Robert Eaker

Robert Eaker, EdD, is a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at Middle Tennessee State University, where he also served as dean of the College of Education and interim vice president and provost.

Advocating for the PLC Concept

Occasionally, I have found myself in the position of being asked to defend the PLC concept. My initial impulse has often been to reference relevant research findings or point to schools and school districts that have benefitted from the PLC concept. In addition to research and examples, I have found it especially effective when I break the PLC concept down into its basic components and engage in dialogue by asking a series of questions.

For example, I begin by asking, “So, if you were not going to implement the PLC concept, which part would you leave out? How many think it’s a good idea to leave the question of what students should learn up to individual teachers? How many think it’s best to leave it up to individual teachers to determine what the standards, if met, should look like in student work? Should individual teachers determine how much time they will spend on each standard? Should we stop having collaborative discussions about issues such as learning targets, homework, and grading of student work?”

Next I ask, “How many of you think it would be a good idea to discontinue collaboratively checking along the way to see if students are learning? How many would prefer to rely solely on homework grades, end-of-unit tests, and state assessments to determine which students have been successful in their classes/courses?”

I then turn to the question of time, support, and enrichment: “How many of you think we should drop the idea of providing additional time, support, or enrichment for students? How many of you think it’s a good idea to leave the question of helping kids who are struggling with their learning or need enrichment up to the discretion of individual teachers?”

Toward the end of the discussions, I have found it helpful to ask, “In regards to your own child’s education, how would you want these questions answered?” I have found that parents, almost without exception, know what kind of school, teachers, and lessons they want for their own child. They want clarity regarding what their child should learn, regardless of the teacher to whom they are assigned. They want their child’s learning monitored along the way. And, they want extra time and enrichment for their child as a result of a collaborative analysis of their child’s learning data.

In short, parents—and certainly most teachers—feel that a school should be more than a collection of independent contractors who share a common parking lot, that a child’s learning should not be dependent on an “educational lottery”—the luck of being assigned to certain teachers. They might question the idea of adopting a specific acronym such as PLC since such terms often represent a new initiative or a new program, and many teachers have often had bad experiences with new initiatives or new programs. However, I have found most people wholeheartedly support the underlying concepts and commonsense practices reflective of a high-performing PLC!


Erika Alaniz

Hello Mr. LaRose, it is with great interest that I read your blog and I am amazed by your concern for students' success. Like you, I believe it takes more than the teacher to help students' succeed. I will start my second year as a 7th grade mathematics teacher and I am fortunate to work at a school that greatly supports the PLC concept. I belong to two teams, one for my department and one for the team with the same students. In the mathematics department we have the vertical meetings where we discuss how we can support each other as to what and how students need to learn a certain concept. In the other team, there is a teacher for every core subject and we meet to discuss behavior and learning abilities for certain students. We discuss intervention strategies as well as ways to deal with their discipline. I highly encourage all schools to practice the PLC concept to better serve our students and therefore, our community.

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Adam Karl

I feel a bit out-gunned here. I am just an 18 year veteran High School Language Arts teacher. My school has devoted about 2 hours a month to PLC's for the last 10 years or so.

Some of these PLC's have been very successful. The Critical Friends groups, of which I was one of the coaches, really worked to bring educators for differing departments together. We worked on individual teacher's concerns and case-studies. The norms were followed, and teachers reported that they were truly appreciative of the help that they received.

Other groups, book groups, study groups and interest groups have had varying degrees of success.

One of my, and my colleague's problems is that when anything is added by administration or by our district, the time is culled from PLC time. Of course this gives the impression that the PLC's are expendable and less important than anything else that we do. Currently, our district is running audits of student seat time. If our building is below compliance, we have been told that this time will come out of our PLC's.

It is all very discouraging. In terms of my job satisfaction, the PLC's are right up there with my relationships with my students. They help engage me with my colleagues and create respect throughout our building.

Anyway, thank you for your ideas. I may be able to use some of them to try to influence my administration team to value these activities.

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David LaRose

The Why Behind PLC: As an "outsider" to the district last year in my first year as superintendent, I openly, publicly and passionately shared my conviction for initiating the PLC journey in our district. In additional to our messaging with our site leaders, teachers and classified staff, we have been equally intentional in educating our board and our parents. Below is a recent article I wrote for our community:

“The very essence of a learning community is a focus on and a commitment to the learning of each student. When a school or district functions as a PLC, educators within the organization embrace high levels of learning for all students as both the reason the organization exists and the fundamental responsibility of those who work within it.” Learning by Doing (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker and Many)

We love our acronyms! Throughout this edition of Culver Currents in print, there will be no shortage of new acronyms as we highlight the great work being done on behalf of all CCUSD students. What do they stand for, why does it matter and how will it impact teaching and learning in our schools? How will this impact my child?

From “Required to Inspired”
Most of these new acronyms are required of us; mandated change. Truthfully, this is not uncommon in public education – policies and legislation driving our actions and investments, ensuring we are in compliance with new regulations and accountability measurements that accompany such mandated change. These include: LCFF – Local Control Funding Formula; LCAP – Local Control Accountability Plan; CC – Common Core; SBAC - Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

Change, as we know, is not easy. Often, it can be even more difficult to accept and embrace when the change is imposed. However, when the change is required we must communicate, collaborate and act in a manner that ensures the change will be positive for the children we serve as well as those who serve them on a daily basis. We do this by focusing more on the compelling reasons for change rather than compliance and accountability factors. How can our students benefit from this work? How can we learn and grow together to improve our practice while implementing this change? How do we harness this mandate to become even more focused on our student-driven goals? How can we align the requirements and timelines of implementation with the goals we already have for professional development and improved student learning? How do we engage our staff, student and community in a way that instills confidence in and excitement for the change? This important work requires a balanced, strategic approach – one that fuels the compliance work with the compelling reasons we are called ensure all children learn at high levels.
CCUSD as a PLC: The Vehicle for Compelling Change

PLC. Professional Learning Communities. This has been and will continue to be at the core of our professional development with our talented and dedicated team. While mandates provide the what – this is what you must do - if the change is to be positive and sustainable, we must also address the why and the how. This is where PLC’s come in.

There are three “big ideas” that drive the work of PLC’s:
• A focus and commitment to high levels of learning for ALL students
• A collaborative culture where teams work interdependently to achieve common goals
• A commitment to continuous improvement with a focus on results
In addition to these core principles, our PLC work focuses on what we call “The 4 Questions”
1. What do we want our kids to know?
2. How will we know if they know it?
3. What will we do if they don’t?
4. What will we do if they already do?

Our grade level and department teams meet together regularly with these 4 questions guiding their work. These principles are also guiding our implementation of new Common Core State Standards, piloting of new assessments and in developing our district Local Control Accountability Plan – providing the why (to ensure high levels of learning for all students) AND the how (with collaborative teams/focused on essential learning standards with data informed intervention and acceleration).

Collaboration is Key
We cannot work in isolation - we must learn and grow together and function as highly effective, collaborative teams. Especially in times of change. As external mandates dictate what we must do and when we must do it, our PLC’s create a culture of cooperation where shared understanding is nurtured, learning priorities are established and thoughtful action plans are developed to ensure any change will lead to greater adult and student success.

Another way of describing a PLC? Success for All Takes US ALL!
And the most important acronym of all? CCUSD!
Thanks you for the critical role you play in the success of EVERY CCUSD student!

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