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.

Why Educators Should Be Given Time to Collaborate

A Board of Education had asked the educators in its district to justify why they should be provided with time during their contractual day to collaborate rather than simply expecting them to do so on their own time. The Board felt that the key to improving student achievement was to maximize teacher time in the classroom.

Here is how I would respond to that question.

1. Time spent in collaboration with colleagues is considered essential to success in most professions. The law firm that represented our school district when I was superintendent required all of its attorneys to meet on a weekly basis to review the issues and strategies of the various cases that had been assigned to individual members. Each attorney presented the facts of the case and his or her thoughts on how to proceed. The others offered advice and challenges and shared their experience and insights. Our Board of Education never considered this collaboration as inappropriate. In fact, our members would have been very upset if the advice they received had been limited to the perspective of a single member rather than the collective expertise of the entire firm.

When our school district underwent construction projects, our Board expected the architectural firm to work as a team to design our new buildings. Furthermore, they expected those architects to collaborate on a regular basis with the managers of the construction company that did the work. Had the firm not engaged in such collaborative efforts, we would have questioned both their judgment and their effectiveness.

When I went for a comprehensive physical examination, a doctor who looked at one of the test results initially recommended that I undergo an immediate angioplasty. Prior to moving forward, however, he consulted with two other doctors and concluded the procedure was not necessary as long as I engaged in alternative treatments. I did not question his taking the time to consult with others.

Educators are professionals, and they too benefit from the insights, expertise, and collective efforts of a team of colleagues. Collaboration is not a frill: it is an essential element of professional practice.

2. The research base in support of collaboration is extensive both inside and outside of education. The collaborative team has been called the fundamental building block of a learning organization and the link between a collaborative culture and improving schools is well established. No district should disregard the compelling evidence that collaboration represents best practice as long as people demonstrate the discipline to collaborate about the right things.

3. American educators are often criticized because their students do not score as well as Asian students on international tests. The work-week of Japanese teachers is similar to American teachers in terms of the number of hours at work, but the time spent in front of students in the classroom is considerably less. In Japan, it is understood and accepted that a teacher who is working with colleagues to perfect a lesson or review examples of student work is engaged in highly productive activities that have a positive impact upon student achievement.

4. Lew Gerstner, the former chairman of IBM, was asked if he felt the key to improving American schools was simply extending the time teachers spent in the classroom - more time on task, longer school days, longer school years. Gerstner pointed out that the United States has created a system that impacts students for 13 years (K-12), yet approximately one of every four students who enters the system fails to complete it (that is, they drop out). Furthermore, many of those who do complete the system are incapable of doing what the system was designed to ensure they could do. Gerstner insisted that if IBM found that one of every four of its computers failed to reach the end of the assembly line, and many of those who did could not do what the computer was designed to do, IBM would not solve the problem by running the assembly line more hours in the day or more days in the year. They would have people sit down together and determine more effective ways to achieve the intended objective.

5. Finally, organizations demonstrate their priorities by the way in which they utilize their resources. Time is one of the most precious resources in a school. In light of the strong correlation between meaningful collaboration and improved student achievement, it would be disingenuous for any Board to argue that it wants better results but it is unwilling to provide this important cost-neutral resource to achieve them.



The people that have responded negatively to this blog demonstrate what is wrong in education today. Too many teachers speak first with no experience behind what they are asserting. I've had the experience of leading two schools on the PLC journey. Unfortunately there is always a small minority that will agree that collaboration is a good idea, but will not want anyone making them. That is rediculous! Research and experience show that schools get far better results in student achievement when they have a culture of collaboration. They didn't develop that kind of culture by being asked "pretty please" to collaborate. If leaders take that approach people like jokeefe and Miz BA will sabotage all progress, true collaboration will fail, and kids will fall through the cracks. In the two schools where I have been principal, once teachers see the superiority of true collaboration over isolationism, they never speak so foolishly again. Don't knock it til you've tried it!

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The Leader Provides the Time! « Jigsaw Learning

[...] Team Meetings to occur.  It is critical that professionals have time to collaborate (see Rick DuFour’s thoughts on the subject) and assembling in these meetings to focus on kids will not be nearly as effective if treated as an [...]

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Technology & Collaboration

[...] of a school’s investment in the practice. Rick DuFour has written extensively on developing Professional Learning Communities and providing time for teacher collaboration, and the conclusions he reaches are compelling.  In [...]

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As for me, I know that collaboration time for PLC is more helpful than words can describe. What a teacher gains from this is beyond professionalism. One grows as an individual by learning to work with those who may have completely different beliefs. Having collaboration time for PLC forces the teaching community to listen and respond.

Collaboration time planned well in advance is a tremendous gain for the students. During our collaboration time as a high school department, we discuss not only logistical and administrative issues but we also discuss individual students by sharing what we know about the student academically as well as socially. We typically end up with a workable solution tailored to the student's needs.

Collaboration time does not have to be formal. It can be at a coffee house or in the cafeteria, over lunch.

Whatever form it may take, in the end, students gain from it and we will have done our job.

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Miz BA

This is in response to jokeeffe's post of April 13, 2007. I just discovered this blog as I was searching for some background information on the PLC fad. As usual, a new name tacked on an old technique that has morphed into compulsory and demeaning busy-work, at least the way it is employed by my site admin.

BRAVO! to jokeeffe's refusal to bow to the tunnel vision of normed instruction and forced collaboration. While I believe teachers and teaching benefit from collaboration, indeed, can be impassioned as a result of it, when it is narrowly structured and forced as a vehicle for stripping us of individuality and creativiity it doesn't deserve to be called "collaboration."

I would love to have a cup of coffee with jokeeffe and discuss why educators routinely accept such unprofessional impositions without complaint, to the detriment of both their craft and student learning.

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Becky,Rick, and Bob

RESPONSE for buschrh from 5/8:

We do advocate school faculties and teams to search for ways to free teachers from supervision responsibilities. This is so they can devote more time and energy to collaborate about student learning. We think you would find that 20-25 minutes of team time each week is not enough. We encourage you to explore the Tools link of this website, in order to assist you in organizing school time. Click on Tools and Resources, Download samples, and then under the heading Organizing your Team choose the article “Make Time for Collaboration”. In addition, you may want to visit and search for additional creative ways to provide time for teachers to collaborate.
Wishing you great success as you make time for collaboration!

Becky, Rick, and Bob

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In response to SMARIE:
The questions posed by smarie, "how do we get our leaders to support collaborative time" and "how do we get our community to support collaborative time" are questions confronting every school interested in building a collaborative culture. Leaders are more inclined to support collaborative time if: 1) it does not require shutting down the school for students (that is, you have to discover ways to collaborate while the kids are still on campus) 2) it does not cost money and 3) you don't lose a lot of instructional time.The ideas we listed under the response to Kyle fit those criteria. Our experience has been that a community will not oppose collaborative time for teachers as long as 1) parents are not inconvenienced and the school can present a rationale for why teachers are collaborating. My advice is to work within these parameters rather than trying to persuade others to change the parameters.

For more ideas on finding time, see the Spring, 2007 issue of the Journal of Staff Development. The entire issue is devoted to that topic.

Rick DuFour

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We are considering our recess duty schedule to accomodate our need for regular PLC time. Most of the regular education staff has one 30 minute weekly recess duty obligation. Using title assistant we could eek out 20-25 minutes weekly to meet with our grade level peers. Will we have enough time to accomplish our PLC tasks? Should we plan additional time?

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Educators need time to meet and collaborate. They need the time to go over data that we all have but don't have the time to look at and analyze our strengths and and weeknesses. We need to find gaps in our curriculums and address the needs of our students, both at the low end and the high end of the sprectrum. I do believe the DuFour's used the acronym "DRIP" for our schools today. We are "data rich and information poor" If we do not have a built in time during our day to meet, we simply do not meet to address these needs. Having PD (Professional Development) days 5 times a year or having one hour a month to meet with PLC groups, it not consist enough to address the needs. How As pcignick stated, we would want our doctors to use the most recent data when they make a diagnosis. We do that by not having the time to look and see at our assessments of our students and lead them in the right direction in their learning. I have the same needs as pcignick, how do we get our leaders in the school to back PLC's and give us the time we need to truly help our students and lead them and ourselves in the right direction?? How do we get the community involved or is that the answer, to get the parents and community on board to get the leaders of our school interested??

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Allowing time for teachers to collaborate allows teachers time to avoid the infamous "DRIP" syndrome that is so prevalent among US schools today. The DuFour's first used this acronym at a regional staff development day I attended to refer to the "Data Rich Information Poor" status that defines so many school systems today. We simply do not have the time to truly wrap our arms around the data, analyze our strength and weaknesses, address curriculum gaps, student needs, etc. if there is not consistent, built in time to do so. If physicians had data that they did not use in making a diagnosis, patients would be appalled. Yet, we continue to bombard students with assessments without really taking the time to analyze the data and make a "diagnosis" of their learning. My school is struggling to provide embedded collaborative time on a weekly basis. Are there any small, rural schools out there that have implemented an adjusted start & end time of the contractual day? What was the community reaction/opposition? What suggestions would you give to a school that was contemplating the same idea?

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Ken Knudsen

Rick DuFour's #2 response that “no district should disregard the compelling evidence that collaboration represents best practice as long as people demonstrate the discipline to collaborate about the right things," was found to be true in our middle school. Our PLC's have focused on the "needs" of our students and school. We have created or implemented programs to address needs that we identified. Our collaboration and focus on the "right things" over the past two years has resulted in a reduction of students with failing grades in each marking period and an 8% to 9% increase of students who reached proficiency in our math, science, reading and language arts state assessment tests. Professional Learning Communities must focus on the "right things" to ensure positive results. Otherwise, meeting to meet, talking to talk will result in wasted time and staff frustration.
Questions: What "right things" are other schools collaborating on in their Professional Learning Communities this school year? What interventions or programs has your school used or created to address your "needs" and help ensure positive results?

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Rick, Becky and Bob

In response to Kyle:

Making Time for Collaboration

It is imperative that teachers be provided with time to meet during their contractual day - we advocate at least an hour of embedded collaborative time each week. We believe it is insincere and disingenuous for any school district or any school principal to stress the importance of collaboration, and then fail to provide time for collaboration. One of the ways in which organizations demonstrate their priorities is allocation of resources, and in schools, one of the most precious resources is time.

A relatively few districts have worked with their boards to arrange for students to have late starts or early dismissals to allow for collaboration because of the potential disruption to the community (for example, child care issues). You are more likely to have success if you identify strategies that would allow for collaboration that do not create this disruption. Here are some creative ways to provide time for collaboration:

1. while the students are on campus;
2. which don't require additional funding, and
3. don't result in a significant loss of instructional time

The following list is not meant to be comprehensive but is merely intended to illustrate some of the steps schools and districts have taken to create the prerequisite time for collaboration:

--Common Preparation – Build the master schedule to provide daily common preparation periods for
teachers of the same course, or department. Each team should then designate one day each week to engage in collaborative, rather than individual planning.
--Parallel Scheduling – Schedule common preparation time by assigning the Specialists - Physical
Education Teachers, Librarians, Music Teachers, Art Teachers, Instructional Technologists, Guidance Counselors, Foreign Language Teachers, etc. - to provide lessons to students across an entire grade level at the same time each day. The team should designate one day each week for collaborative planning. Some schools build back-to-back specials classes into the master schedule on each team’s designated collaborative day, thus creating an extended block of time for the team to meet.
--Adjusted Start & End Time of Contractual Day – Members of a team, department or an entire faculty
agree to start their workday early or extend their workday one day each week to gain collaborative team time. In exchange for adding time to one end of the workday, the teachers are compensated by getting the time back on the other end of that day. For example, on the first day of each school-week the entire staff of Adlai Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois begins their workday at 7:30 a.m., rather than the normal 7:45 a.m. start-time. From 7:30 – 8:30 am, the entire faculty engages in collaborative team meetings. Student arrival begins at 7:40 am, as usual, but the start of class is delayed from the normal 8:05 until 8:30. Students are supervised by administration and non-instructional staff in a variety of optional activities such as breakfast, library and computer research, open gym, study halls, and tutorials. To accommodate for the twenty-five minutes of lost instructional time, five minutes is trimmed from five of the eight fifty-minute class periods. The school day ends at the usual 3:25 p.m., buses run their regular routes, and Stevenson teachers are free to leave at 3:30 rather than the 3:45 time stipulated in their contract. By making these minor adjustments to the schedule on the first day of each week, the entire faculty is guaranteed an hour of collaborative planning to start each week, but their work day or work week has not been extended by a single minute.
--Shared Classes – Teachers across two different grade levels or courses combine their students into one
class for instruction. While one teacher/team instructs the students during that period, the other team engages in collaborative work. The teams alternate instructing and collaborating to provide equity in learning time for students and teams. Some schools coordinate shared classes to ensure that older students adopt younger students and serve as literacy buddies, tutors and mentors.
--Group Activities/Events/Testing - teams of teachers coordinate activities that require supervision of
students rather than instructional expertise (i.e. videos, resource lessons, read-alouds, assemblies, testing). Non-teaching staff supervise students while the teachers engage in team collaboration.
--Banking Time – Over a designated period of days, instructional minutes are extended beyond the
required school day. After banking the desired number of minutes on designated days, the instructional day ends early to allow for faculty collaboration and student enrichment. In a middle school, for example, the traditional instructional day ended at 3:00 p.m.; students boarded buses at 3:20 and the teacher contractual day ended at 3:30. The faculty decided to extend the instructional day until 3:10 p.m. rather than 3:00 p.m. By teaching an extra ten minutes nine days in a row, they “bank” ninety minutes. On the tenth day, instruction stops at 1:30 and the entire faculty has collaborative team time for two hours. The students remain on campus and are engaged in clubs, enrichment activities, assemblies, etc. sponsored by a variety of parent/community partners and co-supervised by the school’s non-teaching staff.
--In-Service/Faculty Meeting Time – Schedule extended time for teams to work together on staff
development days and during faculty meeting time. Rather than requiring staff to attend a traditional whole staff in-service session or sit in a faculty meeting while directives and calendar items are read to highly educated professionals, shift the focus and use of these days/meetings so members of teams have extended time to learn with and from each other.
- Learning By Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work
(DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many, Solution-Tree, 2006)

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What is the answer to providing educators with embedded collaboration time? Is it designating one day a week to have an abbreviated schedule with the students dismissing early? It would be difficult to convince the old fashioned school board and community in the deep south city in which I live and work to make a change as drastic as that.
If anyone has an abbreviated day for collaboration please share with me the specifics and more imporantly how you convinced your stakeholders to support such change.

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With all due respect, Dr. DuFour is indulging in a series of false analogies in order to justify the PLC vision. Lawyers, architects, and doctors behave as colleagues—not “communities,” except in the broadest possible sense. In a true collegial environment, professionals do meet, exchange ideas, compare data, and collaborate—and then, individually, they accept or reject the practices learned in those meetings based on their own professional experience and intellectual discretion. And that’s as it should be, because while they may collaborate at times, professional colleagues are all held individually responsible for their performance.

In a true collegial environment there are divergent, even opposing, schools of thought and areas of specialty. Some architects are postmodernists; others are neoclassicists. Some doctors are strict allopaths; others are more experimental. Some teachers are traditional; others are progressive. Only in education, as far as I know, does one school of thought routinely use intellectual bullying and groupthink (in the name of “best practice”) to maintain philosophical control of the profession.

It never fails to amaze me when the non-teacher education leadership tries to aggrandize itself by infantilizing teachers, lecturing us as if they know what’s best for our own students; as if they care about kids more than we do. Placing teachers into cooperative-learning groups and pressuring them to conform is not the answer to our profession’s woes. Teachers should meet, yes. They should collaborate to a limited degree, yes. But real professionals do not submit to anyone’s vision but their own.

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Port Williams

I have just returned from a PLC conference with a team of teachers and administrators. We have been developing the PLC model for the past year and are ready to take the next step. We acknowledge the need to meet and collaborate, but we are still struggling to put the pieces together. Increased student achievement is the goal, and we believe that the PLC framework is the means to that end. The greatest interest is in developing PLC's at our high school. Our team would love to visit a demographically similar school and collaborate with the staff. Our high school has 750 students in grades 9-12, 58 teachers, predominately white, 28% poverty, 16% special education,

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It is interesting that the article quotes the former chairman of IBM regarding building computers considering IBM no longer builds computers and has outsourced that to the Chinese company of Lenovo. While I agree with the point that more time on task does not necessarily equate to more learning if that time is not used well, I don't see how the comparison between building computers and educating students is appropriate.

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