Welcome to AllThingsPLC: What’s a PLC?

We extend our sincere appreciation to Solution Tree for creating and maintaining AllThingsPLC. We believe the site offers a rich resource to those looking for ways to deepen their understanding of this model of school improvement. We also believe it is consistent with the collaborative and collective effort to acquire and share knowledge that is so much a part of the PLC process. We look forward to learning with and from you as we respond to your questions and comments, post entries to support your work, recognize your successes, and engage in ongoing dialogue related to building and sustaining PLCs.Our hope is that educators at all levels will frequently visit this blog to get questions answered, give and receive support, network with colleagues from around the world, and celebrate PLC progress in their own settings. Thank you for being a part in this new venture!

What’s a PLC?

It has been interesting to observe the growing popularity of the term professional learning community. In fact, the term has become so commonplace and has been used so ambiguously to describe virtually any loose coupling of individuals who share a common interest in education, it is in danger of losing all meaning. As our friend Michael Fullan concludes, "Terms travel easily, but the concepts underlying those terms often do not." This lack of precision represents a very real obstacle to implementing PLC concepts. If you hope to become proficient in building PLCs, you must first develop clarity regarding what the term represents. Therefore, we have opted to devote this first entry to clarifying the term professional learning community (PLC).

Professional Learning Communities are educators committed to working collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research in order to achieve better results for the students they serve. PLCs operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous, job-embedded learning for educators.

PLCs Maintain a Relentless Focus on Learning

The very essence of a learning community is a focus on and a commitment to the learning of each student. When a school or district functions as a PLC, educators within the organization embrace high levels of learning for all students as both the reason the organization exists and the fundamental responsibility of those who work within it. In order to achieve this purpose, the members of a PLC create and are guided by a clear and compelling vision of what the organization must become in order to help all students learn. They make collective commitments clarifying what each member will do to create such an organization, and they use results-oriented goals to mark their progress.

Members work together to clarify exactly what each student must learn, to monitor each student’s learning on a timely basis, to provide systematic interventions that ensure students receive additional time and support for learning when they struggle, and to extend and enrich learning when students have already mastered the intended outcomes.

A corollary assumption is that if the organization is to become more effective in helping all students learn, the adults in the organization must also be continually learning. Therefore, structures are created to ensure staff members engage in job-embedded learning as part of their routine work practices.

There is no ambiguity or hedging regarding this commitment to learning. Whereas many schools operate as if their primary purpose is to see to it that children are taught, professional learning communities are dedicated to the idea that their organization exists to ensure that all students learn essential knowledge, skills, and dispositions. All the other characteristics of a PLC flow directly from this seismic shift in assumptions about the purpose of the school.

Andy Hargreaves once wrote: "A professional learning community is an ethos that infuses every single aspect of a school’s operation. When a school becomes a professional learning community, everything in the school looks different than it did before." We concur, and we also contend that once a staff truly embraces the premise that the very reason the school exists is to ensure high levels of learning for all students, decisions about what must be done (and equally important, what must no longer be done) become more clear.

For more information on "What is a PLC," go to Rick’s seminal article on the topic published by Educational Leadership at: "What is a PLC?"


Cyna Stehr

Thank you for the post. I am currently a college student. We are learning about PLC in our courses. There seems to be a lot of positives to learning communities. Are there any negatives? How do you deal with those situations? (are there pre-established guidelines?)

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I am an elementary school principal and doctoral student at Indiana University of PA. I am interested in learning more about walkthrough observations and how they may be used as a tool to build professional learning communities. I would appreciate hearing from any author or school personnel who may be using walkthrough observations to build professional learning communities.

I also noted on the 2010 Professional Learning Communities at Work Events Registration Guide, there was mention of research available on the significance and impact of the PLCs. It stated that it is located in the Evaluating Professional Learning Communities: Final Report - An APQC Education Benchmarking Project. Would it be possible for me to be able to read this report and its findings?

Lastly, do you have access to a reliable and validated survey that may be used to determine the level that a school fits into the paramenters of a PLC community? I am aware of surveys from the the work of Hord, Huffman and Hipp.

Any help in these areas would be greatly appreciated!

Ron Yasher

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Joe Bowen

I am the principal of a Vermont public K-12 school of 350 students.

I am just finishing up a two day conference in Albany, NY and was looking for a school who is using PLCs that matches ours. However, I was unable to locate a school that is a K-12 school with 350 students and a 50% SES. Can you suggest a school that we can contact?


Joe Bowen

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I am a recent college grad and in my first year as an elementary Art teacher. The staff in my building are trying to get together to form PLC's on a number of different issues and topics and it is becoming more and more frustrating for me because I am unsure of how to integrate the PLC's that people are working on into my classroom being the Art specialist.

If there is anyone out there who might be able to direct me to where I might find more information on PLC's directed toward Specialists it would be greatly appreciated!

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How has your school increased graduation rates? What have you successfully tried that keeps students in school until they graduate?

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Becky DuFour

Response to Anne & Lori March 23, 2007:
Congratulations on writing and implementing a curriculum specific to the population of students you serve - you've answered the first critical question of a PLC, "what do we want our students to learn." Now, in order to frequently monitor and respond to each student's learning needs, we recommend you have the teachers who teach your curriculum develop common ways of assessing whether or not the students are actually learned what they are being taught - that is, develop common, formative assessment tools and instruments that answer the second critical question of a PLC, "how will we know when each child has learned the skills, dispositions and concepts essential to their success."

If two or more teachers in the same school or within your district teach your curriculum to similar kinds of students, they should work together to develop common formative assessments appropriate for the population of students they serve; their assessments should be directly aligned to your curriculum and any district or state assessments their students will ultimately be accountable for.

Many of the assessments your teachers develop will likely need to be performance-based, authentic assessments - not paper and pencil tests. That will require your teams of special educators to:
1. agree on the criteria by which they will judge/assess the quality of student learning
2. practice applying those criteria consistently until they establish inter-rater reliability.

As they identify the "learning" they want each student to demonstrate, (i.e. life skills, social skills, academic skills, etc.) they should develop rubrics, checklists, portfolios, etc. that articulate the different stages a student may go through as they progress toward proficiency & mastery of each essential learning outcome.

When two different teachers administer a common assessment to two different students who are expected to learn the same skill, then they are able to compare results, talk about what worked well & what didn't; discuss how to respond to the students who did not learn (more time and more support using interventions, different instructional strategies, etc.) --they should identify the next steps for the students who did learn and simultaneously, make a plan for the students who did learn. The common assessment process will give your teachers a basis of comparison and a support system for sharing and learning best practices. Of course, given the very individualized goals for some of your students, several of your assessments may be individualized as well.

I'm looking forward to reading other responses to your question, also!

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At a recent conference Rick spoke about limiting district initiatives when starting a PLC. I think he recommended a three year window before any new initiatives are started. After the conference I was speaking to teachers in a district that I am working and they were excited about creating a PLC but said they thought we should wait because next year we will be rolling out a new language arts curriculum. My thoughts were that if things like creating new curriculum were considered an initiative that would put PLC on hold, we probably would never have a year where we were free from curriculum writing, new state mandates etc. So my question is , what is considered a "new" initiative?

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I am excited to learn more about PLC, currently I'm not in a position to give any feed back. Right now we are currently working on ways to help our graduation rate. I would appreciate any comments/suggestion you may have about increasing the graduation rate/retention of the unmotivated student. Thanks

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A colleague and I are currently in positions to facilitate the PLC process in our district for special education staff. Our main concern centers around how to effectively develop a PLC that is focused on common assessments for students with developmental ages 2 months to 12 years. These students all have individualized education plans, with varying and individual needs. We have a written, articulated and taught curriculum specific to this population of students. We welcome any all direction.

Anne and Lori

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To lllemay: Francis Howell is a year round school district in St. Charles County MO. We're non the Solutions Tree Map. I'm sure they would welcone your visit. Our Elementary schools will be back in session mid July. Pat

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Becky DuFour

In response to learner:

Here are several ways to provide time for team collaboration that don't cost money, don't require us to keep the students at home, and don't cause the loss of significant instructional time. We know of a high school in the United States that had the same quandary and their faculty resolved it by using the adjusted start/end time strategy described below:

Ø Common Preparation - Build the master schedule to provide daily common preparation periods for teachers of the same course, or department. Each team should then designate one day each week to engage in collaborative, rather than individual planning.

Ø Parallel Scheduling - Schedule common preparation time by assigning the Specialists - Physical Education Teachers, Librarians, Music Teachers, Art Teachers, Instructional Technologists, Guidance Counselors, Foreign Language Teachers, etc. - to provide lessons to students across an entire grade level at the same time each day. The team should designate one day each week for collaborative planning. Some schools build back-to-back specials classes into the master schedule on each team's designated collaborative day, thus creating an extended block of time for the team to meet.

Ø Adjusted Start & End Time of Contractual Day - Members of a team, department or an entire faculty agree to start their workday early or extend their workday one day each week to gain collaborative team time. In exchange for adding time to one end of the workday, the teachers are compensated by getting the time back on the other end of that day. For example, on the first day of each school-week the entire staff of Adlai Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois begins their workday at 7:30 a.m., rather than the normal 7:45 a.m. start-time. From 7:30 - 8:30 am, the entire faculty engages in collaborative team meetings. Student arrival begins at 7:40 am, as usual, but the start of class is delayed from the normal 8:05 until 8:30. Students are supervised by administration and non-instructional staff in a variety of optional activities such as breakfast, library and computer research, open gym, study halls, and tutorials. To accommodate for the twenty-five minutes of lost instructional time, five minutes is trimmed from five of the eight fifty-minute class periods. The school day ends at the usual 3:25 p.m., buses run their regular routes, and Stevenson teachers are free to leave at 3:30 rather than the 3:45 time stipulated in their contract. By making these minor adjustments to the schedule on the first day of each week, the entire faculty is guaranteed an hour of collaborative planning to start each week, but their work day or work week has not been extended by a single minute.

Ø Shared Classes - Teachers across two different grade levels or courses combine their students into one class for instruction. While one teacher/team instructs the students during that period, the other team engages in collaborative work. The teams alternate instructing and collaborating to provide equity in learning time for students and teams. Some schools coordinate shared classes to ensure that older students adopt younger students and serve as literacy buddies, tutors and mentors.

Ø Group Activities/Events/Testing - teams of teachers coordinate activities that require supervision of students rather than instructional expertise (i.e. videos, resource lessons, read-alouds, assemblies, testing). Nonteaching staff supervise students while the teachers engage in team collaboration.

Ø Banking Time - Over a designated period of days, instructional minutes are extended beyond the required school day. After banking the desired number of minutes on designated days, the instructional day ends early to allow for faculty collaboration and student enrichment. In a middle school, for example, the traditional instructional day ended at 3:00 p.m.; students boarded buses at 3:20 and the teacher contractual day ended at 3:30. The faculty decided to extend the instructional day until 3:10 p.m. rather than 3:00 p.m. By teaching an extra ten minutes nine days in a row, they "bank" ninety minutes. On the tenth day, instruction stops at 1:30 and the entire faculty has collaborative team time for two hours. The students remain on campus and are engaged in clubs, enrichment activities, assemblies, etc. sponsored by a variety of parent/community partners and co-supervised by the school's non-teaching staff.

Ø In-Service/Faculty Meeting Time - Schedule extended time for teams to work together on staff development days and during faculty meeting time. Rather than requiring staff to attend a traditional whole staff inservice session or sit in a faculty meeting while directives and calendar items are read to highly educated professionals, shift the focus and use of these days/meetings so members of teams have extended time to learn with and from each other.

- Learning By Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many, Solution-Tree, 2006)

We, too, look forward to learning about other ways schools and districts around the world are making time for collaboration - please share!

Becky, Rick, & Bob

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How are other schools dealing with students who do not respond to interventions and celabrations? In our small middle school (140 students) teachers work with struggling students during an enhancement period twice a week but if students still have missing work by the end of the week they are referred to working lunch the following week. The number of students being referred to working lunch has decreased slightly but a handful of students are there every week. Students who do not complete their work after a week of help in working lunch and the two enhancement periods are assigned to an after school detention and the parent is notified. The third time a student is assigned working lunch a conference is set up with the parent, student, teacher, and principal. Still there does not seem to be a change and teachers are becoming very frustrated with this handful of students. We have celebrations every three weeks(open gym, games, movies, food, etc.) to reward students who have not been to working lunch or had a discipline referral but this handful of students don't seem to be interested. Has anyone found a successful way in reaching these students? Thanks,

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We rarely have trouble with our gifted students not learning what they are asked in our gifted program. We are process oriented not content. We address those situations individually. I would prefer that we spend our time on building a better program and not focusing on those that don't learn it. Are there schools that have structured their PLC time for gifted teachers in a bit of a different way? We only have the kids 3 hours week at the elementary level and are piloting increasing gifted teacher time at two schools next year. At those schools the g/t teachers will be working with teachers to help develop extensions for each grade level and to work with small groups of students with highly advanced skills in certain subject areas. I would love to hear from other districts and how they are fitting the PLC process and Gifted together. Thanks

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I am very interested in this sight and welcome the opportunity to read and learn. My associates and myself have begun to employ the Crevola/Hill model and follow Micheal Fulan's guidelines. Most of the blogs thus far seem to be submitted by our neighbours to the South - as a Canadian we have begun to embrace the importance of this collaboration of staff, but face some unique obstacles; one would be the means available to adminstration to alocate time within the instructional day; secondly although teaching preparation time might be ideal, the expectation for our Canadian teachers is that their planning periods of time are theirs to use as their professional judgement dictates. I would be interested in hearing some suggestions from Canadian colleagues and also insights from those outside of Canada. Learner

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Becky DuFour

In response to hhawkins

We consider the collaborative team to be the "engine" that drives the professional learning community's focus on the four critical questions of learning:

1. What are the essential learnings - skills, concepts and dispositions - each student should learn as a result of our course/subject in this grade level?

2. How will we know when each student has attained each essential learning?

3. How will we respond when a student doesn't learn?

4. How will we respond when they already know it?

The third question is everyone's responsibility and should not be delegated to one team of teacher's - especially a team composed of memebers who have no content in common. Here are several options for team structure that would allow you to engage in meaningful collaboration focused on student learning in your different areas of expertise/responsibility:

Job-Alike Teams. The best team structure is simple: a team of teachers who teach the same course or grade level. In your situation, this would likely need to happen at the district level. For example, all of the middle school computer teachers across the district could meet on a regular basis to clarify student learning outcomes in the area of technology; develop common assessment instruments (i.e. checklists, portfolios, rubrics) to monitor and report student progress toward achieving those outcomes; share instructional strategies & materials aligned with the outcomes, etc. (This same district level model could be used with each job-alike group of elective teachers.) These teachers have a natural common interest in exploring the critical questions of learning.

Vertical Teams. Vertical teams link teachers with those who teach content above or below their students. For example, a high school art teacher could work with your middle school art teacher to clarify the prerequisite skills students should have acquired as they enter the middle school art program. The K–12 vertical team format can be a powerful tool for strengthening the program of an entire district as members collaborate to:

  • Clarify a scope and sequence of essential outcomes for students in elementary, middle, and high school art/music/p.e. etc. classes,

  • Develop assessments for the students in each grade level

  • Analyze the results of each assessment

  • Offer suggestions for improving results

Each teacher would have the benefit of a critical group of friends and colleagues who could offer suggestions for improvement as the team examined indicators of student achievement. Furthermore, as teachers examine evidence indicating students are having difficulty in a particular skill in the grade level beyond the one they are teaching, they can make adjustments to their own instruction, pacing, and curriculum.

Electronic Teams. Proximity is not a prerequisite for a powerful collaborative team. Teachers can use technology to create powerful partnerships with colleagues across the district, the state, or the world. Several web sites have been created for the expressed purpose of bringing teachers together into electronic teams. Apple Computers offers www.isightEd.com, a site that provides educators and professionals with a forum to find each other, share ideas, and ask questions. Microsoft has partnered with the National Staff Development Council to create electronic teams of teachers. Open Text has created a division called “First Class” (www.firstclass.com) to create electronic partnerships between school districts, schools, and teachers in Canada and the United States. The College Board has created electronic discussion groups for each area of the Advanced Placement program along with sample syllabi, course descriptions, free-response questions, and tips for teaching the AP content. The fact that there is no teammate across the hall does not eliminate the possibility of powerful collaboration.

Logical Links. Specialist teachers can become members of grade level or course specific teams that are pursuing outcomes linked to their areas of expertise. A physical education teacher can join a sixth grade team in an effort to help students learn percentages. Each day he could help students learn to calculate the percentage of free throws they made in basketball or their batting averages. A music teacher we know joined the fourth grade team and wrote a musical based on key historical figures students were required to learn that year. A special education teacher joined a biology team because of the difficulties her students were experiencing in that course. She disaggregated the scores of special education students on each test and became a consultant to the team on supplementary materials, instructional strategies, and alternative assessments to help special education students achieve the intended outcomes of the course.

In short, teachers should be organized into structures that allow them to engage in meaningful collaboration that is beneficial to them and their students. The fundamental question in organizing teams is this: “Do the people on this team have a shared responsibility for responding to the critical questions in ways that enhance the learning of their students?” The effectiveness of any particular team structure will depend on the extent to which it supports teacher dialogue and action aligned with those questions. (Learning By Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work. DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many. Solution Tree, 2006)

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I am a doctoral student at Walden University, focusing on district-wide efforts to establish a full-functioning, sustainable PLC in every school in the district. While I know this has been accomplished, published research regarding such efforts is very rare. I look forward to reading the conversations on this website and gleaning information about how districts are succeeding in such efforts.

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I am a MS computer teacher and the facilitaor for our elective/expo (computers, art, pe, etc.) team of teachers. We are lost and have no direction. It has been suggested that we look into focusing on interventions. Who and where do we start.

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Becky DuFour

In response to phcurry

Our hopes for teachers in a Gifted Program include:

1. Collaboration with job-alike colleagues - other G&T Specialists across the district, for example - to clarify the four "Critical Questions of Learning" for each curricular area G&T Specialists are responsible for:
What is it we expect them to learn?
How will we know when they have learned it?
How will we respond when they don’t learn?
How will we respond when they already know it?

2.Collaboration with Classroom Teachers with whom G&T Specialists share responsibility students' learning.

Our hopes for students in a Gifted Program include:

Access to rigorous and challenging curriculum provided by both general education teachers and G&T Specialists -
If any student, G &T identified or general education, has already demonstrated mastery of essential learnings - – the critical skills, knowledge, and dispositions each student must acquire as a result of each course, grade level, and unit of instruction - the student's team/school should provide enrichment/extension that challenges those students to apply their skills at higher levels and expand their knowledge base.

Certainly, these enrichment lessons/units/programs can address gifts and talents beyond the core academic subjects, including the fine & performing arts, technical & vocational programs, physical education, etc.

In a PLC school, just as time is protected during the school day to provide intervention to students who are struggling, that same time can/should also be protected to enrich the learning for students who already know it.

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This is a reply to phcurry who asked about the 4th essential question, "How does a PLC respond to those students who have already learned?"

At San Clemente High School, in Southern California, we recognized that we had an under-served middle group of kids who were breezing through the curriculum and being unchallenged by their classes. Many students had the aptitude to go to a four year university right out of high school but shut the door for lack of wherewithal to prepare and rigor of schedule to qualify. We had/have a full offering of AP and IB courses and an inactive group of GATE/AAA students. In 1999 we gave just over 400 AP/IB exams with a pass rate of about 75%. The staff was frustrated because they knew there were hundreds more students “succeeding away” in general track courses (e.g., US History vs. AP US) and where being unchallenged.
Around 2001 the College Board (ETS) published a statistic that boasted that students who took at least one AP course in high school had an 80% more likely chance to graduated from a university. There was no mention of passing the exam; just experiencing the rigor of a college-like course was all that was necessary. At San Clemente High there existed a long standing practice of "Advisement Week” where a student picked what courses he or she would take the next year. Staff sat passively by to offer “advice” if asked. A staff member suggested that we “Stop Doing” (Collins) this practice and instead develop a process where students were “placed” in the courses the educators knew best suited that student. After all, the staff argued, who knows better? The student? Heck NO! A general track student will pick the path of least resistance every time. The parents? Some do, most do not. As well intentioned a parent is, they cannot have the perspective a teacher has from the daily interaction in an academic setting. Plus, most parents spend as little time with their teenage child as possible. As a pilot, the staff agreed to change “Advisement Week” to “Placement Week” and magic happened.
A process was put into place where teachers placed students into courses based on the mission to squeeze the middle and error on the side of opportunity. During “Placement Week” teachers had a conversation with each student at the computer and if the student demonstrated competency (defined as high B or A) at the perquisite course, the teacher congratulated the student for the hard work and typed in the course number for the next higher level course. The encouraging conversation may have been the value of the whole process and for the first time some unchallenged middle students were given a vote of confidence from the teachers they respected. Students who disagreed with the teachers placement, had the option to initiate a comprehensive process that included a conference with the teacher, the academic advisor, parent, and finally an assistant principal who made the decision after hearing all the facts.
In 2002-2003, San Clemente High School added 21 sections of AP courses and gave almost 600 more AP exams without significantly dropping the pass rate (it fell to 70% that year). In 2004-2005 students took 1300 exams (I’m not sure of the pass rate at this writing). Many staff believed that for as many years as the practice of “Advisement” existed, the school cheated hundreds of students who had the potential to be college bound. On the contrary, some staff believed that we were diluting the rigor of the AP curriculum because so many students with questionable academic aptitude were flooding in and forcing the courses to be taught differently. Regardless, the corollary outcome was that the staff was challenging basic status quo assumptions about the capacity of the student “in the middle” to learn and the underlying beliefs that San Clemente School held about learning for those who have already learned it. A simple change in practice is all it took and the results were dramatic.

George Knights
Assistant Principal
San Clemente High School 2001-2004

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Dr. William Newby is a professor at Cleveland State University and a former leader in the Shaker Heights, Ohio school district. Bill offered these observations about PLCs.

I retired from public school teaching and administration in 2001,
and I am now working at Cleveland State University, advising and
teaching in the College of Education.  I spent 31 of my professional
years at the renowed Shaker Heights High School, where I believe I
left a positive legacy of collaborative vision and practice.
However, despite my best efforts, and despite the good intentions
of most of my colleagues, our collaborative efforts never resulted
in the robust school improvements that I had hoped for.  My recent
exploration of Professional Learning Community concepts pulled into
focus why that was the case.

I have spent my entire professional career investing myself in
quality education and in attempts to create collaborative school
cultures.  But in retrospect, I realize the underlying concepts of
PLC - a commitment to learning for all students, meaningful
collaboration focused on student learning, clearly defined essential
outcomes to clarify the intended learning, frequent monitoring of
student learing, and use of evidence of student learning to foster
continuous improvement represent the essence of meaningful school
I believe the PLC model offers  the educational
community the greatest opportunity for institutional and
individual instructional improvement and for improved student
learning of any proposal I know of, and, therefore, I hope the
concept will continue to spread throughout schools and

Dr. Bill Newby

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I am very interested in how school districts are incorporating Question 4 in their PLC groups and would like to know how gifted programs that are not academically based are fitting all aspects of the PLC process. Any help?

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Austin Buffum

I am very excited about this great new opportunity to extend the work of schools and districts as they seek to increasingly operate as PLCs. As a PLC Associate, I have recently had the opportunity to work with many schools/districts throughout the United States and have been struck by the interest and passion they possess regarding PLCs. This blog has incredible potential for creating a larger "PLC" in which best practice and new ideas can be shared, and where questions can be addressed by the thousands of practitioners who are currently engaged in this work. I look forward to participating, and most importantly, to LEARNING!

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