Bill Hall

Bill Hall is former director of educational leadership and professional development for Brevard (Florida) Public Schools and past president of the Florida Association for Staff Development.

Creating and Supporting High-Performing PLCs: One District’s Journey

The state of Florida has 21 national model schools of PLCs at Work™ listed under the “PLC Locator” tab on the website.  20 of these 21 schools are located in one school district – Brevard Public Schools.

Recently, we had the opportunity to look at what these national model schools were doing to create successful cultures of collaboration focused on increased student achievement.  Although there are vast differences among these 20 schools – number of students, free and reduced lunch rates, demographics, levels (elementary, middle), etc., we identified commonalities that they shared.

Provide Strong, Visionary Leadership – Principals of PLC schools tend to be strong, visionary leaders who are dissatisfied with the status quo.  Creating a school culture of collaboration and a community of learners is not for the timid.  PLC leaders build the capacity for developing and sustaining leadership.  They surround themselves with a guiding coalition of like-minded professionals who share the work and help carry the leadership load of the school.

Create Collaborative Learning Teams – The engine that drives PLCs is the collaborative team.  All teachers must be put into these learning teams.  This component of creating a PLC is not optional, nor is it invitational.  It is expected.

Don’t Wait for 100% Buy-In – When teachers are put into teams, leaders do not delay the hard work that lies ahead while waiting for everyone to gather around the school’s flagpole to sing “Kumbaya”.  One principal of a national model school described building support this way, “Go with those who are on board with the concept.  Start somewhere and build your foundation with the people you have.  Momentum, excitement, interest, and improved results will follow.”  To quote the Nike Corporation – “Just Do It!”

Remove Barriers to Collaboration – Principals and guiding coalitions have an obligation to remove barriers to teachers collaborating in teams.  Removing barriers, providing resources, and giving support lead to higher levels of teacher empowerment and significant progress toward becoming a high–performing PLC.  Barriers to collaboration may include not providing teachers with protected time during the work day for teams to meet, administrators filling team meeting times with their own agendas and to-do lists, or holding unrealistic expectations of teams during the initial stages of implementation.

Make Informed Decisions Based on Data – One of the three Big Ideas of PLCs is a focus on results.  Making decisions based on data is paramount to moving schools from their current reality to becoming schools their stakeholders envision.  This data becomes the central focus of teams as they address the four fundamental learning questions.

Celebrate Individual and Team Efforts – The most high-leverage component to becoming a PLC, and perhaps the most ignored, is consistent and frequent recognition and celebration of the hard work spent to create a high-performing learning culture.  A principal of one of our schools working toward becoming a national model school said, “I am a data person.  I do not celebrate.  I do not have a celebratory bone in my body.”  My response to her was, “Data is extremely important, and your school is fortunate to have a leader who understands it and can use the information it provides to lead your school to higher levels of achievement.  Celebration is equally critical.  There are teachers on your staff whose talents and gifts lie in recognizing others and celebrating their efforts.  You may want to consider giving them the opportunity to shine in their area of expertise.  Let them help you.”  As Stephen Covey once asked, “Have you ever been so busy driving that you forgot to stop and get gas?”  Hard working teacher teams need to have their emotional tanks filled – frequently.

Provide District-Level Support – Finally, our schools take advantage of the district resources and support made available to them.  This school year, Brevard Public Schools has offered over 40 district-level and school-based PLC support sessions to principals, assistant principals, teacher leaders, and school teams.  These sessions have included many outstanding resources available through Solution Tree – e.g., Leadership in PLCs at Work, Collaborative Teams in PLCs at Work™, and The Journey to Becoming a Professional Learning Community™.  The impact of these resources has been significant in helping move teachers from isolation to collaboration.  District support is provided to school leadership teams and whole-school faculty teams.  This year, our mantra is, “We will meet anytime, anywhere, with anyone (regardless of the number) on the subject of PLCs.”

Our goal is to continue to support and sustain our current national model schools.  At the same time, we are providing substantial support and resources to help move our remaining schools along the way to becoming professional learning communities where everyone, students and staff alike, benefits from working together in the name of higher levels of learning.



To create a true professional learning community, school administrators must support and formally lead the journey. I know of no other way to do it. If that is not going to happen any time soon, it is my opinion that you do whatever you can to start creating a PLC culture "from the middle”. In other words, start somewhere with the hope that others will see the positive benefits and potential of implementing PLC concepts and strategies. From what you have described, it may well be an uphill battle; but you don't avoid taking the first steps just because you don't have administrative support and encouragement. Lack of administrative support should give you the green light to lead at the level where you are, where you have the most impact. Start changing the culture with like-minded professionals. Perhaps momentum will build and others will see the impact and difference.

I'm not sure you can really call anything a "PLC on a small scale" because the term "PLC" describes the schoolwide culture. What you would be doing if you struck out on your own with the core that are formally collaborating is working as a learning team or collaborative team. The collaborative team is THE essential element of a PLC. Waiting for a district-wide initiative may end up being wishful thinking; and even if such an initiative is created at the district level, it does not ensure your administration will still support or encourage your development school-wide or in a timely manner.

Yes, I believe culture does eat strategy for lunch! Becoming a PLC is all about culture. Your dedicated work within the culture you have described will create a "professional oasis" to which colleagues will flock. It is frustrating and demoralizing to be shackled by lack of support. The freedom comes when you control the environment within your circle of influence.

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Your comments describe barriers that many schools and school districts face across the country. You may wish to assemble an team of like-minded colleagues (including admnistration) to start looking at resources to help you get started. If this team will commit to learning together, you will gain traction and start moving in the right direction - be patient. As a team, look into some of the tools and resources found at and at

You may also wish to invest in sending a team to a PLC institute - see the Solution Tree website for this information. Each institute is a high-leverage activity where you are exposed to the PLC concepts and their implementation strategies in a short amount of time. The expertise available for advice and assitance and the networking opporuntities hold great potential for you and your team to get on solid ground to start your journey and start it in the right direction.

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With one exception, all schools listed in Florida are in our district. To address some of the unique questions that you have regarding size of school, rural area, etc., I recommend that you use the dropdown menus found in the PLC Locator on the website to locate national model schools that may be similar to yours. You can look at their Evidence of Effectiveness to read about strategies, ideas, best practices, etc. that may be helpful to you. You will also see contact information for those schools. I recommend you contact the schools and ask them how they addressed the very barriers facing you. Good luck!

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It's refreshing to hear so much positive discussion about PLC's. What we're finding in our middle school is that there is genuine interest among teachers who currently work together in teams to extend their collaboration to create a complete PLC model. However, the barriers seem enormous. We get very inconsistent messages from school administrators. In superficial discussions the formation of PLC's is encouraged and applauded. When the discussion turns to the level of administrative support for the time, effort and education necessary to properly prepare the stakeholders, we see those barriers more clearly.

We have been waiting for a district-wide initiative to green light the PLC initiative. Getting such a commitment through school administration has been so difficult that many interested teachers have lost their enthusiasm and fear that they will invest the effort only to have the administration change direction before the PLC had been fully implemented and begun to yield meaningful data. The concept of not waiting for 100% buy-in is compelling. There is a core of teachers that are formally collaborating already. Is it feasible to create a PLC on a small scale, control the immediate and foreseeable barriers, and collect meaningful data with the goal of demonstrating to school and district administrators the effectiveness of a PLC on such a scale?

In short, does culture eat strategy for lunch or can sound strategy change culture?

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My school district just started having time for PLC's this year. I feel like it is a great oppurtunity for the teachers in my school to get together and discuss how to improve student learning. Now that we have it started we are coming across with some problems. The main problem we have is with removing barriers. They have found 45 minutes every two weeks for us to meet during the school day with no students. This is not enough time. We can barely get anything going in 45 minutes and as soon as the time is up teachers get up and leave because they do not want to use non-contract time. Then we have to wait two weeks to get together again and finish the discussion. Another problem is the administration giving us things to do for them during this time so we really do not have time to focus on student learning like we need to. I know it takes time to get these things going like they should but I would love to hear how other districts have solved these problems so I can bring some ideas to my school.
Thank you for the help.

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At present I am a graduate student in the Master's program. My professor had this website on the list to "check out". I was wondering, it seems most of the PLC are in the southern portion of the state of Florida. I am in the North Central part of Florida. I have checked with some collegeaues about PLC and some like the idea but realize it is difficult in rural area schools with one teacher teaching one subject i.e. middle/high school students. In the middle school we gather together i.e. all the Social Studies teacher for grades 6-8 during our planning period and discuss problems, up and coming things, district needs, parent meetings and so forth. In this fashion the teachers are not isolated, and have others to assist or give ideas. We had a behavior problems with the sixth graders and gathered together, planed a positive behavior reward progam, and since implemented it has shown an improvement, slowly, but positive. Any suggestions?

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Your school may not be a PLC – yet; but as you indicated, by seeing the benefits of collaboration and by noticing the small, positive changes in your culture, your school is off to a great start!

I recommend you establish a guiding coalition to lead and support this initiative throughout your journey. You may want to consider investing in some of the Solution Tree tools and resources - many are free! A great outline of when to take what steps along the journey can be found in Solution Tree's "The Journey to Becoming a Professional Learning Community™" by Janel Keating, Robert Eaker, Richard DuFour, and Rebecca DuFour. This great tool reminds teams of the importance of developing a strong cultural foundation first and regularly celebrating team and individual efforts along the way before moving into the higher-level components of PLC cultures (e.g., developing collaborative teams, creating and using common formative assessments, etc.). The downfall of many struggling or unsuccessful PLCs has been starting with the more sophisticated, higher-level PLC concepts before teams have learned to work together. It is critical to develop and nurture relationships, trust, and communication before setting out on the more challenging aspects of the journey. Good luck!

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My school doesn't have a PLC, but there has been a school wide collaboration effort. We as teachers have become much better at our reflection process. Collaborating with one another has tremendously changed the way we reflect and improve our lessons. This blog has been very informative. These steps will definitely help the teachers at my school improve communication.

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You are correct - the evidence is clear and convincing - implementing PLC concepts does lead to teachers working together and helps create more positive and productive cultures of success. There is not one shred of evidence that teachers working in isolation is effective or best practice.

There is a fourth guiding question that can be added to the list - "How will we respond if the student already knows what we are about to teach?" We need to think about what enrichment strategies we will use for these students.

Solution Tree resources that we have found to be the most valuable in assisting our schools and school teams to become more collaborative are "Learning by Doing - Second Edition" and "Collaborative Teams in PLCs at Work." These two resources can provide the information, guidance, and tools to get your groups started on the proper path to becoming teams. If your school invests in the "Collaborative Teams in PLCs at Work" (DVD with facilitator's guide, transparency masters, and reproducibles), I would be happy to share with you the process guide and question supplement that I created so that your facilitator seamlessly can go through the DVD and participant materials, stop-and-start at the right places, and process questions. You may contact me at to request these two facilitator aids.

On another note, I am proud to write that this week our district added another school to our list of national model schools recognized in the PLC Locator - Westside Elementary School in Palm Bay, Florida. That makes 21 of our 86 schools (24%) that have reached this milestone. Westside was one of the schools that took advantage of several of the district’s PLC support sessions offered by our office this school year. The school had been implementing PLC concepts for a few years already and really kicked things up a notch this year.

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Having worked part time in Florida public schools, I was aware of the PLC meetings that were taking place. However, I was unsure of exactly what it entailed. I have also worked full time overseas in the middle east to experience the degree of teaching that takes place within the schools. Keeping in mind that each school is different, especially since I taught for a private school. I feel that at our school, we did not work collaboratively as a team to focus on our student's needs. I think that it is a great effort to work collaboratively to help teachers and students become effective learners. According to DuFour (2004) "Despite compelling evidence indicating that working collaboratively represents best practice, teachers in many schools continue to work in isolation" (p.8).

In addition, we must ask ourselves three questions to help drive us within a professional learning community: What do we want each student to learn?, How will we know when each student has learned from it?, and How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning? (DuFour, 2004). With these questions and the help of teachers working together, it helps drive students to success and school improvement.

DuFour, R. (2004). Schools as learning communities. Educational Leadership, 61(8), 6–11. Retrieved from

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What a great question! And, as professional developers, it is one we should be able to respond to with confidence.

This is my personal opinion, and I would love to hear from my Solution Tree Associates, as well. I view the funds spent on attending PLC summits and similar PD as an investment in creating a school culture that holds promise to achieving higher levels of student achievement and increases in the quality of teacher collaboration. The return on investment is substantial.

The process of becoming a PLC is difficult and time-consuming at best if school leaders and school teams try to make the journey on their own without resources, guidance, and support. Can these schools get there? Absolutely – over time. However, by sending school teams to an institute that provides concentrated information, motivation, and time for collegial planning and networking, interest and momentum can be achieved more smoothly.

In my personal experience, the best professional development has always been when, as a principal, I attended with staff members. Principals who attend institutes with a team have a better chance of effecting positive changes in their school cultures in a shorter length of time. Well-informed, motivated guiding coalitions can do amazing things to lead the PLC initiatives at their schools if they can start off on the right foot. The institute experience can provide the spark teams need to get started properly.

I’m not sure we can put a price on the effects of wasted meetings, on the results of teachers working in isolation, and on the impact of fragmented or toxic school cultures. But, it is my guess that it would be staggering – and shocking. Investing in creating cultures of excellence over the long haul far outweighs spending monies on programs or quick-fix remedies that are not sustainable.

If you are only two years into the process and your numbers have been positive, that is something to celebrate! This process does not happen overnight. It take a lot of time, hard work, and commitment – and according to our schools that are seeing success, it is worth it.

Best wishes to you. Stay the course.

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Dr. Corey Willenberg

One of the issues I am having, is that I have community members question the reasoning for spending money to send staff to PLC Summits. We are two years into the process, so our numbers have been positive but not huge. What things can I point to that will make sense for this community member on spending money on this type of professional development?

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When teams like yours finally see results of their work and realize the potential of the PLC process, momentum begins to build. It appears you are well on your way. Remember to celebrate your hard work!

As you mentioned, too many schools and districts get impatient in seeing results of collaboration and give up too soon - it takes time and commitment. Also, many schools believe they are working towards becoming a PLC when in reality they have not properly built the cultural foundation necessary for sustainability. They are coBLABorating not collaborating. After awhile, they give up and say things like, "Oh, we tried PLCs - they don't work." Sadly, what they attempted to implement were not true PLC concepts but PLC lite concepts. They move on to something else in hopes of creating an environment of professionals learning together. There is no shortcut.

You and your team are seeing the potential of properly implemented PLCs. Continue to focus on working as a team, and you’ll be amazed at the results of your efforts. Best wishes as you continue to work together for the benefit of the students you serve. It’s successes like yours that encourages others to look into the potential of PLCs.

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As a district and high school, we have just started the PLC teams this school year. six months into our PLC teams, we are finally seeing results in our conversations. As a math department, we have used common assessments for the past 10 years. We often come together to as a team to decipher our students learning on the common assessments. We take the time to look at every problem being asked of our students to solve, to see if there are problems with particular problems. We have even used our states WKCE test questions to decide what is missing in our teaching of our subject. We are now using our PLC time to focus on the College Readiness Standards for our students as they are taking the EXPLORE test, the PLAN test and the ACT test. As we begin our process, I hope we can stay with this idea for a long enough period that we will see results. Too often, our district has been known to switch to new programs every 2 - 3 years. I look forward to our PLC team time, when we are able to accomplish our goal of getting our students to find success in their future testing.

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