Rebecca DuFour

Rebecca DuFour brought over thirty-six years of professional experience to her work as an educational consultant, having served as a teacher, school administrator, and central office coordinator. She was co-author of twelve books and numerous articles on the topic of Professional Learning Communities at Work™.

Team Structure in PLC

We have heard the concern expressed that the PLC concept only allows for course-specific teams at the middle and high school level or grade-level teams at the elementary level.  This is not the case. Adlai Stevenson High School, a national model of a PLC, had a variety of interdisciplinary, vertical, and even electronic teams included in its structure. The critical issue is not the structure of a group. The critical issues are:

  • Are the people in the group truly functioning as a team and
  • Do they do what teams do in a PLC?

A team is a group of people working interdependently to achieve common, specific, results-oriented goals for which members are mutually accountable.

In a PLC this means that people work together to focus on those questions that have the greatest impact on student learning:

  • What knowledge, skills, and dispositions do we want our students to acquire in this course/subject this semester and this unit,
  • How will we know our students are acquiring these essential learnings;
  • How will we respond individually and collectively for those experiencing difficulty in learning,
  • How will we enrich and extend the learning for students who are capable of moving further, and
  • How can we use the evidence of student learning to inform and improve our practice.

If people do not have a common goal, if they do not work interdependently, if they are not mutually accountable, they are not a collaborative team. If they do not focus on the issues presented above, they are not “co-laboring” in the right areas.  Getting together to discuss student behavior or creating book clubs to discuss common reading is not creating a collaborative team.

From time to time, a group of interested people come together at Stevenson High School to examine a schoolwide issue (i.e. grading practices or meeting the needs of students assigned to the lowest tracks in the curriculum).  They build shared knowledge regarding 1) the current reality of the issue and 2) best practices for addressing the issue found in research and exemplary models.  They make recommendations to the rest of the staff, build consensus for their recommendations, and ultimately call for a decision to be made regarding the issue. These groups represent task forces rather than teams.

Once the members of a task force help the staff build shared knowledge about the issue, make their recommendations, build consensus for their recommendations, and assist in overseeing the implementation of the decision, their task is complete and they disband. Task forces make significant contributions to the school, and we advocate their use, but they serve a very different purpose than do the collaborative teams.

Collaborative teams are the fundamental building blocks of a PLC — the engine that drives continuous improvement — and therefore they meet continuously (weekly at minimum) and stay focused on the critical questions of learning.  When organizing teams, ask:  "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?"

Possible team structures focused on student learning include:

  • Grade-level teams — all teachers teaching the same grade level
  • Course/content teams — all teachers teaching the same course
  • Vertical teams — K-2/3-5 or French I - IV
  • Electronic teams — job-alike teachers in different schools us technology to engage in meaningful collaboration.  The following websites have been created to assist educators in finding electronic teammates:
    3.  (Microsoft partnership)
  • Interdisciplinary teams — members from multiple courses are mutually accountable for an over-arching academic common goal (i.e. improve student proficiency in non-fiction writing across the curriculum)
  • District or regional job-alike teams — i.e., all elementary music teachers from across the district collaborate about student learning in music
  • Similar-responsibility teams — i.e., general education and special education teachers meet regularly because they share responsibility for the learning of a group of students


Staff at

I have a principal of a school that has 450 students: HS - 250; and MS - 200.

Does anyone have a school similar in size that is successfully using the PLC concept?

The principal says he has several "singleton" teachers and needs assistance.

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As Coordinator of Gifted Education for the Camdenton R-III School District (Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri) - I am seeking information regarding contacts and potential districts for site-visits, on behalf of any and all kids who "already know what we're prepared to teach..."
I fully recognize that it is not merely the gifted child who often brings mastery to the classroom during any given learning activity.

As a PLC District, we are fully committed to providing opportunities for all of our students to be stretched and to have opportunity to experience learning daily. While we feel well-trained, ready, and committed to systematic design and provision of interventions, we are in the foundational stages of designing a structure for similar applications of learning-extensions.

Any direction, insight and/or input is truly appreciated. I look forward to growing our program as a Professional Learning Community and to sharing with you and the Solution Tree cadre, our experiences and successes with students.

Shelley Creed
Camdenton, MO

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3 R's

Thanks for the feedback, Peter. Best wishes this school year - please keep us informed of your PLC progress this year!

Becky, Rick, and Bob

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3 R's


Thanks for sharing this excellent information. We know your district is embracing and implementing PLC best practices; the daily process for monitoring student learning promoted by Wiliam and Thompson is certainly part of the research base we advocate.

Please keep us informed of the progress and PLC lessons learned in Chico this school year!

Best Wishes,
Becky, Rick, and Bob

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3 R's

Hi Joe,

At Adlai Stevenson High School - one of several high schools highlighted on this site under "Evidence of Effectiveness" - the student support team members (counselor, dean, and social worker) are highly involved in the school-wide collaboration focused on learning. They meet weekly to review student progress reports and other relevant information in order to make decisions about moving students up and down the pyramid of interventions. in. To learn more about Stevenson's approach you can read Chapters 3 & 4 in our book, Whatever It Takes: How Professional learning Communities Respond When Kids Dont' Learn (DuFour, Dufour, Eaker, Karhanek, 2004) Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree

We also encourge you to read about the other high schools posted under Evidence of Effectiveness on this site and contact their principals for more information. Like you, we look forward to hearing from other high school educators regarding their answers to your question.

Thanks for exploring PLC concepts with us!
Becky, Rick, and Bob

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Joe Wilson

Is anyone successfully implementing PLC's with high school counselors/student support teams? If so I would like to learn who and how.

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While each of the questions that a collaborative team focuses on "to have the greatest impact on student learning" are critical, my comments are directed to #5, "how can we use the evidence of student learning to inform and improve our practice."

This is where the work of Dylan Wiliam and Marnie Thompson is so useful. While common formative assessments provide critical information to collaborative teams, they generally do not provide it on a minute to minute, day to day basis. Wiliam and Thompson's research has provided us with instructional practice that focuses on the minute to minute, day to day assessment. These instructional techniques provide immediate "evidence of student learning", evidence that allows teachers to adjust instruction to meet the learning needs of their students in the moment.

The two comprehensive high schools have several teachers, across disciplines, who have taken the "Keeping Learning on Track" workshop and done some follow-up work with both Dylan Wiliam and Marnie Thompson. Wiliam and Thompson recognize, as do so many, the importance of productive and embedded collaboration, and insist that teachers be in a learning team where they are supportive of and accountable to each other in the implementation of these instructional practices.

Just this year, we changed our schedules to allow for collaboration within the work day, focused around course alike groups. We were concerned that the momentum we have established for embedding minute to minute instructional practice in assessment might be compromised. Indeed, the integration of the professional learning community model and the "teacher learning team" model of minute to minute formative assessment is a challenge.

This year, we will keep the focus of our embedded collaboration on the course alike groups with the goal of teacher driven common formative assessments central to our work. We have already noticed that the cadre of teachers who had training in the minute to minute assessment are bringing their knowledge to the course alike groups they are in. We also know that a great many of our course-alike groups will not have a teachers trained in this kind of assessment.

Because the minute to minute informs the common formative assessment, teachers have committed to continue in teams devoted to the integration of those practices, but they will meet outside the school day and once a month. They have also invited new teachers to join their teams. We are trying to work towards a tipping point, when enough teachers will be using this kind of assessment instruction so that they can bring this practice to their course alike collaborative groups.

Of course, sustainability is one of our greatest challenges, and in this case, we are reminded just how critical passion and persistence are to our efforts.


Eric Nilsson
Chico and Pleasant Valley High Schools
Chico, California

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Rick, Bob, and Becky

This sounds like a wonderful plan to help teachers and students across your region - please keep us informed of your implementation progress! As the job-alike teams and the department teams work to clarify essential outcomes, etc. you could create a website/blackboard for teachers to access to see what other teams are doing, ask questions, provide feedback, etc. Once the teams begin to generate common assessments, sample assessment items, rubrics, etc. can also be posted as models/exemplars for teams to use and build upon.
Congratulations on creating a regional system and for providing the precious resource of collaborative time to your teachers
Becky, Rick and Bob

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I'm thrilled to see this post! I am an instructional supervisor assigned to work in three elementary schools in Maryland. PLC's have become a norm in two of the three schools in which I work. We have put some innovative structures in place to facilitate PLC's, and have seen incredible growth in the implementation in just one year (as measured by the PLCA (Huffman & Hipp, 2003). In these schools we not only have grade level teams (the foundation of all our PLC work), but we also have vertical teams and job-alike teams as well as a powerful accountability loop for PLC's that is integrated into the school improvement process. It's exciting stuff! :)

One thing I've noticed in this journey is the power of teams. They either make or break the process. It's really the foundation point of establishing high functioning PLC's.

I am in the process of embedding the aforementioned successful PLC structures into the everyday culture of a building full of people who are quite veteran at the art of teaching. Their practices, however, are antiquated.

I conducted a team facilitation session on how to facilitate effective PLC's last Monday and it was a huge hit! We have found that, as administrators and support staff, facilitating teams with the PLC process at the initial stages of inception has helped tremendously with school and staff buy in. It truly shows that we're all in the learning thing together!

Thanks again for the site and the opportunity to share. I'm in the process of completing my dissertation about how to establish PLC's at the school level. It truly is, as you say Dr. DuFour, the hope of our schools!

~Peter Carpenter

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Randy Squier

As a small rural district we are attempting to schedule regional days (16 districts) for content area teachers to meet and share ideas on essential outcomes, and how they use assessments to inform instruction. This is critical since many of our school districts, ours included, have one teacher teaching a specific course. We are hopeful these meetings create local electronic teams so all the American history teachers in our 3 county region can share best practices. In the meantime, our school will be having each department clarify essential outcomes, develop formative assessments and clarify how we will repond even quicker when kids do not learn. We feel for example the global history teacher can provide valuable input to the American history teacher in the formating of assessments and looking at student work--common criteria for essays and answering DBQ's
We are excited about the work ahead and have seen some early victories at our middle level as techers began last year to clarify what was essential.

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