Small School PLC Implementation

Posted by Robert Eaker and Rick and Becky DuFour


I am principal of a small school, with 1 or 2 teachers at each grade level.  The collegiality/cooperation in the school is nearly nonexistent. I buy into the whole idea behind PLC’s. My question--how can we accomplish this with such a small school, and with the disrespect and distance in some of the staff members?


1. Create a "Guiding Coalition" - convene a group of teachers from your school to help you lead this matter how good a leader is, no leader can "go it alone" when attempting to make significant structural & deep cultural changes.

2. Build Shared Knowledge about PLCs - that is, you and your guiding coalition should engage your staff in collective inquiry into both your school’s current reality (what does our hard & perceptual data tell us about ourselves) AND into "best-practice" (what are "improving schools doing that we’re not) This is addressed at length in the chapter on "building consensus" in our book latest book, Learning By Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many, Solution Tree, 2006)

You can also help your staff learn about PLCs by sharing and discussing articles (from; making site visits to PLC schools (see schools listed under "Evidence of Effectiveness" on the site); video conferencing with teachers in PLC schools (call Solution Tree at 800.733.6786 for more information); attend PLC institutes, summits, etc. (visit for a listing institutes and events)

3. Explore/Utilize PLC Resources:

Learning By Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work provides answers many of the questions you’re facing.  (i.e. how do I make this happen in a small school - what’s the best way to structure teams; how do I build consensus for these ideas; how do I deal with the people who still don’t want to change/implement new ideas & strategies; how do I sustain the change process...etc.)  We’ve also created a teacher Plan Book that helps to "guide" the team process (you can explore these & other resources at:

4. Network with other principals in small school settings:

Several of our PLC associates and schools included under Evidence of Effectiveness have implemented PLC practices in small school settings. Please explore the listings and feel free to contact the principals of those schools.  We also invite them and other blog readers to write in and offer insights, advice and support and you implement PLC practices in your small school setting.

As always, we look forward to learning with you,

Becky, Rick and Bob


Marco Alcivar

There are 4 ESL teachers at my school, I am one of them. We will start an ESL PLC (PLT in our district) and would like to know how to best implement it. So please any ESL teachers who work in a PLC school, I would greatly appreciate if you shared your experience. How to develop language and do rotations in the classroom which means you will have both native speakers and E.L.L. in your group?
Suggestions please.

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I am currently serving as a new member of our School Improvement Team. I am the only one that has had background in PLCs in my prior schools. Background of our district: we have 1 elementary, 1 middle school (6-8), and 1 high school, with 6 rural attendance schools. We are working on implementing PLCs, but the difficulty is with the rural schools and how do we get them to collaborate when they are miles apart and in different time zones as well.

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Thank you for addressing Small School PLC Implementation. We also have one or two on a grade level. We try to be effective but at times our meetings are not productive. I believe this is because our collaboration is limited to just two team members. Thank you for the creative ideas for making our meetings more effective. I wish we had video conferencing. I think this is a great way to initiate significant collaboration among a diverse group of members.

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3 R's

We strongly agree that electronic teaming for job-alike collaboration is your best option, in addition to Vertical team collaboration within the schools. For example, principals of two different schools with similar student populations could provide the electronic team members with a common block of protected time for collaboration each week and the technology to support that collaboration. If time and support are provided each team, we are certain the members can collaborate at high levels, focused on student learning. Obviously, the more teachers from different school sites you attempt to include in one team, the more challenging the scheduling becomes, so our advice is keep the team sizes small.

Please view the following blogs to assist you in your PLC efforts:"Team Structures" and the PLC small school blog and articles on the articles and resource page.

Best wishes as you lead and support this process for the educators in your division!

Becky, Rick, and Bob

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First off thank you for providing an interactive site. This is a much needed resource as we begin to implement PLC's in schools. As a leader within a school division of 40 schools, we are at various ends of the PLC spectrum.

In particular your definition of small schools, likely isn't the same as ours. We have K-12 schools of 80 students with teachers of mulitple grades. Vertical grouping has its advantages but most of these teachers crave to work with grade alike teachers. We are facilitating these as much as possible but distance is an issue. Some schools are using videoconferencing, wikis, email and other tools to support it but it's been challenging.

The conversation here does provide some insights and I'll point more and more to your site in order to see more deeply the ways in which PLC's can make a difference for kids.

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We have just started our PLC implementation at our small charter school serving grades 7-12 in an urban area. We are working on designing our pyramid of intervention, but are having trouble making progress due to the constraints of our school day. Our students commute to campus by bus, train, and car pool making before school study hall unreliable. They are in their academic classes from 8:30-2:00p.m. and then in their artistic conservatories from 2:15-4:45p.m. The long day and the schedules of the bus and trains make it difficult to alter our day further. We all sincerely want to set up a system to intervene with students who are struggling, but can't seem to find a way to make it work. We are hoping that someone who is not entrenched in our situation may have a clearer viewpoint and some suggestions for us as to how to do this. Help!

Thanks for your time and suggestions!

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Rick DuFour

To Michelle Herban:

I have no way of knowing how many schools in Michigan are embracing the concept of PLCs, although we have presented a number of workshops on the topic in the state in the past five years. I do know that Rick Repicky, superintendent of the Fraser School District tells me the Michigan Association of School Administrators has created a cadre of 25 superintendents in the state in a program they are calling the "Courageous Journey" who are exploring strategies to improve their districts, including implementing PLC concepts. In addition to Fraser schools, you could look at what is happening at Levey Middle School in Southfield, Walled Lake schools, Adams Middle School in Westland, and Northview High School in Grand Rapids. Many of the regional service centers might be able to tell you of schools in their areas that have moved forward.

In regards to your question about PLCs taking the place of North Central, I don't think that will happen. I do think, however, that a school that has followed the PLC process has everything it needs to submit to NCA for accreditation. They are very complementary processes. In fact, North Central has published a pamphlet endorsing the PLC concept and showing how it can be used to address the NCA process.

Hope this helps.
Best wishes,


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I couldn't agree more that you need a "guiding coalition" or core group of teachers who believe in the PLC concepts. When we started out, I took nine teachers to hear the DuFour's. Those nine teachers were the people who communicated informally and eventually formally to the rest of the staff in our planning year. We are not a small school, but you do need staff members to help you.

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My question is how many schools in the State of Michigan have currently embraced the concept of PLC's and is it logical for PLC's to take the place of NCA Accreditation work?

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I actually think you are in a great position as a small school. I am a relatively new principal (second year) in a small school and brought the PLC philosophies into the school. I started slow by purchasing the book "Getting Started" for all staff members which we all read and discussed in small book discussion groups at the end of last school year. I used this as my format to share what my beliefs were, and where I felt we should be as a school. We talked about the things that were already in place, and what needed to be done to help move things along. I completely changed the specials schedule to provide at least 4 days of common planning time for grade level teams, and in some cases five days. I also sent our school improvement committee (which I started) to a 2 day PLC inservice with the Defours. Everyone that went came back really excited about what they had heard and want to do more.

One of the things that I have tried to do is stay away from the acronym PLC, or talking about us as a professional learning community. I feel that the field of education has had too many "fads" come in and out and there is always an underlying feeling of "this too shall pass" when things come in as a program. I have stuck to the beleif that it is the philosophies found in PLC that we are adopting, not PLC itself.

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I am currently a 1/2 time Principal and 1/2 time Title I teacher in a small N. Michigan school. We have begun the process of implementing PLC's within our school community. Getting everyone to buy in has been good for the most part, but we still have a long ways to go. Four of our teaching staff and one para-professional are currently taking the class. We have created an opportunity for grade level collaborations, but as the school year winds down, those have becme less and less. We also have some single grade levels and getting staff to think vertically for collaboration has been tough. Sometimes getting past personalities and styles of teaching makes things difficult too. I am encouraged by the things we have implemented such as study buddies on Tues./Thus. that enable students to do make-up work, or finish classwork that wasn't done in a timely fashion during the alloted time. We also have lunch bunch M-F with certified staff 3 of those days. Students have a working lunch and can receive help in various areas. We also made it manditory for students to attend if their make-up work from an abseces did not return the following day. What we need to do is figure out a way to track how effective this practice is and what we need to do to "teek" it to make it more effective. I do know it has helped with the reduction of missing assignments for grade.

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Create the Guiding Coalition is what we have attemped to do at our small school. A few teachers have "stepped up to the plate" and have become involved in the PLC movement. We collectively have come from a small school with one grade per class and have lead the charge with PLC's involving reluctant teachers into collaborating for the benefit of all our student learners.
Our administrator has built in time for teachers to collaborate in the beginning of the day when teachers are freshly rested, rejuvenated and alert to focus on the task of collaboration. This approach is much more powerful and positive because traditional times to collaborate have been at the end of the day when teachers have used all their energies on instruction, classroom management and the day to day teaching responsibilities. Our administrator utilizes itinerant staff i.e. P.E. teachers, music and art teachers as well as Special Ed. and Title teachers to provide instruction and/or classroom management in the general ed. classrooms. The silver lining here is the district doesn't incur cost by having to provide substitue teachers to cover the general ed. classes. By doing this, for example, the 1st and 2nd grade teachers can meet to discuss and /or analyze data or curriculum without being tired from the teaching day or interupted by students or other teachers.
With persistence and positive support from the administation and the core group of PLC leaders the entire staff will begin to appreciate the PLC movement.

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I also teach at a small school located in Northern Michigan. Our school has a high amount of students on free/reduced lunch and many at-risk students. We currently have 6 staff members, including our principal, who have been taking the PLC class and trying to get a PLC model started in our school. The biggest problem we face is creating the time to collaborate. We have utilized our special education and title 1 teachers to go into classrooms to free up our classroom teachers so that we can collaborate in teams of 2, but we don't have enough staff for everyone to be involved in this collaboration as much as we would like to. The areas that we have made progress in are utilizing our special teachers (Gym, art, and music teachers) to help tutor students during lunch recess which we call "Lunch Bunch" and during afternoon recess which we call "Study Buddies." Students go to our "intervention" room to get help on work if they have been absent, have a lot of missing work, haven't utilized class time effectively,or just need more time to finish. At first the students were very reluctant, especially knowing they were giving up their recess time, but now some students actually ask me if they can go to lunch bunch to get caught up on their work. I have seen a reduction in the number of missing assignments since we implemented Lunch Bunch and Study Buddies. Another strength is that we have some solid district assessments in place, but we need to spend more time collaboratively analyzing our assessment results and use this data to drive our teaching. Our principal has daily announcements and often reminds the students on the intercom the following message: "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail." I believe that when students understand this and we create a collaborative culture we will guide more students to success.

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I also teach in a small school with only 1 or 2 teachers per grade level. When we started meeting and embracing the PLC concept we had some teachers who fought the idea and put the idea down. However, our core group believed in what we were doing and continued on. If you can find one or two of your teachers who are excited about this, their enthusiasm can be contagious. If you can't, make sure you are excited and try to start small. Find a common goal that you can get some staff members behind and use that as your jumping off point. You could try having a meeting time once every other week to begin and try to find a time that doesn't require them to give up planning time. This will help with having more people buy in.

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Randy Squier

Our school district is facing the same challenges. We generally have 1 teacher per subject in grades 5-12; with 4 teachers per grade K-4. We have created teacher teams, by grade level, PK-4 and subject area gradew 5-8 and 9-12. Each month they are able to meet twice during our professional learning period ( a forty-minute block of time all teachers have at the end of the day). We have followed the following approach. This year, the administration team has modeled how to set norms, create SMART goals, create a list of the 12 most essential outcomes. We have given the teams time to do the same. We have shared the products with everyone, all staff and our Board. None are perfect, but that was not the point. The idea is to change behaviors, by having them behave like a PLC. WE hope to review all the teacher team goals in a month and set the tone for next year. Next year we plan to use our essential outcomes to set criteria and begin a seroius conversation about assessments-formative in particular. We expect this to be emotional as the conversation moves towards grading. This may be accelerated since we begin parent access to student grades next year as well. One other note, we put aside a day during our PLP at the end of each month as Celebrate Day. A chance to allow teachers to update eveyone on professional learning they have finished or are doing, and student successes. Our principals use this time to build trust and develop a culture where its okay to stand out--something that has been frowned upon by many of our teachers.
It's a start and we have a long way to go. Our BOE is supportive and we have 10% of our faculty making up our PLC group that has become an advisor group to help teachers understand PLC concepts. This group will grow next year as well. I, as superintendent am helping our BOCES set up regional teacher share days; hopefully once per semester, since most scohols in our region are the same size.

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The outline presented here for developing PLC's in your small school community isn't all that different from the model for a larger district. From my perspective the success of your PLC's lies in the groundwork laid by the "Guiding Coalition" and the establishment of community. Teaching your staff to let go of the disrespect and distance will only be achieved by the modeling of such by the leader. A tall task for a position that has many responsibilities. That is a tiny step towards our ultimate goal of improving student achievement. Also, accepting that everyone may not "buy in", but the core staff may only listen first before they are ready to "let it go and move forward". But if that's what is modeled to them, shown respect and distance narrowed, they ware more likely to come around. Start slowly, and celebrate tiny accomplishments!

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