they feel weak in and would like to receive help. I have not only participated in PL sessions, but I have been a facilitator as well. When answering the survey I volunteered to lead sessions in the areas I was strong in, Math and Classroom Management. I created engaging activities that teachers could immediately use with their own students. I allowed for collaboration among the other teachers. This is where the dialog opened up and sharing or ideas and techniques took place. This school year our sessions changed from a different session each month, to a semester long. We still met once a month, but we didn't have to feel so rushed. We could incorporate book studies and have others bring in examples showing how they've tried techniques in their classes.
This is the way I look at a PLC. I have to continue learning and reflecting, if my students are going to flourish. We can't expect to teach new things and be innovative while still following the same ole cycle that we know is getting us nowhere.

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As we all know, many school districts have their ups and downs throughout the year. Implementing the PLC philosophy into our school definitely wasn't easy, nor was it expected to be. I feel that we were very lucky when first implementing the PLC process in our school, because about 90% of the teachers were on board with the idea and willing collaborate to make it work effectively. This left the other 10% to be "weeded out" of our district. In turn, this helped our school get off on the right foot. When reading about how some teachers are upset with the administration because they feel their agenda for their meetings was being dictated, I actually felt sorry for these teachers. Although I don't have any idea of the kind of support they receive in their district, I do know that EVERYONE has to work together to achieve the common goal and that means offering support is a two way avenue. It should move from teacher to administrator and vice versa. My principal has been amazingly helpful in getting our school's PLC started off on the right track. In order to do this though, he offered us a "dictated approach" for accomplished mini goal. Not once did we feel as though we couldn't speak our minds in helping to facilitate this process. This is our school's third year as a PLC community and it gets better and better each year with new ideas being brought to the table when collaborating with my fellow colleagues. After attending the PLC conference in Vegas last summer, several new ideas were brought back and implemented to ease the process even more. Our principal has been amazing at guiding us in the right step so perhaps we don't feel like we are being mandated to do certain things. We jumped right in with writing, an area that our students seemed to struggle with the most, and set team norms, smart goals and developed essential writing outcomes. We continuously reflect on our teaching to better the ideas we've already implemented. The other schools in our district are starting to see the success we are having with our kids and are now trying to implement the same PLC philosophy. We were asked as a school to gather all of our materials that we developed to hand over so they could get started. However, we collaborated as a team to form our common assessments, outcomes, goals, etc...and bonded throughout the process. This is a pertinent step for implementation of this approach. It will not work the same if the ideas are simply handed over. It is a philosophy that must built together in order to receive successful results. My recommendation to any teachers or administrators who are working to implement this outstanding philosophy would be that collaboration is the key. If any individual is made to feel as though they aren't a valuable member of the team, it can be very detrimental to getting a fresh start. Keep your heads high and work hard to develop your outcomes and I promise you will start seeing amazing results and a friendlier community develop around you!

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It is very tough for teachers first starting the PLC way of thinking and acting to let go of the way meetings used to be run. I admit to feeling like I was being told what to do a lot as we first began working with PLC and I felt we did not have much input into what our meetings should be about. It is not an easy process for teachers or for administration to start without having practiced it before, so I think perhaps we were told what to do a bit more in the beginning, as I'm sure many teachers could relate to. However, just like with our students, we also need to be guided when learning something new before we can run with it on our own. We used to waste a lot of time sitting around at meetings and not making productive use of our time. Now, 2 years after starting PLC, we run our own team meetings and are much more productive and positive, focusing on student achievement. I do believe we needed guidance at the beginning, but as soon as it seems a team can handle more choice and responsibility on their own it must be granted!

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This is our first year implementing PLC s in my district. As the year progressed, the staff became more comfortable with them. We set up norms before we began, and that seemed to set the president of expectations. Most meetings ran efficiently. We had a note taker, timekeeper, etc., which all helped to keep the meetings running smoothly and on task. One thing I do believe could have been more helpful would have been the time of day, which we met. Our meetings were often after school, and by this time, the staff would not be as alert and prepared to discuss important aspects of the material.
On the contrary, our weekly planning meetings suffered greatly from the lack of autonomy. Most teachers were expected to teach a certain way, and that is whatever way the administrators want it. Unfortunately, it appears that some administrators disregard the fact that they have been teachers before and not everyone is the same. This caused much stress amongst the teachers, and instead of having a united staff, it was sometimes divided due to the competitiveness.

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I am so happy I checked out this website. I have found so many ideas on it that I plan on sharing with my principal. Currently, my school is at the starting level of PLC's, we have the teams formed, but no structure, no plan, no roles during our team meetings. The principals have tried many approaches to control our meetings, from running the meeting themselves to having us fill out agendas, like Tricia mentioned. However, like hmt7910 posted our team meeting are never focused on student learning. Sabrina discusses the time commitment. At my school, we have a 90 minute planning each day, however we only meet with our grade level once every other week. All the research I have done on successful PLC's state that teams need to meet several times a week. I agree with the research because everyday teachers have problems or successes with students that are important and should be shared with other collegues who work with the same students. A book I would recommend reading is Implementing and Improving Teaming: A Handbook for Middle Level Leaders by Jerry Rottier.

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The idea of collaborative teamwork on the part of the principal and the team leader seems to be an effective model. This holds both parties accountable and sets up boundaries for each party involved. Effective professional learning can occur in the needed grade level or content level teams and the principal can still monitor achievement. This group oriented approach to professional learning can easily target the issues that are relevant to that group and avoid wasted time on other staff development.

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It is important to "Assume good intentions on the part of both teachers and administrators" when talking about Professional Learning Communities. I do not think that it is the administrations intention to dictate what must happen at the meetings. I think that they are trying to set guidelines for the teachers to follow. Teachers sometimes need a focus, and then the wheels start rolling. In all of this, both parties need to remember that the "core mission of formal education ensure that student are [not only] taught but that they learn" (DuFour, 2004, p.6). Administrators and educators must remember that working collaboratively will not only improve their teaching, but it will greatly enrich student learning.

DuFour, R. (2004). What is a "professional learning community"?. Schools as Learning Communities, 61(8), 6-11.

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Rhonda Stitley

As a team leader, we are given direction for meetings at the beginning of each school year. I feel that this is very important, as we know the expectations of administration right off. We are currently not micromanaged, but next year we will be. Not because we did not carry out our responsibilities effectively at each meeting, but because teachers chose not to implement certain things that were discussed at each meeting. As a team leader, we were expected to monitor those things and not assume they were getting done. So, for our team, I guess being micromanaged is the only way to ensure that those teachers are actually doing what they are supposed to be doing.

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There needs to be communication on both sides. Micromanaging can deter PLC meetings, but administration should be involved. Having a course of action for PLC committees, allows for a more productive and engaging team. The guidelines and questions, as outlined by the DuFours, provide an excellent foundation to create a program that is beneficial for the students.

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We usually only have a "calendar" meeting once per month. All staff members are required to attend. We rarely have effective professional development. Usually one person is sent off to learn something, then they come to report back with "tips" on teaching. We are also required to have a grade level meeting each month. At this time, most of the people I teach with actually dread it and scramble to come up with a list of things we "discussed," which had NO meaning or content whatsoever. It is frustrating because it truly does become a waste of time for all of us. We then have to e-mail our meeting notes to the principal. I know we are on the right track with collecting data, but we do nothing to "collaborate" in those meetings. I would like to see more collaboration in the future.

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I am so glad that this blog link was posted as a resource for a course requirement for my master's program. I am a teacher in Memphis City Schools in Tennessee. The school I work for, currently has PLC meetings on Tuesday during the teachers' support time. Teachers do not look forward to these meetings for the reasons stated in this blog. I felt like one of our discussions had been recorded and written in the Dufors' initial post. We never had much input as to what the meetings were going to be about. We could suggest topics, but often other topics were the main priority. I am so glad that there is research that shows me how a PLC should be formatted. i have printed and saved the link from above, to share with our administration. I look forward to continuing my participation in this blog and to grow as a professional teacher. Thanks for all the information and fantastic resources/ideas.

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Having the administration co-ordinate efforts to improve PLC meetings seems like a boon to me as long as they direct the group to address real issues. Allowing some freedom of direction seems like a good idea as well however ultimately it falls on administration to ensure successful professional development opportunities so I can understand them stepping in. The article made some interesting points about ways to tactfully address the situation and ideas for the teachers to take to their administrators in regards to the PLC.

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I see the benefits of the administration setting guidelines for team meetings. At my team level meetings, my colleagues and I often get off topic because we do not have a specific task to work toward. If the administration gives teachers a goal and expectations, then teachers are less likely to get off task.

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I also see the benefits with an agenda and the administration setting guidelines for the PLC meetings. I am a second year teacher and in my school we are fortunate enough to have time for collaborative planning with our grade level teams. The first year of planning I found myself getting frustrated at meetings becuase we would fail to get much done. Most of the meeting time was spent complaining, or talking about issues we had no control over. This year, however, our administration started a guide sheet that had topics for us to discuss at each meeting. I found this to be very helpful in our meetings because we got a lot more accomplished. This shows me that teams need to have protocols to clarify expectations and responsibilities in order for a true PLC to be developed (DuFour, 2004).

DuFour, R. (2004). Schools are learning communities. Educational Leadership, 61(8), 10. Retrieved from

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In my last school, administration worked out a wonderful schedule where we met as vertical subject teams 3 times a week during the school day, then as grade level teams twice a week. It was considered a team planning time, and no one was supposed to skip out on them. Of course, you will always have some that try. The students went to their elective classes during the grade level team meetings, and to other core classes during the subject team meetings. This next year, with the budget cuts, we have committed to meeting at 7:45 - 8:15 every morning (our classes begin at 8:20), meeting with grade levels 2 times a week, and subject teams 3 times a week.

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I forgot about the preplanning time for PLCs. Setting up norms for the meetings is very important. These are the ground rules for meetings. In the norms, you address attendance, attitudes, how to disagree, etc. If done in collaboration, everyone gets a say as to how an issue should be addressed. It allows teachers to disagree without getting angry. The norms make PLCs a "safe" place to collaborate. I hope I can help set up a higher quality PLC at my school next year, than we have had this year.

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I am a substitute teacher and have been part of several Professional Learning Communities. One of the most successful PLC's that I was part of was in a highly demanding classroom. I was on assignment for a few weeks in a alternate education program. The educators in this small alternate program were like a family. They would show up to work 45 minutes early every day to have breakfast together. They would go on to discuss issues they were having in the classroom. Most importantly they discussed strategies that they could use to help their high needs students learn. Collaboration like this was the key to the teachers working together with these students flawlessly throughout the day. When a issue came up, they knew exactly how to handle it because they were all on the same page. Teamwork was essential in this classroom to be successful. If only staff members on a larger scale could unite like this. The possibilities could be endless for what the teachers could provide each other and their students.

Unfortunately, the past two assignments I have been on have not had the "family" atmosphere. Teachers are constantly at each others throats. There are cliques of teachers and communication does not flow smoothly. As a result teachers are burning themselves out by worrying about what this person and that person are doing or saying. Most importantly the students are suffering because of it. In an instance such as this I believe a strong administration would be helpful. Leadership is needed in this type of situation. Even the tedious meetings and workshops that administrators call for could give the chance of uniting the teachers.

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I too am a first year teacher. I have been told that my school district has worked for several years in order to get the PLC time passed. I have felt that during this time, our grade team has accomplished a lot; we lesson plan together, grade assessments to make sure we are using the same criteria, analyze data, and share successes and failures from the classroom. Our principal requires us to turn in an agenda and a summary of our meeting. This has helped keep our meetings on task and focused. Though we are required to turn in these things, we are able to identify the issues we would like to address during this time. Part of having a successful learning community is first building the relationships between fellow teachers. It is because of these relationships that I feel comfortable enough to share my failures or struggles and in turn learn from my mistakes and the advice of my colleagues.

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Overall, we have had grade level meetings which are similar to the PLCs, yet a little different. I believe they are not as often as PLCs suggest. In these grade level meetings we are focusing on the student, their abilities, and possible solutions. However, I am curious about the time factor. Currently, we have a staff that gets along and an administrator who wants everyone to get along, wants to support those struggling students to achieve their highest potential, and trying to meet district, state and federal demands. We do have meetings where we discuss challenges we face in the classroom with our colleagues and at times in separate conferences with families & community members.

Currently, I am a student at Walden University and watched the video "Characteristics of Effective Professional Development" where Ann Lieberman discussed the importance of "good time." I understand the content needs to be meaningful, student centered, ideas and suggestions for implementing certain skills or strategies, recognizing strengths of colleagues and students need to be brought forth, etc... On the other hand, the time is my question. Would this be during the work day? If so, scheduling may be an issue. Furthermore, as suggested in the article above, these meeting may be at the end of each unit or Ann suggested once a week. So, the time issue will depend on what the administrator and staff feels needed? Overall, I like the idea of implementing PLCs. It's always nice to learn different ideas from colleagues and other professionals.

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I just left a school in which the meetings were completely controlled by the administration. The school I was at previously was more of a collaboration between the administrators and the teachers. Seeing both sides of it, I really felt that we got more accomplished with student learning at my first school. This past year we had to follow a administrative set agenda and could not ever question anything or we had to have a sit down with the principal, which was not pleasant. I think meetings between teachers can be a great thing when it is done collaboratively like this blog states and I hope that my next school sees it that way as well.

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I think that collaboration is a must in today's schools for each student's achievement. In my school, we do have professional learning communities that were put in place in order for us to reflect on results collaboratively. Sometimes the administration does tend to step in on meeting and take up time with throwing out information and broad statistics. I can see how administrators would want to be involved on the ground level of the PLCs (Professional Learning Community), but their presence needs to be beneficial to the information already being discussed by us teachers. Also, there are times in which it seems as if we met and did not get anything accomplished. In that case, in order to get things going correctly from the beginning of the school year,there needs to a plc model set up during preplanning to get teachers acclimated to what is expected. In our grade level teams, we do look at standards to be discussed, form cfas (common formative assessments), and look at results in order to discuss strategies to get each student performing on grade level or above it. I think that the most plc meetings that we have had have been efficient in completing tasks presented, but we could always become more skilled at this reflection tool.

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Kelly Mattocks

I work at a school that is working toward developing a professional learning community. We already meet as grade level teams, but I feel that sometimes our focus is vague. I really like the seven questions that a leader should ask every time a team is asked to create something. The questions help keep the focus on the task. The idea of setting norms for the team is something I never really gave much thought to before, but after reading this, I realize that some of our meeting time is wasted on trivial, petty issues that could be taken care of through norms. I hope the PLC continues to grow at my school, because I already see the improvements in my own teaching, and as a result, student achievement.

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I am new to PLC. What are the SMART goals that you recommend creating once a year? I agree with the idea of teachers and administrators having reciprocal accountability. Our school looked at a lot of student data this year through benchmark testing we were able to do. Our principal asked us to gather and analyze our students' data from these benchmark tests and to discuss them in our team meetings and look for trends. So in our team meeting, we did what was asked, but we did not really know what to do with the information we had gathered. We did not know what was expected of us from that point. So while our team has a better awareness of our student data, I believe it could have been used more effectively to target groups of students and to improve student learning.

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Next year will be better for you I promise! You will begin to look at the data from this past year and analyze it looking for patterns or inconsistancies. Once you determine an area of weakness, you will begin to evaluate your teaching style and approach with your team members to bring the area of need up. By the end of next year when you begin to reflect, you will have a much understanding of working towards your goal and interpreting your success. It is great to work with a team of people for a common goal. Remembering that the children are all of ours, not just an individuals.

Good Luck, CF

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It is my first year teaching in a new school and in a new district. I was hired the day before school started, so I was not involved in the process of creating our grade level smart goals. I had never heard of them before either. Now that it is around the end of the school year, we are supposed to sit down as a team and discuss if we each met our year end smart goals. However, I felt out of the loop because I wasn't really aware of these goals until now. I am hoping that through our discussions at the end of the year, I will be better prepared for next year's smart goals. I will hopefully have a better understanding of why and how we set the goals we do. I think it is critical to be part of a collaborative team that works on such decisions together. Unfortunately, not because of my team, I was not able to be a part of that conversation before I began my teaching job here. I hope that next year I can really help to strengthen our PLC team so that we can work toward common goals and so that we can use similar methods and assessments within our classrooms.

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I see the concern for the principal wanting to give specific directions at the meetings. However, as a preschool teacher I feel that it is important for weekly meetings for collaboration and growth amongst fellow coworkers. Allowing for teacher collaboration will in turn allow teachers to take their learned ideas and implement them in their classroom. As a preschool teacher we are lucky if we meet once a month for staff development/meetings. And when we do meet the principal is directing the entire time which leaves no time for teachers to interact with one another.

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I appreciate the 18 critical issues file. It helps to have the administration and teachers on the same page for accountability's sake. Many times meetings can turn into complaining sessions without a real point and purpose for meeting which is very frustrating. The aspect of "reciprocal accountability" really got me thinking. I have not worked under unreasonable principals, but I do not think that they have always realized their responsibilities in what they were asking the teachers to do. I do agree that if administration put too many demands on the time teachers have to collaborate, then it will turn into just another duty.

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I teach in a small school and am currently the only preschool teacher in our district. The district has set up PLC meetings for all the grade levels, however, preschool is left out. This is very disappointing to me, however, for this upcoming school year I am going to talk with my principal and superintendent about joining the preschool teachers in the neighboring district. I would also be interested in joining the Kindergarten teachers from time to time. I believe finding a PLC to by a part of will help sharpen my skills and in turn, allow me to have a greater impact on my students.

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I was very encouraged by your advice for sustaining PLC meetings. My district currently has what is known as "data teams." These teams are meant to work with like-content area teachers to create common assessments to collect data and enhance teacher effectiveness as well as student learning. Often though, once the teachers get together it turns very negative and a time for venting as hmt7910 suggested. I think your suggestions will help our data teams next year to be more focused on a specific purpose. I have emailed the .pdf file to my principal with the intention of discussing it with him for next year's data team objectives.

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As a first year teacher participating in PLC meetings, I see the concern that the principal has about wanting to give more specific directions for these meetings. In my PLC meetings, we never got anything done. The teachers always seemed to want to tell personal stories and not use the time we had to discuss student growth and what we could do to help our students. Our principal did not require anything to be given to her after our meetings, so it seemed like these meetings were more of a waste of time. To me, I could have been using this time teach my students instead of listening to these teacher's stories.

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Carol Trainor

I am a principal of a small rural school - K-4 - with a teaching staff of 6 including myself. In order for the team to meet on a regular basis we had to adjust the weekly schedule to allow almost every Wednesday afternon a 2 hour teaming session. During this time the paraprofessional (resource person), the admin assitant and I provide enrichment opportunities for all 63 students. Therefore, I am not in attendance during the teaming sessions. However, we as a team felt that I should have input and if necessary place items on the agenda for discussion. Our last dismissal for the day is before the teaming session is over and this allows me opportunity to step in to the meeting to receive feedback or to give feedback based on the session. Though this opportunity is available I am not always able to take the time. Again as a team we then decided to always establish an agenda that we all see before the session and we all receive a copy of the minutes which include action plans regarding student assessment, PLC, professional development, etc. Before this all began however, we as a team had many discussions regarding trust, norms, productivity and evidence of success with action plans. Our set up is 3 years old and still going strong. Once other small school heard of our teaming and its successful results they asked to be included and therefore when possible we work with a communication program Bridget to work with other singleton teachers in similar situations.

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