Rebecca DuFour

Rebecca DuFour brought over thirty-six years of professional experience to her work as an educational consultant, having served as a teacher, school administrator, and central office coordinator. She was co-author of twelve books and numerous articles on the topic of Professional Learning Communities at Work™.

Moving From a Tradition of Isolation to a Culture of Collaboration

Some faculty and staff may undoubtedly have a difficult time moving from a culture of isolation into learning communities. How may other faculty and staff help these professionals make that transition and understand their role as a collaborator and its importance?

Let’s begin with the following assumptions: 1) All staff members have been organized into a series of collaborative teams, focused on student learning, and 2) Time and support for collaboration are being provided to each team by the administration. {C}Some teams, however, are discovering some of their members are reluctant to collaborate for any number of reasons (i.e., not wanting to share their hard work, ideas, and/or materials; being fearful their ideas will be criticized by their colleagues; not convinced collaboration will actually enhance their teaching and ultimately student achievement; or simply not getting along well with their teammates).

Here are several steps these teams can take to help colleagues who are experiencing difficulty:

  1. Establish team norms. In PLCs norms represent the protocols and commitments developed by each team to guide members in working together. Norms help team members clarify expectations regarding how they will work together to achieve their shared goals. Daniel Goleman states norms are ground rules or habits that govern a group (Goleman, 2002, p. 173) and that establishing explicitly stated norms is an essential first step in getting off to a good start and in transforming a group into a team (i.e., we will begin and end our meetings on time, we will each contribute to team dialogue, we will share equally in the workload, we will listen respectfully, etc.).
  2. Identify and pursue a common SMART (Strategic and Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented, Time-bound) goal. The very definition of a team in a PLC is a group of people working interdependently to achieve a common goal, for which members are held mutually accountable. Katzenbach and Smith’s research found that establishing the right goals are the most powerful tools to help people begin to come together as a team.
  3. Become skillful in having crucial conversations. Kerry Patterson, et al. (2002) offer some very helpful tips in Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High. This book could provide some strategies for members of the teams to use when they experience difficulty with the team process.
  4. Become skillful in Howard Gardner’s seven strategies for changing someone’s mind (including your own)
  1. Reason-Appealing to rational thinking and decision making
  2. Research-Building shared knowledge of the research base  supporting a position
  3. Resonance-Connecting to the person’s intuition so that the proposal "feels right"
  4. Representational Re-descriptions-Changing the way the information is presented (for example, using stories or analogies instead of data)
  5. Resources and Reward-Providing people with incentives to embrace an idea
  6. Real World Events-Presenting real-world examples where the idea has been applied successfully
  7. Confrontation*

*In the early stages of working in teams in a PLC, there will likely be times when a staff member(s) remains reluctant to contribute to the team process regardless of how skillful the members are in the art of persuasion. At those critical junctures, the principal must be willing to direct the team process. The hope is that the reluctant team members will ultimately experience the benefits of collaboration and will no longer need to be convinced.

We have learned one of the best ways to help people believe in the power of collaboration is to put them into the team setting and then provide all members with time, support, resources, and just-in-time training when they experience difficulty. Therefore, we have devoted multiple chapters to building and supporting strong collaborative teams in our book Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at WorkTM (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2006).

Reference List

DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., and Many, T. (2006). Learning ByDoing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work. Bloomington, IN: Solution-Tree.

Goleman, D. (2002). Primal leadership:Realizing the power of emotional intelligence. Boston, MA:Harvard Business School Publishing.

Gardner, H.  (2004). Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing our Own and Other People’s Minds. Boston, MA:  Harvard Business School Press.

Katzenbach, J. & Smith, D. (1993). The wisdom of teams: Creating the high-performance organization. New York, NY: McKinsey & Company.

Patterson, K., Cover, S., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A.. (2002). Crucial conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.


Triangle High Five Hosts Rick and Becky DuFour in December | Triangle High Five

[...] Moving from a Tradition of Isolation to a Culture of Collaboration All THings PLC [...]

Posted on

Becky and Rick DuFour

Dear jsnyder,

Although it's to be expected that teams within a PLC will become high-performing at different rates and in different ways - just like students in a classroom - there are certain things the principal should do to support each team. For example, insist that all teams generate the products that flow from the exploration of the 18 critical issues included on this website and also in Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many, Solution Tree 2006). As the principal, we encourage you to work closely with your team leaders to give them everything they need in order to be successful at leading the team process, product-by-product, and then be prepared to monitor the quality of each product, provide support to teams that struggle to complete any product, and celebrate and highlight the work of high performing teams so teams are sharing their learning and success with others. We also advise that you meet with each team on at least a quarterly basis to review their products and most importantly, to consider the evidence of student learning the team has gathered and their plans and strategies for improving on the results.

Many educators intuitively recognize the benefits of a focus on learning, collaborative culture, and careful monitoring of student results however some will need to experience the benefits of this focus before they move from compliance with the process to commitment to the process. Leaders can create the conditions to help them experience the benefits.

Becky & Rick DuFour

Posted on


As an elementary school principal, there is an unevenness to the implementation of PLC's across my school site. Some teachers are highly engaged in the process, focus on student work, ask questions and refine their instructional practices to ensure student learning; others simply go through the motions -- filling out the team meeting log, checking boxes, etc. I have often wondered what makes the difference between groups who are genuinely engaged in the work of a learning community and others who engage in "collaboration lite." I would be interested in getting others' perspectives on these issues.

Posted on

Rick and Becky DuFour

Your proposal of sharing students every-other week with another grade level for buddy/peer tutoring has been successful in many schools with which we've worked. It is actually one of the ideas we've included on the document titled, "Making Time for Collaboration." You can go to this link to download and print that document:

We hope you and your colleagues will agree on a creative, no-cost way to embedded time for team collaboration into your contractual workday. Let us know what you and your colleagues decide.

Posted on


We have carved out 45 minutes every Monday to meet for PLCs during the school day.  Not every teacher is convinced that this is valuable but most of us have bought into the idea that PLCs are effective in improving student learning.  The fact that some teachers hesitate to participate doesn't stop the rest of us from moving forward.  We are very fortunate to have a majority of local school teachers involved in PLC classes offered by our ISD.  Regis McCord and Karen Szcodronski have been incredible leaders in this effort. The fact that we have so many teachers from our own building involved in these classes makes the process so much easier.

Posted on


Carving out time to collaborate on learning, teaching, student progress-all the things that we long for seems to be the missing link for helping all students attain high levels of achievement. Common planning time is rare in an elementary building. When it is, there is usually competition for that time such as returning phone calls, replying to emails, preparing for a lesson and so on. So, commitment to student learning is of the essence. Without that, all other planning can seem mute. If aiming to meet before or after school, a teacher’s personal schedules need to be taken into account and respected. In our building, we have a PLC leadership team, of which I would like be part of, yet they meet at a time when I am getting my own children ready and out the door for school. So, when is the best time to meet? My proposal is to have a certified teacher (combine classes with another grade level for peer tutoring perhaps?) to take your own class once every two weeks. This would allow teachers to meet during their day like other professions and be able to make sound, well thought (and well rested) out decisions. I think our kids and our profession deserve that.

Posted on

PLC associates

Dr. Austin Buffum and Mike Mattos in response to lsinger:
Let us start by applauding your district's efforts to implement both Professional Learning Communities (PLC) and Response to Interventions (RtI). Not only are both considered research-based best practices to improve student learning, but they are complementary processes that address the same essential question: How will we respond when students don't learn? Over thirty years of evidence confirms that our nation's traditional special education model has produced dismal results, with less than 2% of special education students reaching the goal of redesignation back into "regular" education. RtI is based upon the assumption that schools can not wait for struggling students to fall far enough below grade level to "qualify" for help. Instead, schools should develop a systematic, school-wide process in which struggling students receive targeted, research-based interventions at the first sign of difficulties. These interventions can be provided by special education and/or regular education resources. Yet for a school implementing PLC practices, this approach to helping at-risk students should not be a new concept, as this process is identical to a PLC's "Pyramid of Interventions."

While RtI and a Pyramid of Intervention (POI) is essentially the same work, we would contend that effectively implementing RtI practices is not possible and should not be pursued until a school effectively begins implementing the three "Big Ideas" of being a Professional Learning Community"”a focus on learning, a collaborative culture, and a focus on results. To this end, grade level/departmental teams would begin by identifying essential standards, learning about best instructional practices to meet the instructional needs of their students, creating common assessments to measure student mastery of critical learning, and analyzing this assessment data to identify which students need additional help and which initial instructional practices were effective. These first steps create the foundation needed to more effectively respond when students don't learn. To skips these vital steps and move directly into creating a RtI/POI intervention program would be disastrous, as how can a school create powerful interventions if the staff has not built a culture that believes all students can learn, has not identified what they want their students to learn, and has not created a timely assessment system that can accurately identify which students need additional help? What we sense in your question is that your district may be doing just this; that is, they are putting the proverbial "cart before the horse" by requiring teacher teams to use their meeting time to discuss individual student needs, while delaying or neglecting other important, prerequisite team tasks. To address this concern, your site should consider the following recommendations:

1. Create a team schedule for PLC time. At the beginning of each semester, it is helpful for a team of teachers to discuss the desired outcomes of their collaboration, identify essential team products, and create a timeline to meet these needs. A team may determine that they will use the third meeting of each month to discuss interventions and individual student needs; or a team may decide that interventions will be designed and implemented after they had created team norms, written a team SMART goal, identified essential standards, and administered a common assessment. Planning ahead for team collaborative efforts can greatly increase productivity and decrease team frustration.

2. Identify a systematic set of targeted interventions. A Pyramid of Interventions is to be systematic "“ that is, when a group of students don't learn essential standards, the team will respond with an appropriate, pre-determined intervention based upon the students' needs. For instance, at RH Dana Elementary School, if a student is struggling with decoding, the team will assign the child to a pre-determined research-based intervention, such as corrective reading "“ decoding by SRA. The grade level team does not, at this point, invent an entirely new set of interventions for each student, but instead they knew prior to the initial instruction of decoding that some students would need additional time and support, and thus identified interventions to be used before teaching this unit. In this example, it would not take a significant amount of "team time" to identify and place students in interventions.

3. Determine if additional meeting time is needed to discuss specific students. It also sounds as if the "PLC Meetings" are doing the work of a Student Study Team (SST) meeting where individual student needs are discussed at length. Without question, if an individual student does not demonstrate mastery of essential standards after initial instruction, and continues to fail after applying a systematic set of supplementary interventions, then an SST may be needed to dig deeper into the individual needs of the child. It is possible that other factors, including behavioral needs, home considerations, and/or learning difficulties could be factors that are inhibiting the child's learning. Such meeting can be extremely time intensive, and thus may require an alternative meeting time outside the school's regularly scheduled PLC meeting time.

Most importantly, remember that the fundamental mission of collaborative time in a PLC is to focus on student learning. As a school embraces the idea that RtI and PLCs are not two distinct "programs", but instead an ongoing process that strives towards this outcome, the more a school will view their collaborative time as not "PLC time" or "RtI time, but as "Learning" time. In other words, we hope that the lines between RtI and the Pyramid of Interventions do continue to "blur" to the point where they are indistinguishable.

Response by Dr. Austin Buffum and Mike Mattos, PLC Associates and co-authors of the book: Pyramid Response to Interventions: RtI, PLCs, and How to Respond When Students Don't Learn.

Posted on


RTI and PLC are a perfect match!! The easiest way to incorporate the two is to include RTI into your Pyramid of Interventions. As you become more restrictive with your interventions, you should decide when and where it is appropriate to begin RTI screening (other than the universal screenings) and intervention. This can be a subset of your Pyramid of we also do for our I&RS Team interventions. Remember that once the mindset is changed to "Whatever it Takes" for all kids, the conversation regarding the place of RTI in PLC should be natural! RTI is an essential piece of effective student interventions...sending the message that Failure is not an option!

Joanne Acerba

Posted on


We have implemented both PLC and RTI at our district this year. Although this has been a major undertaking, we have begun to experience a cultural shift. An issue that continues to arise is that there is a blurring of boundaries between PLC & RTI in that the PLC time is often comsumed with pre-RTI conversation. This results in overkill. We are struggling with how to best set limits at PLC regarding both the length of time spent discussing individual children and how these interventions and conversation surrounding them can best be used for our own learning. We have discussed looking for emerging patterns by using data to change instruction delivery. Can anyone offer us guidance, advice or resources regarding PLC's and RTI working together effectively?

Posted on

PLC associate

Lisa, I can tell you without hesitation when collaborative teams have timely access to data which is user friendly and appropriate learning is the winner. Of course there are assumptions... collaboratively developed essential outcomes and assessments, training in data analysis, and clear expectations which are established and monitored. I experienced this as a teacher and administrator at Stevenson High School and as a PLC consultant.

As a consultant I find many schools/districts with assessment software such as Mastery Manager assume "having it" is sufficient to insure learning will increase. They neglect an implementation plan not only for the software but also for staff development, establishment of expectations and ongoing support. Thus, my recommendation is to plan.

If I can assist in any way do not hesitate to contact me.

Sam Ritchie

Posted on


Hi Becky!!! I just met you at the Hawaii PLC institute and I was truly inspired by your message!! I immediately convened my LA dept and told them my vision and they are all in agreement that we can really make our PLC's work with sacrifice and focus!!! My question is this: There is NO WAY that our school is going to change the time schedule and my dept really wants to work! We have decided that if we are going to be data-driven, we need to collect and analyze data! Only one of my teachers is even capable of this and we wanted to give her a prep period to run the numbers for our dept. Our 9th grade team even agreed to compress to give her the time. My principal isn't convinced of my vision and our desire to make this happen. He is giving me until TUESDAY to build a case to justify her having a prep period to run all our common assessments! Can you and anyone of the blog community PLEASE HELP! I need the names of data analysis programs that people use to run the numbers. I am afraid that he will make her run the numbers for the Math dept and any other depts doing common assessments in exchange for the prep and we believe that just running numbers for LA alone will be a huge task!!! If you or anyone else has any suggestions(on-line services, computer programs, etc.), we would be so appreciative!

Mahalo, Lisa Tsuruda Mililani High School

Posted on


My faculty would like to have a schedule next year that would allow for a late start of 30 minutes each Monday. They want to meet regularly. The district office folks want a early dismissal once a month for two hours of time. Do you know of any research which would suggest which approach might be most effective. Our school currently has PLC's developed by departments, they meet just once a month for 30 minutes, have day two retreats in the fall and the spring and have 4 days in the year with about 2 hours for PLC's.
Thank you,

Paul R. Schulte
Highland High School
Salt Lake City

Posted on