Joe Cuddemi

Joe Cuddemi has over 35 years of experience in education, serving as a teacher, counselor, and principal in a wide variety of educational settings, including adjunct professor at Colorado State University.

Maybe It’s Time to Press the Reset Button

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” —Benjamin Franklin

The Good News Story

Each week, I am honored to work in a variety of educational settings across the country with amazing educators. The focus of the work is to support schools and districts with the restructuring and “re-culturing” process in order to ensure high levels of learning (grade level or above) for each student. There are many schools throughout the country that are committed to doing the “right work” and are demonstrating evidence of tremendous growth in both adult and student learning (See the evidence on In these high-performing schools and districts, I notice the following cultural and structural characteristics:

  • A culture rooted in collective responsibility
  • A culture committed to the continuous improvement of every practice and procedure on the basis of their impact on student learning
  • A culture that challenges the status quo and ineffective practices
  • A culture rooted in the belief that all students can learn and it’s up to the educators to ensure that this happens for each student
  • The fundamental structure of the school is no longer the individual teacher. Instead, it is teams of teachers who share common student outcomes. The teams use the four critical questions and the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle to focus on the right work
  • There are specific structures and multitiered systems in place for students who need additional time and support to learn the essential skills and dispositions

The Not-So-Good News Story

There are many more schools, also with dedicated and hard-working educators, that have not been enjoying increased gains in student achievement and yet claim to be “doing PLCs.” Some of the comments that I hear from educators in these schools and districts are:

  • “We did PLCs for years; we’ve moved onto other programs.”
  • “We meet in PLCs, but it’s just another meeting.”
  • “We are mandated to meet in PLCs, but we are micromanaged.”

Clearly these comments reflect a grave misunderstanding of the professional learning community (PLC) process, and unfortunately confuse PLCs with team meetings, silver-bullet programs, and top-down mandates. In these schools and districts, there is a lack of clarity for both the purpose of the PLC process and the cultural and structural shifts that are needed to create the conditions for success in increased levels of student and adult learning. I often work with school leaders to assess how adult behaviors, beliefs, and practices are impacting student achievement data. Some of the beliefs, behaviors, and practices that we uncover have a negative impact on the school’s culture and include:

  • A belief that to be negative, resistant, and protect the status quo is a badge of honor
  • A belief that the individual is more effective than the team
  • A lack of professional commitment to seek out the proven best practices for increasing student achievement
  • A staff that is divided into cliques and adversarial positioning
  • A staff that is micromanaged
  • A staff that believes that getting along with each other is more important than being effective in one’s practice
  • A staff that blames rather than owns responsibility

Let’s Press the Reset Button

  1. The fundamental purpose of our schools is to ensure high levels of learning for each student (grade level or above).
  2. “Researchers from around the world have confirmed the power of the PLC process. It has been endorsed by virtually all the professional organizations for educators in the United States.” —Richard DuFour, In Praise of American Educators
  3. The official definition of a professional learning community is “an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve” (Learning by Doing)
    • Collective inquiry is “the process of building shared knowledge by clarifying the questions that a group will explore together.”
    • Action research is “a process of collective inquiry in which individuals work together to become more proficient at identifying and solving problems.”

Strategies to Help Reset

  • Build shared knowledge among staff. Attend a PLC Institute or workshop and support the staff in creating the clarity necessary to understand the why, what, who, and how of the PLC process.
  • Visit and read about, visit, and/or contact national Model PLC schools to learn about their stories and the practices that are causing student success.
  • Use the Learning by Doing book and the continuums to help you assess the current reality of the essential components of the PLC process at your school/district, and create action plans with concrete next steps.
  • Visit and learn about on-site professional development customized to help your school or district improve student learning and Global PD, where you have access to hundreds of short videos from expert practitioners that will help you build the capacity of your staff.
  • Use the Taking Action handbook to learn how response to intervention (RTI) connects to the PLC process and provides you with the best strategies to intervene when students need additional time and support.

In the final analysis, when we embrace the best practices for ensuring high levels of learning for each student, and assess all practices, procedures, and policies continuously on the basis of their impact on student and adult learning, then we are a professional learning community.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” —Maya Angelou

  References: DuFour, R, DuFour, R., Eaker, R., Many, T.W., & Mattos, M. (2016) Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press. DuFour, R., (2015) In Praise of American Educators. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press. Buffum, A., Mattos, M., Malone, J. (2018) Taking Action: A Handbook for RTI at Work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

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