Richard DuFour

Richard DuFour, EdD, was a public school educator for 34 years. A prolific author and sought-after consultant, he is recognized as one of the leading authorities on helping school practitioners implement the PLC at Work™ process.

How Can Elective Teachers Participate in the PLC Process?

I received the following letter from the chairman of a Fine Arts Department. The question she raises is one facing all elective teachers:

“I have a question that I was hoping you could help me with. I am the department head for the fine arts department, and over the past 3 years we have had so much trouble doing our PLC. Our department is made up of 1 drama teacher, 1 band teacher, 1 broadcasting teacher, 1 choir teacher and 1 art teacher. We want to collaborate, and we want to share data and improve instruction but we can’t figure out what we have in common to look at and analyze. Do you have any insight you could give me on how we can be successful? This is my first year as department head, and in all years past it has felt more like co-blaboration instead of collaboration.”

Here is my response:

I think the best route for you to go is to use vertical teams with the junior highs or electronic teams. If the proximity of the schools does not allow for face-to-face meetings, use the technology that is available to you.For example, a band teacher at the high school has a vested interest in working with junior high band directors so that they can create a great band program. If the principals could coordinate their schedules, they could meet using the technology like Skype to agree on standards students should achieve at their various grade levels and how to assess whether or not their bands are achieving the standards. They could videotape performances or rehearsals to share with their teammates, jointly assess the strengths and weaknesses of the performance, and discuss ways to improve upon it. They could set SMART goals regarding the ratings their bands get in competitions or the number of students who qualify for distinction in the regional or state band, or the number of students who remain in band from 8th to 9th grade.

Art teachers could do the same. As you know, the College Board has established criteria for assessing the quality of student art work, and teachers submit digital portfolios of their students’ work for review and assessment. A high school and junior high art teacher could do the same, sharing digital pictures of their students work for review and discussion of how to help more students move to a higher level of production.

This vertical articulation should have the same expectations as teachers of the core curriculum. Teachers agree on what they want students to learn, agree on the standard of quality they seek, agree on the criteria they will use in assessing the quality of student work, practice applying the criteria until they can assess the same work consistently (inter-rater reliability), and then use the results (the evidence of student learning) to consider ways they can improve upon student performance. They should set SMART goals each year to help more students achieve at higher levels and they should establish norms about how they will work together.

If there is no teacher at the junior high who teaches a subject (like broadcasting) you should work with your teacher to find another teacher in the state to become an electronic teammate.

Finally, another strategy some schools have used  is to have the fine arts department coordinate a schoolwide program that will engage all students in the arts in a meaningful way. For example, they assume responsibility for all freshmen for a block of time (for example, one morning) to provide them with a program aimed at helping develop an awareness and appreciation of the arts. The program could have several components to provide students with some options. Students could be asked to provide feedback on the performance which could then be used to set goals for improvement of future performances. The freshmen teachers of other departments could use this morning for collaborative time. The next month the program could be sophomores, then juniors, etc.

These options require a lot of creativity from the teachers, but after all, that is what they are teaching.



I am an elementary art teacher in a large district. There are 5 other elementary art teachers. We only have sceduled time to meet about 3 times a year. I usually collaborate with the PE and music teachers that share the same buildings as me. Like you, we have different fields but share the same students and schedules. I often find that collaborating on classroom management and professionalism is more advantagous that subject matter.

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Staff at

Thanks for your question!

The best way to begin the Professional Learning Community process is to engage the professionals in learning. This initial learning should focus on what is a PLC, what are the questions that drive the work of a PLC, and how do we support people as they begin going about this work. There are a number of free tools on this website to help you with this. You could provide the staff with copies of the article, What is a Professional Learning Community. You could print off lists of researchers and organizations that endorse the PLC process. You could invite people to present evidence or research that runs contrary to the 3 Big Ideas of a PLC. You could bring staff to school that are operating as PLCs or conduct a conversation with and ask questions of the staff of those schools using the technology that is available to you. You could arrange for video conferences with PLC experts. You could purchase comprehensive books on the PLC process.

It is important, however, that you don't try to do all this by yourself. You should broach the idea with your principal and influential staff who might be open to the idea. It will take a collaborative effort to build a collaborative culture.

Good luck,

--Rick DuFour

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I am the only physical education teacher at my elementary school and am wondering if you could offer some feedback on PLC's and how it might be started at my school, etc...
I think this is an excellent chance to learn new, old, or more effective strategies in my setting.

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Thank you for this post. After reading it I did not feel alone anymore. I am the only Culinary Arts teacher in my district. It is difficult at times because there is no one you can communicate your ideas or problems with. Also the moral support from someone who understands your subject matter and other issues you may be going through are not there. I did try to reach out to teachers in nearby districts, but that was not successful. I am part of two professional organizations where I have met some very helpful and wonderful teachers however many of them are over 4 hours away! Even though we live in a very technological world, your idea of using it did not even occur to me. Using Skype as a tool for communication with other teachers is brilliant! Another way of using technology in my classroom would be through video recording. I have a very small lab area with large classes; video recording a lab and then sending it to other Culinary Art teachers for recommendations would be a very helpful.

As for school wide collaboration, I think that is an issue my school needs to work on. We do not have a sense of PLC, especially the core teachers with elective teachers. In my opinion my school needs to work on having everyone on the same page. The administrators need to conduct training sessions where core and elective teachers collaborate and understand each other. Core teachers at my school need to change their “Oh you’re just an elective teacher” attitude. Has anyone had this problem before? How can an elective teacher make this an important issue to the administrator in order for them to be proactive in changing the school’s dynamic?

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I appreciate this article and hope to make use of several of the ideas expressed in it, and the additional comments, in the future. At my school we have three 6-12 music teachers (chorus, orchestra, and band) and one K-5 general music teacher. We also have two K-12 art teachers. In the two-plus years that I have been there we have only really collaborated twice, once to create an all-school arts showcase and once to have a musical (Guys and Dolls). We have never discussed student achievement or standards, except to give some feedback to the K-12 music teacher when she asked if there was anything the students were lacking when they arrived at the middle school music programs.

I really like the video-taping suggestion and the idea of creating a "standard" assessment for music students - at least for the instrumental music students. All of our music teachers could easily be involved in the video-taped performance evaluation. With regard to the standard assessment, I think it would be fairly easy to select a number of scales and some basic sight-reading an instrumental student should be able to play, but I'm not certain how to incorporate the chorus students into the assessment. Does anyone have ideas of what could be included in an assessment for all of our music students, aside from music theory?

The problem we have at our school is that we have professional development only 3-4 times per year (in our building) and there is only time for departmental meetings on about half of the pro-dev days. Often our time, as music/arts teachers, is used to plan an event. I was lucky to be allowed to go observe a teacher from a neighboring district during our last professional development; It was a rewarding experience because the teacher I observed has been teaching for 15-20 years longer than I have.

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Thanks for the input and I think it is a great idea to implement the idea around a mission. I also like the thought to include parents. I appreciate your response and thoughts!

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I truly enjoyed reading this article. The suggestions offered for elective teachers were well thought out and simple enough to implement in a timely manner. In response to ZollingerJ, I feel that if you are interested in taking part in a PLC in your school community you should give it a try. I am willing to guess that there are at least a handful of other teachers in your building who would be willing to collaborate with you. They may just need a leader to guide them in the right direction. In my school, we have a program called Arts Alive where any faculty member and/or parent(s) are welcome to attend meetings. The meetings are focused around a mission of bringing the arts to the students in multiple ways. The program raises money for field trips, invites talents from all variations of the arts, and much more. The students receive great benefits as a result of the program. Best of luck with your endeavor!

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I really appreciate this post. I am currently reading information about Learning Communities and greatly want to implement the idea at the school I teach at. I am in a wonderful elementary school that is doing well on all state assessments and has a great intervention program for struggling students. The only time we get together as a school is once a month for a brief meeting to fill us in on the details of the school. We do not get any collaborating time, unless we would want to schedule it on our own time. I am for this idea and wouldn’t mind coming to school early to begin implementing a learning community program, but my school is filled with teachers that strictly obey the contract that our union has obtained. Many teachers get upset when anything more is asked of them. But I feel very isolated and want the wonderful interactions, ideas, and excitement that comes from working together. Where do I begin??
Any ideas??

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As the sole music teacher in my K-8 school, located in a large city, this was an extremely helpful blog entry. All too often, there is no meeting time or workshops provided for elective teachers in my district, and I'll often find myself longing to talk with other teachers who understand and live in my world. In particular, the suggestion of collaborating with teachers at the next level seems like it would be very beneficial, and I am currently attempting to establish a relationship with the music teacher at any of the high schools in my district.

In response to the original question, I can relate to the difficulty of finding common data to analyze between elective teachers. Our department has a physical education teacher, a computer science teacher, and a dance teacher, and we will meet once a month to at least touch base with one another. During these meetings we will discuss particular students with behavior or academic problems, and collaborate on methods that we can use as a group to help these students. We will also plan procedures and incentives that all four of us can use and work together on to show a more unified front and provide consistency to the students. The topics are often not related to content knowledge due to our diverse fields, but we discuss topics that are about classroom management & professionalism - topics that are still very important in our careers. Although our fields are not very similar, our jobs and schedules are, and often that in itself can provide enough for us to come together and learn something from each other.

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