Adam Young

Adam Young is principal of White Pine High School, a professional learning community in Ely, Nevada. Under Adam’s leadership, White Pine has consistently earned numerous honors, including recognition as a Nevada Model School.

Persistence in a PLC at Work™

Staying the Course

In today’s world of fads, quick fixes, and instant feedback, educators are not immune to the temptation of jumping on the latest bandwagon. Indeed, many criticize our industry for being too quick to try new ideas that are not proven and being as flighty as the ever-changing wind. Even those committed to professional learning communities can become subject to the whims and fancy of the latest and greatest educational trend. This is not to say that action research is a bad thing, or that trying new ideas is faulty. But sometimes in our desire for these quick fixes, we substitute the real work of a PLC for something that promises instant results but costs a ton or is unsustainable. The real work of educators in a PLC school does not lie in the bells and whistles of new programs or new technologies. Rather, it begins and ends with a focus on learning, a continuous and collaborative improvement of adult practice, and an uncompromising spotlight on improving the results of our students. We’ve heard Rick DuFour, Becky DuFour, and Bob Eaker speak many times about passion and persistence. Today, let’s consider the quality of persistence and what it looks like during the grind of everyday work in a PLC.

Persistence in Our Focus on Learning

There is no substitute for this basic principle of a PLC. There is no way around doing the work of clarifying explicitly what students are expected to learn. State standards, district curriculum guides, and department-developed syllabi only get us so far. Even the Common Core State Standards do not relieve teams of teachers from collaboratively identifying the learning students are expected to acquire throughout the year. Certainly, tools have been developed to aid in this procedure; but persistence in a PLC school demands that teachers continually engage in the process. A persistent faculty in a PLC school does not condone shortcuts or excuses or even statements like “We did this last year.” Rather, a persistent PLC understands that this process is ongoing and time for teachers to refine and improve learning expectations is provided every year. A persistent PLC understands that an essential part of the learning process for adults is examining closely the expected learning of students.

Persistence in Our Collaborative Efforts

I like to think of collaboration as the glue that binds a focus on learning and a focus on results together. Many schools do both, but they are often done in isolation. This leads to pockets of excellence. But a PLC school is all about creating uniform, systemwide excellence. This is why it is so important to focus on learning and focus on results—but to do them both collaboratively. Everyone in a PLC knows that collaboration about such weighty issues is not easy. When we collaborate about such important matters, things can get messy—feelings sometimes get hurt and egos sometimes get bruised. It is tempting to throw in the towel and look for easier ways to supplant the indispensable dialogues among colleagues. After all, we were all friends before this collaboration thing! But persistent collaborative teams go back to the basics. They craft team norms and hold each other to them even when they seem trite. They have crucial conversations while maintaining the dignity of those involved. They build consensus based on research and data rather than opinions. A persistent PLC has collaboration as an absolute. And, most importantly, collaboration is focused on learning and results.

Persistence in Our Focus on Results

In his book The Five Disciplines of PLC Leaders, Tim Kanold describes Stevenson High School’s decade-long pursuit of breaking the 25 barrier on the ACT. When the faculty initially set this goal, many felt it was unachievable. To get the schoolwide average score on the ACT to 25 is a lofty ambition! And everybody knew it would not happen overnight. At first the goal was 22, then years later 23, and finally 25. But the focus on this important, continuous improvement in student results never wavered. The faculty didn’t abandon the goal when it didn’t happen in the first year. They didn’t get bored or fatigued by having the same consistent focus each year. They didn’t get sidetracked on other tempting detours. This is persistence! It also teaches us that it’s OK to have similar goals year after year after year, and to keep working to achieve them. Becky makes an analogy about what it’s like to be a PLC. She compares it to losing weight. An effective, healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean ordering a meal substitute and then drinking it and still eating everything else in sight. It doesn’t mean joining a yoga or fitness class once per week and changing nothing else. Rather, an effective, healthy weight-loss plan means completely changing one’s lifestyle to include regular exercise and robust activities, balanced meals, and healthy living. The other options might yield short-term results, but the sustainable plan requires a complete and dedicated immersion. This is how to get results in a PLC, too. We can’t dabble and nibble. We can’t pick and choose. We can’t give up when things get tough. Instead, we must persist and embrace the complete change in lifestyle.



The more I am learning about PLCs, the more I see a need for them. At my district, we have no PLCs in place. It is a small district and though there may be 1 teacher per grade level, teachers of same subject having common planning time. The use of a PLC during that time to guide them in their teaching, I feel would be of benefit to them. Thank you for posting this. I will love to talk to my administrator about starting one with my colleagues.

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As a teacher from Canada, I am finding it encouraging to learn that teachers throughout North America are experiencing the same frustrations as I am. In my district there seems to be one or two new initiatives every year and our focus on PLC seems to fall by the wayside. It is discouraging to have to shift our focus on to something new when I felt that we were just starting to see some real results from our collaboration. I appreciate the message in this blog as it reminds me of the old adage, "Rome wasn't built in a day", and neither were most schools. I will continue to do my best to lead my colleagues in effective PLC and advocate on their behalf to my principal for more collaboration time. Thanks for sharing this.

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Thank you for sharing your views on persistence in a PLC. The concept is relatively new to me and participating in this blog is all part of the learning process. The benefits to be derived from PLC’s are evident. I am glad you stressed the importance of being persistent. Often as educators we gravitate to something that is new but quickly lose interest without giving it time to work. I liked the analogy you used of comparing PLC to losing weight, it is only in sustainable, dedicated efforts that desired results are seen. My school certainly needs to give PLC a chance. I am quite excited about discussing the possibilities with my principal. Apart from enhancing students’ achievements, I can also envision better working relations among faculty. Thanks again for sharing.

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My school has been working on building a consistent PLC. I will admit that we have changed the structure of collaboration several times over the course of five years; however, we have not been consistent with keeping a specific goal in place. Educational trends are constantly changing and it is hard to keep up with which practices are the best to implement or revise. As stated above in the reading, PLCs should be created to enhance the learning for all students.

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I absolutely agree with the trend in education of jumping from one research based program to the next. I feel that in my district, educators are introduced to a program and then thrown into the routine of implementing it. When we finally begin to feel productive and effective in teaching the program a new one is brought upon us, and the cycle starts all over again. Students are bombarded with numerous interventions and programs every year with little continuation year after year. I am eager for my district to develop the true meaning of a PLC where teachers collaborate and implement the best practices for their students. A shift in teacher responses such as “I taught that because it is in the curriculum” should change to “I taught that because it is what my students needed to learn.” As an educator in the 8th largest school district in our nation, with an amazing 146,090 students, I believe that we can create a monumental PLC.

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My school has many PLC's, but are they effective. Unfortunately, we are so overwhelmed with work that we are not giving the attention needed to our PLC's. It's almost like we are just going through the motions of participating in PLC's, but we are not benefiting from it. Even the collaborative efforts are not given the full attention because of the enormous workload that we have been given with paperwork and other district mandates. I feel that PLC's are beneficial when given the proper attention and dedication.

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A PLC is what my school need. I have heard about PLC’s before however; I have a much better understanding of them now. I like the concept because it seems to be a definite way to foster student learning and bring about unity among staff members. I am a believer of the concept that student learning requires constant teacher collaboration and engagement. I can hardly wait to discuss with my principal starting a PLC in my school. I understand that this is a time consuming and somewhat difficult task but I believe it will all be worth it in the end. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in “Persistence in a PLC at work.”

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Thanks for sharing this article on persistence in PLC's I was originally exposed to PLC's back in 2000, but I have not actually worked with a school that had an authentic PLC since. The school where I worked last year attempted to form a PLC, but it was not a collaborative effort. I really liked when you compared an effective PL to an effective healthy lifestyle. For the most part, I try to live a healthy lifestyle, working out, eating clean, etc., I therefore could really relate your comparison in an PLC model

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My district implemented PLC's as a district wide initiative to increase student learning. There were several years of intensive training and workshops guiding the district to an effective PLC model. When I came into the district, PLC was part of the language every teacher used. We had scheduled collaboration times and "Collaborative Norms" to guide teachers toward professional, respectful conversations.

Our one major weakness is that there is no training for new teachers coming into the district regarding PLC training. We learn on the fly with our collaborative group. This has also caused the groups to be less effective as not all of the members understand the purpose and importance of the essential questions.

Your points regarding teacher focus and persistence are very relevant to my situation. If we do not stay the course, our PLC loses its effectiveness.

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Our PLC, and the focus on learning and results has led to our school making incredible gains in our students performance. We are now a nationally ranked Title 1 school. I think the PLC model had an immense influence on the way we went about this.

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I work in a building where PLC is valued highly. Twice a month we release our students an hour early in order to meet as Curriculum Focus Teams (All 6th grade math teachers, or all 6th grade Language Arts teachers). I have found the process to be awesome for team building and also for determining what state and district standards are requiring us to do.
Each year we begin by setting norms (and as the author mentioned, some of them do seem trite, but are necessary for important conversations to happen. For example, one team norm is no eye rolling while another is to stay positive). Several times throughout the year we reflect back on our team norms and we hold each other to them during our meetings (even during difficult weeks!)
I'm pleased that while our administration does provide us with an agenda for this time, the agenda is focused on looking through the curriculum or standardized tests and focusing on what the expectations are and how we help our students reach the standards.

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The term PLC is new to me, but it makes perfect sense. I appreciate being able to read of and see different structures of PLCs and recongnize that they may look differently, but all have the same core principles. As a substitute teacher, it sometimes can be a challenge to be a part of a PLC, but beginning to be a part of an online community will help with this and when I am in a school full time, I know I will be a part of a PLC or starting one because I see the benefits of them. This profession is ever changing and staying up to date with all things educational is no easy feat. If teachers didn't work together, there is no way they would be as successful as when they work in isolation. It takes much time and energy to create a successful PLC, but it all is worth the effort in the end. I enjoy hearing about the many PLCs involved in this blog and look forward to hearing updates about challenges and successes.

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As I read about staying persistent in collaborative efforts, I couldn't help but think of my previous school where I worked. At the beginning of the year the entire staff was dedicated to collaborating on everything that needed to help improve student success. This process was very time consuming and like the post said sometimes people's feelings were hurt, but it is what we thought we needed to do for positive effects on the students. However, as the year went on and the pressures, stress, and paperwork piled up on all of the staff's shoulders this process seemed to fall by the wayside more and more. The school year ended with really no communication between grade levels and no communication between classroom teachers and specials teachers and administration. I do think that it is the persistence that my school lacked when it came to this process. We had the knowledge and want to, but it was too easy to let the process fall apart as the pressures of the year started to unfold. I hope that this school is working more collaboratively than when I was part of the staff.

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So True. I agree 100%. When participating in PLC, in the beginning stages, everything can seem repetitive and monotonous. The long term result however, after constant, persistent collaboration, is positive and permanent

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Thank you for sharing this information. I am encouraged to be a consistent worker as well as an enforcer of an effective PLC at work. I am beginning to see how important it is an educator to have patience as opposed to wanting everything to be done right away.

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This summer, I was lucky enough to be at the PLC conference in Las Vegas. I feel like we learned so much and heard about so many good ideas! When we came back to school, I was excited to jump into PLCs and start analyzing what we could do to make sure all students were learning. Sadly, we have barely done anything with it- we are, without a doubt, a psuedo PLC. We're not even dieting, let alone making lifestyle changes! Hopefully our administration starts leading us down the PLC path, and we can meet resistance with persistence.

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I currently teach at a school that is in the second year of implementing a PLC. I completely agree that we need to remember there we have to be persistent and student learning has to be the main focus of the PLC. I also think that when we do have success, it needs to be celebrated. Our PLC is a work in progress, and if it is to be successful, it always will be. We can always better ourselves and our teaching.
Thanks for such an enjoyable blog!

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Thanks for sharing your information about Persistence in PLC. I like the idea that PLC never got implemented in its pure form due to the administration’s point of view at the time. I love the fact that they continued doing collaboration by grade level and subject. In order for a school to have success scores, I believe that all of the teachers have to work together and all shoot for the same goals. I enjoyed the example of comparing the ACT to losing weight. If you want to loose weight you have to stick with it and be persistent in watching what you consume. It makes sense. If you want great scores, than you need to shoot for a goal and stick with it. Pushing your students and not get distrated. If you want to succeed you have to make more than just one change, its a life learning change.

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Hello! I had not heard of PLC's until a few years ago when my principal brought it up to our Professional Development committee. It sounded great but we needed to learn more about it and figure out how to get the entire school on board. We went to trainings by the DuFour's and learned so much about it. We slowly started implementing parts of it into our school but we definitely aren't there yet. I hope that in time we will continue to work towards this because I see how beneficial it is to the school, staff, and most importantly the students.

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Thank you for sharing your insights on persistence. As a staff developer, I find myself looking for a "quick fix" as I only have 40 minutes to work with a team once every two weeks. I have to remember that persistence is the key. My administrators have advised the coaches not to meet with the teachers because the teachers feel bogged down with meetings. Because of this, we barely get to sit down before it is time for them to pick up their students. Do you have any suggestions as to how to collaborate in a short time? I am willing to meet with teacher virtually, or one on one, but true collaboration, I feel, can not happen in that forum.

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About 6 years ago my school attempted to implement PLC's. It did happen for one year with fifth grade students only. I never had the opportunity to participate since I have the only special education moderate to sever class in campus. However, I interviewed one of the teachers in the PLC and she told me that the professional learning communities never got implemented in its pure form due to the administration's point of view at the time. She informed me that they continue doing collaboration by grade level and subject. She continued by saying that they still do curriculum planning, benchmarks assessments, and analyze results. they do not talk about what happens in their individual classrooms, or specific problems in the classroom. Everyone, teach the same curriculum, they all aim the same goals, but that is all, but each one implement their own approach. Now, as special educator I would like to get out of isolation and want to participate in some sort of collaborative group for that I have asked the districts' program specialist if is there an opportunity to get all the intermediate special education teachers at least one time a month to collaborate and from there will see what perspire for the future.

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