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.

We’re Already a “Good” School; Why Do We Need to Improve?

I recently engaged in a spirited discussion with a high school faculty that was balking at the idea of the implementing PLC concepts. Two of their concerns were: 1) “It is an affront to our honor to suggest that we should consider ways to improve when we are already a ‘good’ school” and 2) “This proposal is coming from the central office and we resent top-down intrusion into our school.

I found the reaction puzzling. Jim Collins’ observation that “good is the enemy of great” has become something of a cliche. Certainly any organization that is to sustain its effectiveness over time must engage in ongoing processes of continuous improvement. Even more certainly, a school that claims its fundamental purpose is to ensure high levels of learning for all students should search for more effective practices if even some of its students were being unsuccessful.

I’m reminded of the Dr. Seuss book Horton Hatches the Egg, in which Horton asserts the refrain, “An elephant’s faithful —100 percent.” Regardless of how “ good” a faculty may consider its school, for the parent whose child does not learn, the school has failed the child — 100 percent. When the staff in this school acknowledged that not all their students were being successful, I asked them to clarify at what point the failure of its students would warrant considering more effective strategies. Put another way, what would the level of failure have to reach in order to cause them discomfort.

Those who work in a high-performing PLC, where continuous improvement is deeply embedded into the culture of their school, where every team establishes and purses SMART goals to raise student achievement every year, would be puzzled by the adverse reaction to the suggestion that a staff might explore ways to be more effective.

I’m also puzzled by the visceral opposition to explore PLCs because the proposal came from the central office. I suggest that an institution committed to collective inquiry into best practice would be more attentive to the quality of ideas rather than the direction from which they came. I am certain of the quality of the PLC concepts because I have seen the impact that they have upon students and faculty alike. I contend educators should examine those ideas for their potential merits and worry less about the messenger.

There is nothing theoretical about PLCs for me. I worked in Adlai Stevenson High School — a school that put PLC concepts into place and has continued to improve upon them for over two decades. I would contend that the teachers at that school feel more fulfilled, more rewarded, and more effective than teachers in traditional schools. A number of books have been written about the school (see Joan Richardson, Mike Schmoker, Tom Sergiovanni, Terry Deal, Thomas Lickona) and they invariably report on the enthusiasm, professionalism, and high morale of the faculty. If PLC concepts inevitably carry the dire consequences some educators predict, I question why the teachers who have actually implemented the concepts have failed to discover those consequences over twenty years.



I have been able to work through a lot of resistance over the years as we slowly integrated PLC concepts into our school culture. The problem I am facing now is the teachers are feeling overwhelemed with the changes we have put into place...from block scheduling and the addition of advisory, team planning, Pyramids of Intervention, teacher study groups and more. As much as teachers enjoy the benefits of these intiatives and see the positive impact they have had on student achievement, they expect me to slow down and take a break. I am contiuously seeking ways to improve, and am having trouble determining whether or not to contiue to forge ahead or to stop and breath. I only see one additional structural change that needs to occur to make the improvements we have made even stronger, but many (uninformed) staff members are already bucking the last change...just because its another change. Any suggestions?


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theresa grywalski

I need to help my arts teachers k-12 see the value of PLC's and during the workshop I attended the focus was on subjects where children are not being successful. In the arts children often find success and so the primary premise of the PLC seems to not fit as nicely as in other areas. Could you please direct me to specific blog entries that deal with how to use plc's in the arts effectively.Many thanks. Theresa Grywalski

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I share in the spirit of your reaction/response to an all too common resistance to change. Your anecdote serves to remind us that personal leadership and a commitment to continued improvement must come before all external stimuli demanding the same from a collective.

Your citation of "Good is the enemy of the great" from Collins moved me to research the origin of the quotation. It was Voltaire who is commonly credited with offering one of the first known sentiments translated to be the Great is the enemy of the good. There is a French proverb, "Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien." I draw your attention to this because while Collins is clearly highlighting the need for continuous improvement among good organizations, many interpret the proverb to mean "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Striving for perfection may indeed slow down progress. I suspect your teachers held tightly to the latter interpretation.

The question remains how do we effectively move away from professional complacency while not throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater? In "good" communities and organizations, some things have been working and working well. But, as you point out, if the good system fails one child, there is a clear need for improvement. How will the two interpretations/paradigms meet to stimulate effective improvement?

The efficient/effective dichotomy is a tough one to wrap our arms around. Continual improvement is not likely valued by those who reside in the efficient camp. If it is not a personal value, it can never be a shared one. How does one share what one does not possess?

If we are to see the full potential of the PLC come to fruition, we must first begin with the self, and then align with those who are of like mind when it comes to continual improvement.

My final response is in regards to your question about the level of discomfort that must be experienced by the teacher before the need to change is actualized. If one failing student does not make them uncomfortable, then no greater number will ever serve the cause. They likely will never experience discomfort. After all, they are "good enough." They'll never give that up without first realizing they are not.

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