What’s the Difference Between a PLC, a Collaborative Team, and a Task Force?

We recently received an email from a high school math teacher who attended a three hour PLC overview session we provided for all of the staff members of his K-12 school district. Prior to hearing about PLCs for the first time that morning, his high school had already convened three task forces to meet on a regular basis this school year to resolve the three pressing issues the faculty had identified:

Physical Environment: "This group is mostly concerned with the physical appearance of our school. They have already successfully lobbied for more garbage cans around the school but they looking for a 'Five Year Plan' for our building from the School Board."

Professional Practices: "This group is mostly concerned with the 'nuts and bolts' of what teachers do. They are working on a 'Teacher Policy Booklet' that would include items such as lateness, attendance, forms to fill out, etc.; union items (dealing with other teachers, student boundaries, ethics issues, benefits, etc. and possibly school policy issues (steps for dealing with students who are not learning?)."

Community Profile: "Our school has become the 'third choice' for students in the district as there are two newer schools on the other side of the freeway. We are not doing a good job 'selling' the school to the community."

His question to us was: "In your opinion, do these three Task Forces fit the PLC model?"

We recognize clarity in terms is an important step in creating the shared foundation (mission, vision, collective commitments, and goals) of a successful learning organization. Here is an attempt to establish such clarity among educators attempting to apply PLC practices:

We refer to the school or district -- the larger organization -- as a PLC. Our definition of a PLC is: educators committed to working collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research in order to achieve better results for the students they serve. PLCs operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous, job-embedded learning for educators. (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many. 2006. Learning By Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree)

Each PLC is organized into a series of high-performing collaborative teams which meet on a regular (weekly) basis to focus on student learning. A team is a group of people working interdependently to achieve a common goal, for which members are held mutually accountable (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2006. Learning By Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree). Collaborative teams are the fundamental building blocks of PLCs.

In addition to structuring and supporting collaborative teams focused on learning, a school or district may also utilize a task force or committee structure to further disperse leadership while addressing current schoolwide/districtwide issues. A Task Force is a temporary group convened to addresses a specific issue/charge. Once the group has fulfilled its charge, the group no longer needs to meet.

The work of task forces could greatly improve school-wide programs, practices, and procedures if  the task forces focuses on the right issues and recommends action steps members of the school community should take in order to improve upon the current reality of their school.

Each of the three above-mentioned issues could be effectively addressed by the task forces and the high school could realize a more appealing physical environment; more clearly defined practices & procedures for the adults to follow; more positive media coverage and yet realize no gains in student learning as a result of the task force work. These topics focus on issues that are outside, rather than within the classrooms.

Therefore, we want to stress two points. First, a school-wide task force in a PLC does not substitute for the work of teachers organized into collaborative teams based upon a shared course, grade level, or interdisciplinary program -- teams focused on the critical questions of student learning: 

  1. What do we want our students to learn? (essential, guaranteed & viable curriculum)
  2. How will we know they are learning? (administer frequent, team-developed common, formative assessments)
  3. How will we respond when they don’t learn? (timely, directive, systematic intervention)
  4. How will we respond when they do learn? (timely enrichment/extension)

In a PLC, the work of task forces is temporary, but the work of collaborative teams of teachers is always focused on learning and is ongoing and never ending . . . it becomes "they way we do things" forever.

Second, task forces will not improve either student or adult learning if they focus on issues unrelated to learning. A task force can be a powerful tool, but only if it is focused on the right task.


Triangle High Five To Host Rick and Becky DuFour in December | Triangle High Five

[...] What’s the Difference Between a PLC, a Collaborative Team, and a Task Force? All Things PLC [...]

Posted on

Instructional Roller Coaster

[...] Both of those probably let the pendulum swing too far one way. For that reason, I’ve spent the last few years focused more on learning than teaching. Granted, I understand the importance of instruction but I let learning theory, learner traits, and engagement/motivation drive my thoughts on pedagogy. I found strength in Dufour learning community premise primarily because of its simplicity and empowerment in four core questions: [...]

Posted on

AllThingsPLC » Blog Archive » Resource Roundup: PLCs and Intervention

[...] week’s theme is “PLCs and Intervention.” We’re focusing on the third critical question of PLCs: How will we respond when they don’t learn? The following resources relate RTI and [...]

Posted on

PLC associate

The questions on how teams should be formed and who is on a team in a PLC are asked frequently. In a PLC, teams are comprised of teachers who share students, content, or both. Middle schools have provided team time in the schedule on a regular basis for a long time. In this traditional middle school model, the teams have been comprised of teachers who share students rather than content. There are several advantages to these interdisciplinary team meetings. During these meetings, teachers discuss student progress and gather information to better understand the needs of students across all subject areas. In addition, the interdisciplinary teams often use this time to make cross-curricular connections and plan themed units of study. If an interdisciplinary team is truly a team (that is, people working together interdependently to achieve a common goal for which members are mutually accountable), members would also be certain to establish an overarching interdisciplinary goal each would address in his or her classroom. Non-fiction writing is one example of a powerful, high-leverage goal that can cut across all core curricular areas. Members of an interdisciplinary team could work together to clarify a rubric for writing for their grade-level, practice applying the rubric for writing in the different subject areas to establish the inter-rater reliability that ensures students receive consistent feedback on their writing, and help each other become more skillful in teaching the writing process.

Although beneficial for the reasons already stated, interdisciplinary teams do not allow teachers who share the same content the opportunity to discuss and refine their curriculum or instructional strategies and materials. Collaborative teams in a PLC focus their team time on answering the four critical questions:

1. What should students know and be able to do?
2. How will we know students are learning?
3. How will we respond when students don't learn?
4. How will we respond when students have already learned?

These four questions are addressed by content teams for each unit of study, in a continuous cycle. During content team meetings, teachers answer PLC question one by determining essential outcomes for their subject area or course. They clarify and deepen their understanding of exactly what each outcome means by asking themselves: What would this look like if a student accomplished this outcome? The team engages in collective inquiry to build shared knowledge and understanding. This type of discussion occurs most effectively in content area teams.

The same is true as content teams answer question two. In order to answer this question, teams meet to develop common formative assessments, analyze the results, and use this information to inform and modify curriculum and instruction to meet student needs. Dylan Wiliam in the December 2007 issue of Educational Leadership states that his research indicates teachers have a much easier time developing formative assessment strategies when they work in subject area teams.

"The most productive discussions recognize the specificities of the subject ... What makes a good question in math is different than what makes a good question in social studies." (p. 39)

Another advantage of content teams is the ability to share students and plan instruction for specific interventions or enrichment. Teachers of the same course or subject are able to group students for additional instruction or support based on the results of their common formative assessments. This shared responsibility for all of the math students, for instance, at a grade level or in specific course can assist teachers as they meet the needs of the diverse learners in their class. This is usually the first response to student learning that occurs as teams answer questions three and four.

This focus on the four PLC questions requires that content teams meet often enough to build shared knowledge and complete their work.

In chapter 5 of the book Learning by Doing (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, and Many,) it is stated:
"The first and most fundamental task of building a collaborative culture is to bring together those people whose responsibilities create an inherent mutual interest in exploring the critical questions of a PLC." (p. 93)

Most of the middle schools that have been successful in implementing PLCs have rejected the Tyranny of Or - should we have interdisciplinary or content teams - and embraced the genius of and - we will have both. In these middle schools it is a matter of determining the amount and length of meetings so that the purposes of both types of teams can be accomplished.

Sharon Kramer
PLC Associate

Posted on


Our middle school is looking to move from a traditional model of teaming teachers to teaming by content area. Under our current model we don't see the team time being used in a way that truly benefits students. What are some advantages of moving to the model where teachers meet by content area?

Lee Carulli

Posted on