Guest Author

Each All Things PLC blog post author has been personally invited to contribute by the All Things PLC committee. All contributing experts have firsthand experience successfully implementing the PLC at Work™ process.

Casey Reason and Craig Dougherty

Compound Interest: Use it Today with PLCs

Albert Einstein is said to have stated that “compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe.” Compound interest is the addition of interest to the principal sum. By reinvesting interest, the base grows larger and when that base grows again by a percentage, the amount of growth is compounded. Bankers and financial planners will regale you with examples of fortunes made by pennies saved over time, thanks to the benefits compounding interest. In this blog you’ll learn how the universal power of compound interest and PLCs can shape your school.

What do you need to make compounding interest work?

To make compounding interest work you’ll need the following:

  • A base sum: Let’s say $100
  • Time: Day traders notwithstanding, that $100 must to be given time to grow.
  • Growth: Not every investment grows. See the New York Stock Exchange, any day of the week. After some time, perhaps that $100 yields $10.
  • Reinvestment: Instead of spending that $10, you reinvest it. Now you have $110.
  • Repeat: Now you have a larger base of $110. And by taking more time to grow, and reinvesting those yields, the sum gets bigger, and bigger—into infinity.

Why Einstein Loved Compound Interest

Einstein saw compound interest as a magical force that created morphing, geometric growth. While this force works with numbers and money, we’ve seen it at work as well in one very successful PLC districts, Sheridan County School District 2.

PLCs and Compounding Interest in Sheridan County School District 2 (SCSD2)

SCSD2 is a nationally recognized exemplar school district in the deep, sustained, and rigorous implementation of professional learning communities. They’ve been referenced in multiple PLC books and articles, have been awarded multiple Blue Ribbon School distinctions, and their leaders have won numerous awards for their leadership in implementation. In addition to their stalwart execution of the PLC model, they are famous for completely transforming their student achievement results. Today, they are one of the highest performing school districts in the state in terms of student achievement. Before PLCs, they were, in fact, quite low-performing. Without question this metamorphosis is driven by PLCs, but the authors of this article, which include the superintendent of SCSD2, believe that this growth occurred in thanks also to the magic and momentum of compounding interest. Let’s look at the compounding interest formula again and how it was applied with excellence in PLCs at SCSD2.

Compounding Interest in SCSD2

Let’s revisit the formula, and reap the rewards.

  • A base sum: SCSD2 didn’t start by throwing out their curriculum or hiring all new staff. Instead, they looked within and decided that the best changes would come by learning to work more thoughtfully with what they had. In the banking or numbers example, this is analogous to committing to grow your base rather than spending it and hoping for the best. SCSD2 made the critical decision to use PLCs to build a system that would continuously improve the capacity to have a positive impact on results. That’s an investment that has a history of high returns on investment.
  • Time: SCSD2 rarely uses the word PLCs. It’s simply become “how things get done around here” (DuFour, R., DuFour, R, Eaker, R, Many, T., Mattos, M., 2016). This is due to the depth of implementation as well as a commitment of time. SCSD2 saw improvement in student achievement results right away. And, they have now committed almost two decades of effort to the work—and the results more than speak for themselves. Time in this formula can also be illustrated with SCDSD2’s relentless commitment of time for teachers and students, within the school day, to implement the PLC model and to take whatever action is necessary to achieve exemplar results.
  • Growth: Earlier in this blog we reminded you, not every monetary investment grows. The same is true with SCSD2’s implementation of PLCs. Some of their teacher-led, team-driven strategies worked perfectly, creating new levels of shared knowledge (aka the secret sauce or company secrets). Thanks to the precision and ongoing critical analysis of the PLC process, strategies that didn’t produce results were abandoned and those strategies that worked were shared and critically embraced (DuFour, R., DuFour, R, Eaker, R, Many, T., Mattos, M., 2016).
  • Reinvestment: Tragically, in schools everywhere, new episodic innovations in student achievement (aka shared knowledge) are discovered, only to have them “spent” at the time without being reinvested throughout the school. One or two teachers find a pathways towards amazing results, and there is no process or inclination to strategically share or expand the strategy throughout the system. At SDSD2, when a new strategy for innovation or assessment begins to work, that innovation is reinvested in the system, sharing that “secret sauce” wisdom vertically and horizontally with teacher teams throughout the district, throughout the grade levels, and throughout the various departments (DuFour, R., Reason, C.. 2015). This sharing results in more growth, and by sharing the growth, you grow the base, and the positive results morph and explode.
  • Repeat: Over the past 20 years, the repetition, reinforcement, and systemic reinvestment of the PLC process has made SCSD2 an amazing place for teachers to teach, students to learn, and results to accelerate.

Conclusion and an Invitation

We hope we’ve inspired you to redouble your efforts in implementing the PLC process in a deep and sustaining way. We hope that you embrace the model and implement it with disciplined fidelity. We also hope that you aspire to Einstein’s magic and momentum of compounding interest, working with what you have, giving you and the system the time it needs. With deep implementation, growth identification, and reinvestment back into the system, you can create a heretofore unrealized level of accumulated results. We also invite you to learn more about SCSD2’s implementation of PLCs by reading our upcoming 2019 book entitled Inside PLCs: Your Guided Tour Through One District’s Successes, Challenges, and Celebrations. We hope you take advantage of the most powerful force in the universe, and PLCs, today—starting right now.

Based on the book Inside PLCs, this is part five in a series on real-world implementations of professional learning communities. To view all posts, see the Inside PLCs blog series.



DuFour, R., DuFour, R, Eaker, R, Many, T., Mattos, M. (2016). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work. Bloomington, Ind: Solution Tree.

DuFour, R., Reason, C.. (2015). Professional Learning Communities at Work™ and Virtual Collaboration: On the Tipping Point of Transformation. Bloomington, Ind: Solution Tree.


Thomas Ballezzi

I found your post to be very informative and helpful. I am currently taking an online course on PLC development. Learning By Doing is one of our course books. At the same time, my school has just started to implement the PLC process. I have found the information from DuFour's writings and other course material very useful in our PLC implementation meetings that I have participated in at my school. I wanted to join this site to get additional perspectives of the PLC process. I look forward to reading your upcoming 2019 book. I found your analogy of compound interest to the PLC process of sharing ideas as a way to create more value to be accurate and appropriate.

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