Richard DuFour

Richard DuFour, EdD, was a public school educator for 34 years. A prolific author and sought-after consultant, he is recognized as one of the leading authorities on helping school practitioners implement the PLC at Work™ process.

Who Should Decide the Agenda for Collaborative Team Meetings?

Our school district is using the book Whatever It Takes as our guide to establishing PLCs. Should administrators tell PLC groupings what to discuss at their weekly meetings, or should the needs of the campus and students drive the constructive conversations?

The way you have posed the question makes it apparent what you believe the answer should be. I suggest, however, that you are falling victim to the "Tyranny of OR." You ask who should determine the agenda for team meetings--administrators who have their own agenda OR teachers who are motivated by the interests of their campus and their students? First, I would suggest that the interest of administrators and teachers need not be different. Both groups should be driven by the interest of the campus and its students.

Furthermore, it would be unreasonable in my mind for a district to provide staff with a resource as precious as time, and then be indifferent as to how that resource was used. That does not mean, however, that the administration needs to dictate the agenda or topics of every team meeting. The best schools will reject the Tyranny of OR and embrace the "Genius of AND" with both groups playing a role in determining how the time is to be used. For example, the administration, with the help of teacher leaders, could establish a timeline for when it expects teams to complete certain tasks ("Please submit your team norms by X date, your team SMART goal by Y date, your first common assessment by Z date, and your analysis of the results and your strategies to improve by ZZ date"). In doing so, the administration should provide teachers with time, resources, examples, and support to complete those tasks. Teams, however, should be free to establish the agendas for their meetings provided they honor this timeline. If a team needs to spend some time on a topic that does not appear on the timeline (for example, the behavior of an individual student), it should be able to do so, but it should still be expected to do address the topics on the timeline.

Finally, remember that the question "Are we collaborating?" is not nearly as important as "What are we collaborating about?" Giving teachers time to collaborate is a necessary step on the PLC journey, but it is not sufficient. Teams must demonstrate the discipline to focus on the issues that actually lead to gains in student achievement if their schools are to function as PLCs.


Rick DuFour

Dear rseitel,

There is no one correct way to select and train facilitators. Some schools have selected members on the basis of perceived leadership ability, others have accepted volunteers, and others have rotated responsibilities among team members every semester or quarter. In terms of training, we think the best training is for the facilitators to meet with the principal or the leader of the PLC process to review and rehearse the specific things teams will be asked to address before the facilitator takes the issue to the team. For example, assume a team will be asked to write common formative assessments. The facilitators should meet as a group with the principal or leader to determine what information they need to address questions that are likely to arise at the team meeting, such as:
1. why should we do this?
2. can't we just use the district assessment or the assessments in the textbook?
3. what do you mean by common assessment?
4. what do you mean by formative assessment?
5. what resources are available to help us?
6. are their guiding questions that can direct our work?
7. what criteria should we use in determining if it is a good assessment?
8. must it be a paper and pencil assessment?
9. what tips can you offer for proceeding?
10. when are we expected to have it finished?

The book Learning by Doing was specifically written to help a PLC leadership team help address and answer these questions.

When facilitators have had a chance to prepare like this, to rehearse, and to give us other feedback BEFORE they take the matter to the team, they are far more likely to be effective and confident.

Rick DuFour

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With the full support of our administration each school is becoming a PLC. The staff as well as the administration have received "some" training. The first cohort covered the 3 Big Ideas, learning to use some protocols and began interacting as a PLC.

The viewing of "Through New Eyes" provided a mirror for our own reality. With additional training taking place on three consecutive Saturdays, we will reach another cohort. Fish bowl activities provided a lens for staff to view the norming process and observe strategies for disclosing current realities.

That said, I have some trepidation related the facilitation of the groups. Time, practice and learning is required. Has anyone found that people move rather naturally into that role? Any and all reflections would be helpful.

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Becky DuFour

Hi Christie,

The best parallel block schedules allow teachers and students to have the best of both worlds:
1.) protected teaching & learning blocks for daily new direct instruction in all classrooms;
2.) protected individual and collaborative planning time for all teachers/teams (classroom, resource, specialists...);
3.) related arts/special classes such as art, music, library, gym for students every day;
4.) and very importantly, extra time for student learning (i.e. Intervention/Enrichment Blocks).

There are lots of variables that must be considered when building any schedule, such as how many classrooms/sections are at each grade level vs. how many specials classes are available to students. Without knowing the variables in your school, this response is, of course, very general.

If every teacher in your building under the traditional schedule, however, had one planning block per day each week it should be possible to build a parallel block schedule that also provides one planning/specials block each day for each classroom. Unless your school will have more classes/sections per grade level next year than this year or unless your school will lose some of your related arts services, your schedule should allow for daily specials for students, more common planning for teams of teachers and most importantly, protected learning time for all. We hope your staff will search for ways to make the new schedule a win-win for everyone. Keep us informed!

Becky DuFour

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We have just begun to engage in PLC's. It has been a long process for us. Now that we are started, however, choosing what we discuss has been left up to each individual group. The group members submit their ideas to the team leader, who in turn compiles the information on the agenda. This has only been successful for some of the groups. I am hoping this is because we are only in the infant stages of PLC's. In the future I would like to see the current practice continue, but I would not be opposed to administration suggesting issues that may be more pressing at the time. As PLC's promote, collaboration is an important key if they are to be successful.

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Christie L-L

Our administration has created Common Planning Times for our elementary building by creating block scheduling. So next year we will all have art, music, library, and gym on 2 or 3 days a week, instead of spread out over the traditional 5 days. This will allow us to have more common planning time. Our staff is wondering how it will be with not having brain breaks, a la art, music, libray or gym, with straight academic times on the 2-3 other other days for especially the K-3 students. Also this will be an adjustment to staff members who are used to having some prep time each day. We are wondering how Block Scheduling affects elementary students and staff prep?

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We struggled w/ the balance in managing the agenda early in our efforts. Our approach in the last school year or so seems to have found the "sweet spot". The PLC team leader develops the agenda with input from the administration and the team at large. The agenda and notes regarding progress on items form something of an accountability tool to help ensure the valuable collaborative time is being well spent.

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Becky DuFour


We're not sure who is requiring your team to engage in extensive record-keeping, but we agree that the collaborative team meeting time is not the right time to tend to the record-keeping tasks. If your school or district requires documentation of every intervention used with every student, we're hopeful someone in your organization can develop a user-friendly system that would allow each teacher to keep a running record for each student. (i.e. create a spreadsheet, utilize software etc.)

If your team is not being required, but is choosing to keep extensive records, we would recommend each teacher/staff member who provides intervention for a group of students complete the necessary records for those students. Of course, either electronic or hard copies of each students record should be easily available for all team members working with each student.

Again we recommend a user-friendly, relevant, and helpful system of monitoring student progress toward attaining the essential learnings. The results of the team-developed common formative assessments and other classroom, district, state, national assessments provide the best evidence of effective interventions.

Best Wishes,

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I am a principal of a K-6 school in Central Maine. We have students in grades K-6 and teachers have a common team meeting time each week. For the upcoming year, we are building a schedule that will have the same common team time each week (40 minutes)and then we are hoping that during one of those team times each month, teachers will be able to hold extended grade level meetings for 80 minutes to do a deeper data review. At weekly grade level meetings, teachers report out on topics they have discussed and how those topics benefit students. For the extended grade level meetings, we will have a focus and agenda to guide the data review. Our teachers have really been vocal about wanting a larger chunk of time to periodically meet and review data. The first year that teachers were asked to meet weekly was a bit painful, in the respect that they were primarily working as "independent contractors" and not used to meeting and collaborating as a team. Over the past four years, the support for grade levels to meet has really grown and garnered a lot of support from teachers as we have worked towards implementing those promising practices from Professional Learning Communities.

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Karen Casinghino

I am writing because I have a question about record keeping with regards to providing students with interventions. We are a school system who worked collaboratively to develop curriculum based assessments. After administering our assessments, we collect our data and we use our data to help identify specific areas of need for specific students. We have established intervention blocks of time during each school day so that students who need interventions will have a designated time in which to receive them. My question is more specifically related to Math interventions. Whenever a new concept in introduced, taught and practiced, there are always the same few students who seem to require more time to learn each particular skill. These students seem to acquire the skills after receiving additional instruction during the intervention blocks. Is it necessary to document every intervention that each student receives? If so, is there an efficient way that you can share with us? We are finding that we are creating a lot of paper work which is becoming very time consuming. A lot of this work…setting up intervention goals and lessons, creating post-intervention assessments, recording dates/durations/personnel for intervention, intervention results, follow-up plans…is done during our PLC time. Can anyone offer us guidance on this matter?

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I am the principal at Ruth O. Harris Middle School. Having read "Getting Started", "Professional Learning Communities at Work", "Whatever It Takes", and "On Common Ground". I decided I had to provide my teachers with time to collaborate. I have given teachers their prep period by grade level course alike teams. I began having my course alike teachers set their norms, decide on essential learnings and develop assessments. I believe that my staff is capable of determining what students need to learn for their content area. To help them out, I have course alike teams send me their meeting minutes on a form I created for them. The only requirement I set for their agenda is they must answer one or more of the PLC questions. 1.What is it we want students to learn? 2. How are we going to know if they learned it? 3. What are we going to do for students who don't get it the first time? 4. What are we going to do for students who already do get it? The teachers need to have the ability to adjust their meeting agendas to meet their students' learning needs. Their minutes need to indicate which question they addressed and what they are going to do to meet it.

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I was a specialist for two years in the district I am currently teaching in, and PLC time did not really mean much to me. It was just the time whenthe students were with me, and not with their teacher. Now that I am teaching 5th grade, I appreciate the PLC time. I am lucky in that my principal does have an agenda for us, but also leaves plenty of time for us grade level teachers to collaborate on lessons and to compare data. It is wonderful. I feel very fortunate in my situation.

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Becky DuFour

Although some teams choose to create agendas for their collaborative meetings, we agree that a much better use of collaborative team time is to generate products/artifacts that naturally flow from their collective inquiry into the critical questions of learning. The reproducible document titled, "18 Critical Issues for Team Consideration" that you received in your institute binder last summer is also available at the following link on this site:

We recommend principals and leadership teams work together to create a timeline of team products, using this page as a guide. The timeline might look something like this:

By the end of the:

2nd Week - A list of Team Norms

4th Week - One or two Team SMART Goals aligned to the school-wide goal(s)

6th Week - A list of Essential Student Learning Outcomes for each course/subject*

8th Week - A team-developed Common Formative Assessment aligned to one or two of the essential outcomes currently being taught by all members of that team

10th Week - An analysis of Student Performance on the First Common Formative Assessment taken by all students in our course/grade level

*In an elementary school where most teachers teach multiple subjects, we recommend the school focus one subject at a time, rather than try to clarify outcomes, write assessments, analyze data, etc. for all subjects at once. When teachers first begin to work in learning-focused collaborative teams, most elementary schools tend to generate their first products on either reading, writing, or math.

At the same time the leadership team is asking all teams to generate products, they are also providing teams with the time, support, resources, and just-in-time training to do the work of collaborative teams. Many of the reproducibles on this website and in our books including Learning By Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work and the Professional Learning Communities at Work Plan Book, are specifically designed to help principals and faculties get off to a good start and sustain the momentum on the PLC journey.

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Good Morning,
Our elementary school is slowly moving to having grade level teams develop their own agendas. It has been a struggle, and continues to be, because we are in the initial stages of becoming a PLC. I guess I have to wonder, because we are 3/4 of the way through the year, what we should be concentrating on at this point. If teams had a focus, like developing a scope and sequence in language arts in preparation for creating common assessments, this would lead to easily-created agendas. People would have a reason to meet because they are in charge a creating a product. This just makes sense to me. Any thoughts? Is this a good place to start at this point in the year? Many of us attended a PLC Summer Institute last summer, lost the momentum and are now looking to pick up the momentum. Thanks for any advice!

Jeffry Prickett
Principal, W.J. Murphy Elementary

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I think this is an interesting dilemma. My experience has been that certain groups of teachers want to test the boundaries. The shift to having some control over agendas may seem too good to be true and the group tends to err on the side of being very protective team time and agendas. They forget that it is a learning community of the whole school community and not just team by team learning groups. After time, most seem to get on the same page.

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My school is in the first stages of becoming a PLC and our administrator uses both approaches to developing our team agendas. The principal develops the initial agenda, including our "usual" topics to be covered (i.e. data analysis, next standards to be covered). She then adds any items that she feels are important (sometimes listing them as "must do's" or "may do's"). Our Leadership Team then reviews the agenda and gives input to any changes or additions that need to be made. Finally, teams are given freedom to add specific agenda items at the beginning our their meeting time. I think it's important to get input from teachers, but sometimes certain teams may need a little extra help or structure from administration.

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