Héctor García

Héctor García, PhD, is superintendent of Plano District 88 in Illinois. He has been an educator for nearly 20 years, serving as a teacher, principal, and district administrator in a variety of school settings.

Avoiding the “PLC Lite” Scenario

Despite the overwhelming evidence supporting the full implementation of professional learning communities, some schools and districts are still settling for a superficial level of application. In a recent conversation with a team of teachers, one confessed that she was not really clear on what they were expected to do and only vaguely recalled why they were even setting time aside to meet instead of working with students directly. Conversely, the administrative team sited the time set aside for teachers as evidence of their commitment to fully implementing PLC principles. This obvious disconnect between the administrative team and the teachers inevitably leads to the superficial implementation of PLC principles, or “PLC lite.”

Avoiding the Detours to Success

Research from Robert Kaplan and David Norton (2005) from Harvard has found that 95% of a company’s employees are either unaware of or do not understand its strategy. In PLC lite schools and districts, that percentage of educators who don’t know or are unclear about the strategy can’t be too far off. This feeling of not being sure of the direction or expectations quickly leads to unproductive team meetings and frustrated individuals. Therefore, it is critical that the leadership team critically reflects on the road map or strategic plan by addressing the following three fundamental questions:

Detour #1: Does a document exist that succinctly explains the key benchmarks for teams and timelines?

Tip #1: Leadership teams should start with a one-page road map that defines what it means to be committed to the three big Ideas of the PLC process: focus on learning, build a collaborative culture, and focus on results. This road map simply guides each team on the sort of work that should be taking place continuously and avoids confusion.

Detour #2: Do struggling team have a sense of the first, second, and third action steps?

Tip #2: Sometimes it is helpful to have staff members refer to a basic teaming cycle to avoid paralysis by analysis. Start by establishing a simple cycle any struggling team can follow. For example, 1) determine the learning targets, 2) develop a common formative assessment, 3) analyze the results and 4) develop timely interventions. While a true PLC is not checklist, struggling teams sometimes need extra guidance in taking the first and second steps of the journey.

Detour #3: Do teams regularly receive feedback on their progress?

Tip #3: Leadership teams need to ensure that they regularly set up opportunities for each team to receive feedback, celebrate successes, and discuss challenges. Each team should have an opportunity to present on different components of the road map or action steps that have been established. In other words, don’t just state that a “team must collaborate.” Instead, ask teams to produce a common unit guide or a grade-level assessment and give timely feedback.


Cynthia Jimenez

Although the district I work for does have a set PLC schedule, I feel it isn't as effective as it should be in all departments. It seems like my administrators are concerned more with the core classes and are run as they should be; however, that isn't the case if you teach an elective course. Maybe it's because I work at an all ninth grade campus where we only have one teacher teaching each of the elective courses offered at our site. I've been an elective teacher for the past three years and have not attended an effective PLC meeting until this year. I had been working on my own and will only collaborate with one other teacher who teaches a similar course whenever she's willing to work with me.

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Lindsey Nielson

Your post was very informative and helpful to me. I am teaching in a new district and the PLC meetings were completely new to me. I was not given an explanation as to what there are and what the purpose is of PLC. I feel as though our PLC meetings are not true PLC. We meet an hour once a week with the math or reading coach. The meetings are not teacher led and are not directed toward focusing on student achievement or growth. I feel as though we are given mini professional development sessions by our coaches. There isn't much interaction or collaboration. Your tips are very helpful and I look forward to sharing them with my team.

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Carolyn Maciag

Your post was very informative. I feel that at my school we are definitely in the PLC lite scenario. This year we were told by our administration that we must collaborate in our departments once a week for at least 30 min. However, we have not been given any direction on what we are supposed to do or accomplish during that time. There is a definite disconnect. Most of my department just sees it as a waste of time. So I decided to use the time to meet with another colleague to go over weekly lesson plans and review what works and what doesn't work for the students. I enjoy working as a team and my students seem to be doing better than they have in years past. That being said, we need to develop and give assessments to gather hard data as you suggested. Thank you for your post.

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Ithamora Rowe

In my school we do not have a PLC. However, we meet once per week for what is called planning session. During this session, teachers plan for the following week. A total of one hour is allotted for planning but the teachers usually exhaust the hour by discussing the challenges they face during the week leaving little time to plan. I believe it is necessary to allot a time where teachers can discuss certain issues and at the same time find strategies to address the issues that have identified.

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Shannon Judge

Thank you for your blog post. Since attending a PLC at Work Institute a few years ago, I have felt increasingly frustrated in my school district's implementation of the PLC Process. They claim to be implementing it fully, but after reading this I am convinced we have fallen into the "PLC-Lite" trap. We do have weekly, hour-long grade-level PLC meetings, but they are often not very productive. We often spend most of our time admiring the problem instead of focusing on the learning. I think it would be much more meaningful, for our students and us, to spend our time identify learning targets and assessments. I am wondering if there are samples of the documents mentioned in your 3 Steps? I think they would help to give my team more direction to become more productive and faithful to the PLC Process.

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Chandra Smith

This post is an accurate description of how PLCs are viewed at my school. 6 years ago, previous administration decided to implement PLCs. We, teachers, were told PLCs (by their definition) were made up teachers who to the same subject at the same grade level. The vision was to have teachers develop lessons and look at data to drive instruction. To date, every teacher at my school loathes PLC meetings. After reviewing this post, and so much needed research, I think I will approach my current administration and request we change how PLCs are organized and implemented at our school. It is important for us to see how effective PLCs function in schools as well.

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Chris Ryals

This post was very enlightening. Over the past year I have been asked several times how the PD days could be better but I never could come up with something. I just felt like they have been wasting my time but I am unsure of how to fix that with the group and restraints we have. This post really helped identify some parts that have been bothering me and I am now thinking of ways to fix them so next time I am asked I will have an answer on how to improve our PLC. I think it needs to be restructured as a whole.

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Peaches Hash

I definitely agreed with this post. I have been in so many PLC meetings where I have felt anger, apathy, and mentally unhinged afterward because of the lack of order and goals set in the meetings. Since my PLC teams have "teacher leaders," they should clearly have set roles and keep us focused, but often those people are not equipped with the strategies. Keeping meetings structured and routine really helps people adapt and prepare for them.

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Sheldon Davis

I found your blog post to be very interesting. It is amazing that through discussion with my colleagues they share that professional development workshops are very informative, however the ideas and strategies are not always carried over in the classroom. Teachers will learn wonderful things outside the classroom and then these have never been utilized . There need to be a means of follow up to ensure that the knowledge, skills, and strategies attained through professional learning communities find its way in the classroom to foster a more effective teaching learning exchange. This in my opinion is another form of "superficial implementation of PLC principles".

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Cindy Rubio

Hello, at my campus I am included on most PLC meetings but do not feel I am part of it because I am the resource math teacher. My co-workers do not express that but it feels like that because I do not get the same resources as the general education classes nor the same opportunity to input.

Also, as special education teachers, we tend to have Annual Meeting for our students on designated planning days because otherwise it would interfere with administration representation at our meetings. Anyhow, my teachers so not want to meet after school nor before school. This is difficult for me because I feel I might miss out on important information. How can I approach the situation better so that the PLC meeting can be more effective for others as well as for me? I was thinking of telling the department head with time if she could work with my schedule for that week when I have my meetings. I definitely feel the PLCs are important.

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Dorothy Pierce

Reading your blog gave me a different perspective of how some administrators and educators view professional learning communities. It was interesting to learn that many educators really dont understand the significance of establishing professional learning communities. It takes a collaboration of educators, professionals and parents to discuss and solve the challenges that are involved in student learning. I will definitely share this post with the administrators and educators at the school I am employed, although we do a very good job of focusing on learning targets with strategies designed to ensure student success.

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Maura Wallace

I found this blog post to be very interesting because I feel my school is guilty of the "PLC Lite" scenario at times. There are some meetings where the teachers are focused and know what we are supposed to talk about and accomplish and then other times it is a complete waste of time. I really like your Tip #3 about teachers being able to discuss with each other. It is hard for teachers to communicate during the day when they are teaching students all day so having the time to collaborate in a meeting would be very helpful. Teachers need to be able to discuss challenges they face in the classroom as well as come up with benchmarks or other assessments to evaluate the student progress. If teachers feel that PLC is pointless it is because their school is doing the "lite" version of it. A PLC is very helpful and in the meetings where my colleagues and I know what we are supposed to be doing and discussing it is very productive. My school needs to follow your three tips better in order to make sure that every PLC is productive.

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Dorothy Pierce

Your blog post gave me an opportunity to look at the professional learning community from a different aspect. The Professional Learning Community at the school where I am employed is very supportive and meets monthly to discuss learning targets, assessments, and interventions. My school district does a great job of bringing in community leaders and parents to collaborate with administrators and teachers. I think on the issue of "PLC lite", a more direct understanding of what is expected from the teachers and administrators should be defined. It is very hard to accomplish goals when the people involved in setting the goals aren't sure of the goals or how to reach them.

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Sherri Thornton

I have been a part of a grade level PLC, where we not only do planning, but we assess student work, and use that data to plan for the following week. I can relate very well to your comment regarding regular feedback from leadership on a team's progress.

For the last 10 years we have not received this regular feedback in regards to our team PLC. This year however, this is all going to change. We already have meetings scheduled once a month with our team, principal, and the title 1 specialist. I'm looking forward to seeing this much needed change to our grade level planning sessions. Your tips are very helpful and I will be sharing them with the group when we meet this month.

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Lori Olberding

In my district, we have PLC's as well. It is modeled after the research in which this site is founded. Unfortunately, after reading this, it appears my school has fallen into the "PLC lite" scenario. Although, we meet regularly it seems there is a disconnect between leadership and teachers, just as you have described. Some of our professional development time is very structured and lead with a clear objective in mind. However, the most powerful regularly scheduled time for my team and multiple grade levels to meet has lost its direction. The objectives are unclear, and the goals are not centered on improving student achievement through reflective collaboration. Yes, we meet and discuss student work, but not with the intent to uncover what is going well and who is doing right in order to improve the achievement. The detours mentioned above are very helpful. With these in mind, I may try to find a way to incorporate them into conversation within the PLC's. The time and efforts of the staff would benefit much more, as well as that of the students.

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Shayla Nelson

I am lucky enough to work in a school where there is great emphasis on the implementation and utilization of PLCs. As an educator, I feel confident saying that without the support and success of our PLC programs I would not be the educator that I am today.

I believe that it is our emphasis on the implementation and then the expectation of strategies that allows our program to be successful. We follow a format in which we meet with our PLCs at the beginning of the school year. Together we must formulate goals that meet the criteria for end of the year evaluation. We develop strategies together that allow us to all have an understanding of how to reach our goals. These strategies and our progress is reviewed periodically throughout the school year by our administration and we are held accountable as we do or do not progress toward meeting our goals. At the end of the school year, we have time to debrief and discuss the outcomes of our progress and we work together to develop goals for the next year.

It is up to the school as well as the individual departments (how our PLCs are arranged) to buy into the success of the implementation of PLC groups.

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Laura DILeonardo

I would have to agree that not all teachers are fully informed on what a PLC is or what the essential purpose of the meetings are. Many times schools group teachers together and tell them to “create a PLC,” recording what they have discussed. Personally my first two years of teaching and participating in a team meeting, which our school considered a PLC, was not beneficial. As a new teacher, I had a tendency to just go with the flow, observe, and follow in their footsteps. However, looking back on that time, I wish I had spoken up. The group of teachers I worked with used this time to socialize and preferred to talk about their lives. The time spent was not productive or beneficial to my growth as a teacher, and I truly believe the reason behind that is due to the lack of training in the area.

Two years ago, I moved teams and was grouped with outstanding teachers who went above and beyond to figure out the ins and outs of PLCs in order to make the time effective for all members. Each day we met, we had the opportunity to explore different topics, offer advice, and work on implementing a new technique into the classroom. I learned a great deal from these individuals in the areas of classroom management and technology. What made this group so effective was everyone’s willingness to focus and participate. All of the teachers were dedicated to improving their instruction to ensure student learning.

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Lisa Murray

Thank you for sharing this article about PLCs. I am currently studying PLCs as part of my Master's Degree and spent a lot of time this week learning what defines a PLC and what does not. The school in which I teach has a lot of Data Team Meetings, SRT meetings and staff meetings, however, according to everything I have read so far, it appears as if we are not having actual PLCs. Perhaps we fall into the PLC Lite category. I am not sure if there is a disconnect between the Administration and teachers or if it is not a goal for our school at this time. With that said, we will be starting off this school year with a new Principal and perhaps this individual will expect to hold and execute PLCs for our staff. I am going to be forwarding this link to my colleagues to gain their insights and opinions about PLCs.

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Tanya Conoscenti

This blog is so relevant to so many teacher's lives. There are so many times where teachers in my building are ready for a PLC meeting, and they simply do not happen for whatever reason. Therefore, the teacher has planned for this meeting and it alters the plan that the teacher has for the students during that day. Not only that, but when the teachers ARE in the PLC meetings, a sub is placed in the teacher's classroom. During this time, valuable instruction can be going on, but instead we are stuck in a meeting that we are all going to leave bewildered anyway. However, the points that you have shared are very helpful because they can allow for a better form of direction during these meetings. Thank you for sharing how a PLC should be conducted. This will be a helpful resource to bring to the next meeting.

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Jennifer Weiler

Last year was the first year my building formed a Professional Learning Community. I looked forward to going to every meeting because the teacher in charge was always prepared and we were given direction just as you stated above. Our biggest challenge we face this year is getting more teachers interested and involved. We meet 45 minutes before school begins every other week. Since we meet outside of our contract hours or due to childcare issues, last year we had about 20 - 25 percent of our teachers participate. Anyone with ideas on how to recruit more teachers to join would be welcomed!

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Debby Sadler

In the schools I work with, it seems we are getting fairly proficient with #1 and #2, but it is the follow up that is still needing work. There is intention to follow up and there might be a few light questions about student progress, but there is no real feedback and assistance regarding how the PLC process is working and how it can be improved and be more proficient. Follow up is something I need to improve on a personal level also. There never seems to be time, but it is imperative to success. It is my goal to create a pocket of time dedicated to this task this school year.

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Grace Dankyau

We do not have PLCs at my school and I have never experienced one first hand. This post has given me very clear guidelines for initiating the setting up of one. It makes it look like a venture we can dare to enter and get right from the start. Thank you for sharing.

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Alicia G

Unfortunately, I am also working in a PLC lite school. We have an hour set aside each week, but it seems as though the expectations are not understood by all. I plan to share this article with my Principal in hopes of moving towards an authentic PLC. The student learning that will result from productive PLC time is worthy of passing on this information. Thank you for sharing your knowledge on how to "steer away" from PLC lite meetings!

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Alison Michalek

My school has, as you describe, a "PLC Lite" situation. What used to be called department meetings and then data meetings are now called PLCs. Many administrators have even said that the only thing different is the name. We have very little guidance aside from a data protocol sheet to fill out. Having read this blog post I have some ideas and feedback to bring to my grade level team and administrators.

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Becca Martz

Thank you for summarizing exactly what should be going on during our PLC meeting times. Our district this year held PLC days on Monday and Tuesday mornings from 7:20-8:00 am. The problem was that most meetings were spent in conversations that could go quickly off topic. Many days we were not exactly sure what we were even supposed to be discussing. There was always much confusion and frustration because most teachers felt that the PLC time was a waste and just another thing added on the never ending list of things to do. Tip #1/the road map will be extremely helpful and useful. I plan on sharing this with my colleagues so we can have more success in our PLC meetings this upcoming school year.

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Deborah Eichel

Your article rang true with me and my last experience in a school with a Lite PLC. The teachers were told to meet at a certain location and discuss a list of topics. We were assigned groups, according to department, but the only topics discussed were issues of discipline problems we were experiencing and how the administration was not doing this or that as promised. No one knew the definition of a true PLC. No one knew what we were supposed to be doing. We all felt it was a waste of time. As you also described, the administration with my school believed that we had a functioning PLC.

I appreciated your list of tips. We do need a list of benchmarks. That would be helpful. A guide to serve as a road map would be great. The knowledge that I have gained, with regards to PLC's in the past few months, have allowed me to pursue the establishment of a real PLC in our school.

I appreciated your post. Thank you.

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Kathryn Wertz

Reading through the comments, I found it interesting that much of the collaborative time set forth by each person’s respective district was in the morning! Our district currently has one early release day each week. Time created by the students leaving early allocated for afternoon meetings. There are only a few instances throughout the year where training is offered during that time frame instead. I think our time would be used more efficiently if we started our days off with PLC time, instead of trying to form coherent thoughts at the end of the school day!

Unfortunately, it seems that we are enacting the “lite” version of PLC’s at our school. While we have a “road map” to follow, a lot of time is spent debating on areas of focus rather than productive conversation. Most of the time we talk about vertical alignment within our separate curriculums in the area of Science, or break into grade level groups in order to narrow our focus even further. Collaboration can be an extremely beneficial, however if we implement a more data driven PLC similar to what is describe in Tip #2, I feel our time could more beneficial our professional development, and, most importantly, the learning of our students!

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Leslie Frosaker

We are actively involved in collaboration that the teachers are designing. This summer we are meeting once a week at different people's homes to share ideas and resources regarding technology. Many of us meet informally at school to share ideas and discuss our challenges. We only meeting formally once a quarter to discuss how we are meeting our standards (grade level meeting and then a meeting with the grades below and above our own) in our elementary school. We need to have more scheduled time each week to do this type of assessment with peers.

As your post summarized we were in the group that lacked direction during our first meetings. Many teachers voiced that they weren't sure what their objectives were. With more direction from our administration we are now are starting to gain momentum. Thank you for your tips. I will be sharing them!

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Jon Johnson

I also work in a school system where we don't have PLC's, but we get meeting time each Wednesday morning for 45 minutes. I think it is great because we get to discuss many important things that pertain our grade level pr subject area.

I think that it is very important that our groups know exactly what they are supposed to be doing, and that is why a detour #1 is very important. The group that I meet with on a weekly basis doesn't know what we are supposed to be doing half of the time, and I feel sometimes like we are wasting time that could be doing something beneficial. I also think that feedback is also very important. Teams should be given feedback on how they are doing so they know if they are doing the right things.

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Liz Williamson

In the district I work for, we don't have Professional Learning Communities, but we do have collaboration time carved out every Thursday morning. Our students start 30 minutes later and we come in 30 minutes earlier, so we have a full hour to work with our grade level team to collaborate.

Often times our teams fall into the same problem of not really understanding what they are supposed to be doing during that time. Sometimes people come prepared for discussions and other times, they don't know what they are supposed to bring to collaboration. For this reason, I really like the teaming cycle you wrote about. This is definitely something I will be bringing back to my leadership team as a resource for teams who are struggling with what to do during collaboration. Thank you for your wonderful and simple discussion of what PLC's are all about.

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Jennie Butler

I really appreciated your blog post because it directly describes what has been occurring in the professional learning community at my school. Our plc meetings do not occur on a regular basis, and when they do, many teachers come away feeling like we have just wasted an hour of our time that could have been spent being more productive in our classrooms. By having a designated time set aside, the administration can use this as documentation that a meeting has occurred, although it has served no specific point. The 3 tips that you recommend are definitely a starting point to guide our plc so that the members know what the can have some direction. I am looking forward to sharing this blog post as a means to establish a more productive plc.

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