Julie Schmidt

Julie A. Schmidt is superintendent of schools for Kildeer Countryside Community Consolidated School District 96 in Illinois. The district began its professional learning community journey 17 years ago, and all seven schools have been recognized as model PLCs.

Q&A on Incorporating Specialists Into PLCs

We received this question from a reader of AllThingsPLC and wanted to share the response with all of our readers. Please share your responses in the comments below or by mentioning @SolutionTree on Twitter.
How do we incorporate resource specialists into our PLCs? Do they pick a grade level? Do they switch levels each week (although are they ever a part of the team?)? Where have you seen their impact be most effective?

What about special day class teachers? Speech therapists? School psychologists?

I have several ideas as a special education director on how to support the district’s implementation of PLCs, but what have you seen as the most effective way other directors have supported PLCs?

Are there others that I could connect with to pick their brains?

Heather DiFede



I want to start my response with emphasizing the critical importance of special educators being at the table when teachers are working to answer Question 1: What do we want students to know and be able to do? Getting crystal clear on prioritized or powered grade-level and content targets was extremely powerful in helping us to significantly decrease the gap between special and general education students. This means that all special educators are included in all of the professional development provided for grade-level and content teachers. In District 96, we are committed to teaching special education students to appropriate grade-level standards. When having the serious conversation regarding moving a disabled student off of those standards, we recommend using a question initially posed by Mike Mattos to his teams in California: “Will this student ever be expected to function independently when they leave the public school system?” If the answer to that question is “yes,” we do everything possible to get them there (grade-level standards). If the answer is “no,” then we may be teaching to modified standards but the work looks the same. Teams continue to answer the four critical questions related to that individual student.

We have found that special education teachers and resource specialists work most effectively when you, as best you can, minimize the number of grade-level teams they are collaborating with. In Illinois, all special education teachers are qualified to both teach core content and resource. Therefore, rather than have one teacher teach grades 1–5 math and resource and another teacher teach grades 1–5 literacy, I would recommend working in grade bands. This would apply to secondary teachers as well. Grade-level teams are then able to very specifically create their agendas to ensure that they are optimizing the time they have with the special education professionals. That being said, a general educator should always be clearly identified as the person who is going to ensure clear communication regarding meeting discussions and outcomes. Team meeting minutes should also be clear. I have found that all of this careful scheduling is not feasible without elementary schools going to a master schedule. I am defining master schedule as all third-grade teachers teach reading at the same time, etc. I found it is the only way to maximize your human resources. That way everyone knows exactly which meetings each person will be attending weekly.

I am interpreting “special day class teachers” as meaning self-contained teachers. Depending on the disability categories of the students in the classroom, these teachers are either included in all content professional development and as many grade-level appropriate team meetings as possible or they work with other low-incidence teachers to answer the four critical questions for their individual students. This is also where the participation of many of your related services personnel comes in to play. In addition, it is critical that your related service personnel function on a highly effective problem-solving team supporting full implementation on response to intervention (RTI). Our related services people are critical to our system of interventions.

Julie A. Schmidt


Kildeer Countryside CCSD 96


Patricia Guenther


In our district we have experienced teachers who have become literacy, math, and special education coaches. Their job is to help teachers within these subjects/areas. This could mean leading a workshop, brainstorming ideas to help groups of teachers improve student learning, or just by relaying information across grade levels and administration. Since I am a math teacher in special education, I have worked with both the special education coach and the math coach. Their input, ability to relay information, and the professional development they have brought to the table has been invaluable. This may be something to consider to include in your district to help with your PLC's.

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Thank you for the blog. In our school, we have divided the grade level PLC on different days and times in order to accomadate for specialists participation. However, I have found that having the specialist focus on one or two grades really is the key to getting them deeply connected to the team's work.

Principal, Kent WA

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