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.

Two Different "Schools" of Thought

The most frequent question we hear at our PLC workshops and institutes is, "How should we respond to skeptical colleagues who resist any effort to implement the PLC concept?" The answer we provide is:

  1. Assume good intentions on the part of these colleagues. Recognize that from their perspective, there are very legitimate reasons for being resistant.
  2. Seek to understand their perspective. Ask them to articulate their assumptions and concerns.
  3. Seek to build shared knowledge of best practice. Present your assumptions and evidence, invite them to present any contrary evidence, and see if you can agree on the weight of the evidence. Always operate from the premise that if people of good faith have access to the same information, they are likely to arrive at common ground.

I believe this is very good advice, but I must acknowledge that it does not always work. Very rarely, we encounter someone who not only has no interest in engaging in collective inquiry, exploring assumptions, gathering evidence, or seeking common ground, but also resorts to vilifying anyone who does not agree with him or her.

No one illustrates this tendency better than a high school teacher in Texas who for the past several years has made it his mission in life to oppose the PLC concept in general and me in particular. He has, at various times, referred to me and others who advocate for PLCs as "mindless educrats", "a crass, pompous, aristocratic guru class", "charlatans", "a charismatic cult", "not to be trusted", guilty of "hubris", and a "parasite on the nation’s schools" who "peddle nonsense-driven snake oil". Perhaps I am being overly sensitive, but I get the distinct impression that he does not think highly of me.

What have I done to evoke this reaction? I have argued that schools are more effective in helping more students learn at high levels when teachers work collaboratively rather than in isolation, when they commit to provide students with access to a guaranteed curriculum that ensures all students have access to essential knowledge and skills regardless of the teacher to whom they are assigned, when student learning is monitored frequently in an assessment process that includes team-developed common formative assessment, when the school has a plan for providing struggling students with additional time and support, and when teachers analyze actual evidence of student learning to inform and improve their practice.

The concept of schooling I present is abhorrent to this teacher. He believes that as a professional he is free to make his own determinations about how to conduct his classroom. He will not subjugate his "personal academic freedom" and "independence" to the "mindless," "spineless" "group think" of "interdependent collaborative groups." Schools are better served by teachers who "stand their ground, speak their mind, and follow their own conscience, regardless of what the larger organization thinks" because real professionals "will not be bullied."

In the view of this teacher, schools should not be student-centered, but content-centered. As he writes: "It is the substance of learning, the hard material content of English, math, science, history, and the various electives that should be at the center of any school’s culture, not the teachers or the students."

He is very explicit in rejecting the idea that educators have any obligation to help all students learn. Schools should "let students fail" because "it’s the best policy that any school devoted to excellence can pursue" and ensures "the failing student is better left to experience the abject humiliation that failure brings with it." Furthermore, "the student alone holds the moral responsibility for his or her own education and its ultimate outcome." Schools that attempt to monitor the learning of students and intervene in a systematic way when they are unsuccessful do "students active harm."

This teacher argues that attention to all students can only come at the expense of bright students. "The most gifted and motivated students will have to be ignored because of the constant pressure on teachers to keep the low end of the student population from failing." The K-12 system should emulate higher education, where students succeed or fail on their own because that system has worked so well.

Clearly, we have different perspectives on the best strategies for improving schools. How might we resolve these differences? I will address that question in my next blog.


AllThingsPLC » Blog Archive » Addressing Differences

[...] my previous blog, Two Different ‘Schools’ of Thought, I reported that one of my fans has made it quite clear that his perspective on the purpose of [...]

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During my first year of teaching, our district started implementing PLCs at our schools. I was in a very small district, and our principal was very lazy when it came to conducting our PLC meetings. He used them as more of a faculty meeting where we talked about upcoming events and rarely did we speak about issues we were having in the classroom and different approaches we could take with the students. It was difficult, too, because my mom worked for the same district and was one of the pushing forces for PLCs in our schools and she would ask me how ours were going, and she got frustrated when I told her it was more like a faculty meeting.

We don't have PLCs in the school I'm in now, but we meet as a grade level every week where we have the opportunity to talk about problems we are having in the classroom and different ways we can approach them. It's almost like we are a PLC without the actual title of PLC. As a new teacher, it's very helpful to me to have the weekly meetings where I can get suggestions and feedback for my classroom.

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We are starting PLC's in our district and I have to say that this is what was needed in education. We are and should not be alone. I recently became an administrator and was amazed to see the various ways to teach lessons that I have taught for years. I am happy to start PLC's in my building because I can see the benefit first hand. We do not always have the "right way" but together we can figure out the best way to deliver the content standards. The PLC's help the staff move because they question the way things have always been done. PLC's are great!

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I am currently studying about professional learning community and I was able to read this blog ("Two Different Schools of Thought"). I also would like to share my comments about the topic since it is interesting to me. As a teacher we really need collaboration. It's one way where we can improve ourselves. I do agree that schools are more effective in helping more students learn at high levels when teachers work collaboratively rather than isolation. One teacher might know some strategies and techniques that others do not know(it is always possible). This would be a great help in addressing different challenges encountered in teaching. If one doesn't agree about an idea it can be discussed and come up with a common idea. That's why communication and common goals are important. I have expercienced teaching in isolation. I was nearly giving up. I didn't know what to do. I felt I needed someone that time to help me feel the gap. I didn't mean I just have to be a reciever or a follower. With collaboration,I'll be able to learn new ideas, compare, share, and choose what's best for my student's learning. It is our greatest responsibilty as a teacher to ensure our students achieve their highest potential and we need others to achieve this goal. We can't do it alone.

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Different perspectives are everywhere in education. I am at a school that doesn't have a formal curriculum for Math or Language Arts and an off-balanced PLC. Oh and we are have been in a restructuring status for about 6 years. This is my second year at my current school and when anyone asks about textbooks it is like they have said a naughty word. It seems to me that we all need to realize that it isn't one thing in isolation that makes a difference, as we are very interdependent. For instance, I was speaking with a colleague today about parents that are allowed to request teachers. I really had to respond to this blog because it is very unfortunate that we do not have a formal curriculum and in turn classrooms are drastically inconsistent in teaching practices and strategies so I am on the fence as a parent. Fortunately, I am a highly-requested teacher according to office staff but my issue is why can't all children at our school have the same access to the essential knowledge and skills; without both the PLC, the content, students, and teachers it appears that most schools, specifically ours, is in for harsh times. The question is will we will make it without the collaboration? Can't we all be a little more open minded? Thanks for the blog I enjoyed reading it.

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