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.

Working in Vertical Teams

We received an inquiry regarding how vertical teams would work together in a professional learning community. Here are some ideas.

Each team should work with teachers at the grade levels above and below it to explore the following questions:

  1. What knowledge, skills, and dispositions do we want our students to acquire as a result of this course or grade level? This question is answered in part by clarifying with teachers in the grade level above what they consider the skills and knowledge students must have as they enter their grade level.
  2. How do we know our students have acquired the intended knowledge and skills? What assessments can the two teams create together to monitor student learning as they make the transition from one course or grade level to the next? For example, if the sixth grade team has identified certain math skills as essential for students to master prior to entering sixth grade, then the fifth and sixth grade teams should work together to create assessments that provide evidence of student proficiency. Both teams should examine that evidence and discuss ways to strengthen the results.
  3. What evidence can the receiving team gather about student learning that could be helpful to the sending team? Precise and specific feedback is far more effective than generalities. The statement "These kids don’t know how to write" is not helpful. "Forty percent of the students struggle with making transitions between paragraphs" could be very helpful to a team focusing its efforts on ways to benefit students.



Please give me more information about how your schedule is currently set up. I may be able to offer some suggestions.

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Staff at

Hi Elizabeth,

It is great that you have taken the step to gather some colleagues in the arts and come together to exchange ideas and share resources. That is a great first step and, heck, a lot of fun as I'm sure you have experienced. Your question reflects "the next step" in the process that all too often folks do not take...that is, true collaboration or teaming. It's hard. It takes commitment and work and people don't do it naturally. I'm the Director of PLC's in a district with 32 schools K-12 and I'm hard pressed to find more than a couple of groups of teachers working a team in collaboration as it is defined in the PLC literature. Most often I find "working groups" or "book studies" or "labor dividers" rather than what the Dufour's, Eaker, and Many define as "a team of teachers working interdependently towards a common goal to which they hold themselves mutually accountable" (Learning by Doing, 2010). Katzenbach and Smith in 1993 wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review (best of 1993), titled The Discipline of Teams, that does a great job analyzing the different types of groups/teams that exist in an organization. Not surprisingly, they have almost exactly the same definition of a team, they say, "A small number of people with complimentary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable." I recommend that you re-read the Learning by Doing chapter on collaboration and this small article (Google it) on spotting different types of teams. Both will give you some good tools on what type of a group or team you and your colleagues need to be, or can be, in order to impact student learning. That is my recommendation to start.

Here is my advice. Once you and your "peeps" (I work in southern California, my apologies) clearly define what your specific objective or goal is (i.e., SMART goal), then determine what type of team you need to be in order to accomplish that goal. I'm a big Bill Murray fan. His lesson in the movie What about Bob! is ever so true here too. "Baby Steps to the goal. Baby steps to the norms. Baby Steps to the common assessment. Baby steps to mutual accountability." Learning by Doing will give you a practical look at all the key building blocks that must be in place to be considered a collaborative team. I've seen too many well intentioned groups "die on the vine" towards collaboration because they set out to change the world rather than find that "attainable" goal that fits the capacity of the team. You'll reach higher as you find success, build on them, and discover how to work interdependently. The real test of a team, in my opinion, is found in the mutual accountability piece. The first time somebody does not come through with an agreed upon commitment of the team (didn't give the common assessment or bring the data or write the questions or deliver the lesson or or or) will be the true litmus test of the capacity of the team. In summary, set an attainable goal, determine who you must become as a team to accomplish the goal, and start practicing. When it starts getting "hairy", and it will if you are doing things right, pick up a copy of Patrick Lencioni's 5 Dysfunctions of a Team and do a book study. Good luck.

--by George Knights, PLC at Work associate

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Elizabeth Peterson

I am a 4th grade teacher who works with arts integration and a couple of years ago, I started a PLC that focuses on Arts Integration. Our group has teachers from pre-K through 12. Our work together has been wonderful as we share ideas and resources, but this year our hope is to focus more on collaboration to support each other in the classroom and therefore in student learning. Any advice?

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I am the Curriculum Supervisor at a 9-12 Regional HS with 5 sending districts. We are currently working on developing Vertical Articulation Teams in Math k-12. We are looking forward to having the teams in place but know that it will be hard work. I am looking for any advice out there from someone who may have done a similar task-taking 6 schools with different math programs and bringing them together to develop a true k-12 curriculum that will be supported in every district.

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Robert M

Hi Denise,

Perhaps some of the teachers are not seeing the connection between their work in their PLCs and the big picture of student achievement and state assessments. Scoreboards, just like those at football or baseball games, demonstrate growth in baby steps, or during quarters or innings. (The only aspect that is missing is the final goal, or a school's goal.) By posting the PLCs work in relation to the school's goals, everyone is able to see the progress (or not) incrementally. This allows for successes to be celebrated as well as PLCs' genuine work. Schmoker posits that accountability is also had through the social aspects of the PLCs. With this in mind, the scoreboards can also bring some accountability to the PLCs that are not "genuinely" working; No one wants to be the group that slacks off.

Of course a scoreboard takes work to align standards, instruction, and data gathered as a result from said instruction. But isn't that what we should be talking about?

Scoreboards can also help gather parent/stakeholder support for any schedule changes that ratified by parent since it makes PLC practice public at the school, which translates into accessible for parents. But of course it is necessary to use scoreboards as a learning tool, and nothing remotely resembling a basis for evaluation.

I hope this helps.

Robert M.

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Rick and Becky DuFour

Hi Bob (rryshke),

Some schools and districts schedule vertical articulation between buildings during professional development days. Some schools have hired substitutes for a teams of teachers so that they can meet with the grade levels /courses above and below theirs to clarify essential outcomes, develop placement assessments, etc. Still others bring teachers together during the summer to engage in vertical dialogue.

To support vertical articulation between teams within a school, you could set up a rotating schedule to release some teams from supervision during assemblies and you can also use faculty meeting time.

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Becky and Rick DuFour

Dear Denise,

We understand that many elementary teachers have a tradition of using the first block of time each morning for language arts or math instruction. Over time, because "that's the way we've always done it" our mindset has become "students can't learn to read after lunch." We know of many schools, however, that have adopted the parallel schedule you've described to 1) provide a common collaborative block for planning across each grade level and 2) to provide time for intervention and collective support for student learning across each grade level.

In a parallel schedule, time for student learning and human resources to support student learning can be allocated team-by-team rather than teacher-by-teacher. Students in schools who have embraced the PLC concept and whose schedules provide time for teacher collaboration, protected blocks for new direct instruction, and protected blocks for grade-level intervention & enrichment are achieving at higher levels than ever before - even when some students are learning math or language arts in the afternoon! You can read about some of those elementary schools listed under "Evidence of Effectiveness" on this website, including but not limited to, Boones Mill Elementary School, Anne Fox School, and Highland Elementary School. We encourage you to share this information with your staff, have them contact the schools if they'd like to communicate with teachers who work within parallel schedules.

Ultimately, professionals must make decisions on the basis of evidence of best practice rather than on personal preferences or traditional precedents. There is abundant evidence that students learn more when schools create schedules that allow teachers to collaborate and that provide for systematic intervention across an entire grade level. There is little research to suggest that students can only learn in the morning. We know that change is difficult for everyone involved and we applaud your willingness to change the schedule to meet the adult and student learning priorities of your school. We encourage you to continue to provide time and support for the adults as they are being called upon to create a new culture of learning supported by the structure of a parallel schedule.

All the Best to you and Your Staff,
Becky & Rick DuFour

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The idea of vertical teaming is very important. I would like to know if someone has implemented vertical teaming in the form of a PLC in a K-12 school. How do you schedule regular time for 5th, 6th and 7th grade teachers to meet for a PLC, especially if they are in different grade levels. It certainly is an important model that would help in scope and sequence curricular planning. We are doing PLCs at the Center for Teaching and the Junior High at Westminster Schools, but they are mostly discipline oriented PLCs.

I am thinking about how this work might be supported.


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Denise Shaver

Hello, I am a new principal at an elementary school K-5. I was fortunate enough to attend a PLC at Work conference while at a different site as an assistant principal. I was very excited to implement PLC's when I became the principal of my current school. In order to make the time in the teacher's day to collaborate I needed to make changes to their library,PE and other schedules. To make it work I scheduled these classes back to back. Although the teacher's are pleased with the opportunity to meet, I am still finding that some have a negative attitude because the release time for their grade level is during the morning block. Unfortunately when scheduling 6 grade levels within 3 days, someone has to go in the morning. The claim is that students learn best first thing in the morning and that by having the "pull outs" then, the students are missing important instructional time. How can I convince my teacher's that the work that is done during productive PLC's that are focused on student learning will benefit the students and increase student achievement in the long term? It is ok to teach Language Arts in the afternoon.

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I was fortunate enough to attend a conference with the DuFours and was anxious to implement the PLC in our school. We started out on a "High" and then "man-made schedules" got in the way. So we did set time aside to do some vertical teaming with the middle school where we set up the grade level standards and essential skills needed for each grade level (7-12). The high school has not done any vertical teaming, but the middle school is quite active with theirs. Some departments at the high school have fully incorporated the PLC concept, while others meet once a month during their department meeting to incorporate the strategies. I can not wait until we truly become PLC indoctrinated!

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Becky DuFour

Dear Kerri (ksteel),

We suggest you meet with your staff and collectively study the document
"Making Time for Collaboration" at the following link:
Your faculty can work together to determine whether or not any of the
no-cost strategies for making time will be possible in your setting.
Because of the size of your student population, we're assuming you have
one or two teachers per grade level at the most, and thus you will only
need to have common collaborative time for two or three teachers at a
time. Could you work with your central office supervisor(s) to schedule
the 1/2 day librarian on one of the days the release teacher is at your
school. If that is not possible and "creative" parallel scheduling will
not work, perhaps the "shared classes" strategy will.

You can also contact some of the smaller schools posted under "Evidence of
Effectiveness" on this site to ask if they have additional strategies for
making time for collaboration. Another resource you may want to explore
is available from the National Staff Development Council at,
"Finding Time for Professional Learning."

Please let us know how your staff solves the time puzzle.

All the Best,
Becky DuFour

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The World Languages teachers in our school district are starting to meet periodically to plan vertically. We have decided to begin rewriting the entrance test for level 2, the course students would take once they have sufficiently met the goals of level 1, in a particular language. Since there is concern that students may not be prepared for level 2, both high school and middle school teachers are designing this readiness test.
We have also decided to formulate a common writing rubric that all W.L. teachers will use, both in middle school and high school.

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My school is brand-new to the PLC idea, and we're struggling with finding ways to implement collaboration time into the timetable. It's a small elementary school,(180 students), and our pe/computer/music/release teacher are all one person, who only works 3 days per week. We have a librarian for only 1/2 day a week (not the prep teacher's day), as well as a teaching vp and a principal. I'm wondering if anyone has any creative suggestions about ways to build collaboration time into our school day.

Kerri Steel
Vice-Principal, Errington Elementary

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