Lillie G. Jessie

Lillie G. Jessie, an author and a consultant, is the former award-winning principal of Elizabeth Vaughan Elementary School, a high minority, highly diverse, Title I school in Woodbridge, Virginia. She is currently the CEO of High Expectation Learning Institute.

Creating Buy-In for PLCs

It is not unusual to have persons excited about the professional learning community concept but express concern that others will not “buy-in.” Educators not buying into research-based strategies are pervasive, according to Dr. John Hattie (2009). He says, “We have a rich research base . . . but rarely is it used.”  Ronald Ferguson (2010) calls it an “Implementation problem.” When buy-in does not occur, many make the mistake of waiting for it to arrive before taking action.  Many express concern that a lack of participation by all staff members will result in an even more toxic culture than the existing one.  Principals sometimes say, “My staff is not ready for this yet.”  The research shows that some may never be ready.

Dr. Rick DuFour recognized the challenge of creating a change culture as early as 1998.  He reminded us of the need to embrace the “soft” and “touchy” side of leadership if we were serious about sustainability of high performance.  He and other researchers warned us of the mistake we make when we “overlook the importance of appealing to basic needs of achievement, belonging, and significance.”

These observations were confirmed in my school’s PLC journey.  For me there was always an unwritten "P" in PLC.  That "P" represented “People.”  Presenters of new ideas have to be able to change the hearts and minds of people. One slide presentation to a staff will not suffice. I define leadership as, “The ability to get people to do what they would not normally do.” This requires an enormous amount of self-reflection and analysis of how other people think and “feel.”  I am astonished at both the large size and emotional responses of audiences to my celebration of learning sessions. Both confirmed the need for my personal, daily mantra, which continues to be, People are not moved by facts; they are moved by emotions!

The “Why” of Lack of Buy-in

  1. Lack of collective self-efficacy: Lack of belief that the students can achieve any higher than they have already demonstrated; therefore, there is no need to change current practices (Howard, 2007). Some honestly think they and the students are doing the “best that they of capable of doing.” This is another paper in itself.
  2. Lack of visionary, mission-based leadership: Lack of urgency occurs when teachers believe that the principal tepidly supports the initiative and will not follow up.
  3. Lack of recognition for short-term wins, replaced with annual public humiliation (We’ve gotta do better or else!) when standards are not met.
  4. Lack of a visionary guiding coalition
  5. Too many conflicting initiatives

Research-Based Solutions That Worked for Me

  1. Develop an efficacious culture: Let your staff see successful achievements of students and teachers similar to their demographics (site visits, PLC institutes, videos, book sharing or outside presenters).
  2. Develop and “market” a personal vision that is outrageously contagious! Buyers have to be sold on an idea, so sell it!
  3. Connect short-term wins to your mission and vision. Nothing happens until people are having fun! Celebrate students and staff publicly and frequently (Jessie, 2011).
  4. Select and give authorship to a coalition that shares the vision. Too manyFundamentalists” (Muhammad, 2009) or “No-No Birds” (Kotter, 2008) will drive your coalition bus into a ditch. Doug Reeves’ admonition “Action precedes belief,” works! If the destination is fun few will want to be left at the station.
  5. My suggested annual monitoring framework
    1. Keep what works
    2. Tweak what needs modification
    3. Seek new strategies when something does not work
    4. Delete what is not working (Reeves, 2009)


DuFour, R. (1998). You won’t find this on any checklist. Journal of Staff Development , 19 (2), 1-2.

Ferguson, R. F. (2010). Toward excellence with equity: An emerging vision for closing the achievement gap. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London and New York, England & NY: Routeledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Howard, J. (2007, November). Whose children are these? Retrieved October 9, 2011, from

Jessie, L. G. (2011). A celebration of learning: Nothing happens until people are having fun. Bloomington, IN.

Kotter, J. (2008). A sense of urgency. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Muhammad, A. (2009). Transforming school culture: How to overcome staff division. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Reeves, D. B. (2009). Leading change in your school: How to conquer myths, build commitment, and get results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


Dee Dee Stagman

We also have some issues with the buy-in of PLCs at our school, mainly with you point regarding the fact that teachers think the students are doing "fine," so why change? We have a new leader beginning next year, who has already taken a similar stance regarding a few of the solutions that you mentioned here. I would like to share this article with my team. Thank you!

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I find your article to be very informative. I have worked at two different schools: one that loyally supported PLC's and now a school that is beginning their PLC journey. Many of the middle school teachers are not "buying in" to the idea of PLCs. They believe that it takes time away from their planning. I have seen the power that collaboration can bring! As a school, we had a professional development day devoted to PLCs. However, some middle school teachers believe that it is more suited for elementary level. I plan on sharing this article with some of my colleagues in hopes that they will recognize the importance of working together as a staff! Any other suggestions of how to motivate my colleagues to participate in PLCs? Thank you!

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We have been entrenched in PLC for the past four years. The hardest part of the transition was teacher buy-in. Many teachers on out staff were cautious about giving up time and control when it came to their teaching. I have to admit I was one of those teachers. I've come around. I still struggle with the fact that some of my fellow teachers do not see teaching as a journey. We get so caught up in the now, that long term goals get overlooked. Student achievement should always be the goal, not personal achievement.

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As I am new to the concept of PLCs and do believe such networking would be of great benefit to my colleagues and myself. I will definitely seek to get my coworkers participating in a school base PLC. Thanks for the article.

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Like you, Allison, my school also struggles with quality PLCs. Although there is weekly time, set aside for this endeavor, the time is not usually focused on learning, collaboration and student improvement. Rather time is spent on discipline issues, social concerns or upcoming holiday events/field trips. Since there is limited buy in, many teachers prefer to return to their rooms, close the door and continue working alone. I found Lillie’s suggestions helpful though and plan to discuss them with my principal and fellow team mates, at our upcoming restructuring meeting.

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I too have this issue at my school. There is a big problem with buying into the benefits of PLCs. We are encouraged to bring our own issues to the table that we would like to talk about to better the growth of our students, however our topic is generally picked for us. We collect so much data about the standards we find important, but when it comes to getting new ideas to fix the problems, we are left high and dry. The meeting tends to be a complaining session about how we don't have time to complete different tasks and collect more data. I really enjoy the idea of PLCs and find the benefit of it, but I am but one person in a school of many. I also feel like the principal sees it as a meeting to tell us what she wants us to do. I am stuck at a school full of "new-school" teachers (who adopts this network fully) and "old-school" teachers who find the task daunting. My biggest question is how to tackle this issue when I am looked at as a new teacher with little experience?

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Lillie Jessie

Your group of 5-10 will at as the catalyst. I work on the premise that people have a what's in it for me. You sell what you want them to buy. The schedule for example. What's in it for the majority. How will it make their lives better? I implemented the elementary block schedule by showing them how such a schedule provided them with the time for collaboration and planning, and time for remediation and enrichment. They loved the idea that that that time was being held sacred.
What it allowed for me was a time to meet with them, once a week to discuss data, assessments, curriculum, school-wide and grade level planning, etc. We both profited from it. If you are the principal, remember it works better when a combination of the team and principal present jointly. Teachers respond to their peers, but they want to know you are speaking as one voice. Having their peers as presenters gives them the comfort of knowing they were represented.

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I just blogged about this, citing this post. I feel like the buy-in tight rope is a tricky walk that I have yet to see be modeled successfully by a boss of mine. I feel I'm working with a group on changing the structure of the school day that will be successful, but it's in the uber-infancy stages right now. The vision is great. How will buy-in beyond our group of 5-10 go? This is what scares me as a prospective do you make it work in the long run?

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