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.

How Do Leaders Communicate Priorities? Attention Is All There Is!

Superintendents often ask how they can promote PLC concepts in their schools. An article from the April 2003 Harvard Business Review entitled "Tipping Point Leadership" by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne offers some great ideas on that topic. The article focused on William Bratton, a guy who is credited with being the more successful chief of police in the U.S. (he cleaned up Boston, then moved to NYC under Rudy Giuliani to transform its crime rates).

Bratton’s primary strategy was to motivate and inform his precinct captains through a semi-weekly strategy review meeting that required mandatory attendance. A selected precinct captain (think principal) would be called before a panel of senior staff (think superintendent and key central office staff) and all his/her colleagues to present data on crime rate performance (think student achievement). The captain was then called upon to interpret the data, clarify his/her strategies for attacking problem areas, and offer recommendations regarding successful practices. The entire group was expected to ask clarifying questions and offer suggestions. By the way, the precinct captain was given only two days notice prior to the presentation to establish the expectation that leaders should have the data at the finger tips and should be able to produce and explain it at a moments notice.

Here is how the authors described the benefit of the practice:

"By making results and responsibilities clear to everyone, the meetings helped to introduce a culture of performance [think, a results orientation]. An incompetent commander could no longer cover up his failings by blaming his results on the shortcomings of neighboring precincts because his neighbors were in the room [think middle school principals blaming elementary principals]. The meetings gave high achievers a chance to be recognized [think celebration] both for making improvements in their own precincts and for helping other commanders. The meetings allowed police leaders to compare notes on their experiences.... The great challenges in applying this kind of motivational device, of course, are ensuring that people feel it is based on fair processes and seeing to it that they can draw lessons from both good and bad results. Doing so increases the organization’s collective strength and everyone’s chances of winning."

One way used to promote this sense of fairness was to focus on both crime rates and improvement in crime rates. The crime rates for Park Avenue were bound to be better than Brooklyn’s, but Brooklyn was in a position to show significant improvements. Conversely, Park Avenues’ rates may be great, but getting worse. Everyone had a chance to be a winner. Every captain was required to have "specific goals that were doable" (think SMART goal) all linked to a very specific purpose -making their precincts safer (think raising student achievement and closing the gap).

Here is another important point from the authors of the study: "Over time, this management style filtered down through the ranks as the precinct captains tried out their own version of the Bratton meeting" (think principals transforming faculty meetings into team-led data analysis and dialogue).

Administrators encourage teachers to make data easily accessible and openly shared among members of a team, and this format would model that openness among administrators. Fullan argues that for PLC concepts to spread across a district, a principal must be almost as concerned about the success of other schools as he/she is about his/her own school. This format could foster that interdependence.

I encourage you to consider adapting something like this to your own settings and would be very interested in hearing your impression of results.


Rick and Becky DuFour

Dear travist00,

There has been research on effective district leadership, but not specifically on district leadership of PLCs. See Building School-based Teacher Learning Communities (McLaughlin and Talbert) for a brief section on the district's role in supporting PLCs. The following resources may also be helpful:

Harvard Public Education Leadership Project (Pelp);
Richard Elmore's research in his book School Reform from the Inside Out;
research from G. Shannon and Pete Bylsma; and
Deborah Appelbaum's research for the National Clearinghouse for Comprehensive School Reform.

You could also conduct your own research using some of the model PLC at Work districts listed under "Evidence of Effectiveness" on this website.

Best Wishes,
Rick and Becky DuFour

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I am a Ph.D. student looking for recent research on the effectiveness of different superintendent leadership practices in implementing and sustaining district wide PLCs. Could anyone suggest any studies linking improved student performance to specific superintendent practices?


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Hi Amy,

If you had the opportunity to interview candidates for the principalship, I would encourage you to ask questions like:
1. How do you define the role of the principal?
2. Can you provide us with some of the specific strategies you would use to move your priorities forward?
3. Are you familiar with the concept of a loose-tight leadership? What would you be tight about? What would you be loose about?
4. Here is the scenario. You are convinced of the power of a particular practice, process or concept and want to see it in place in the school. It will require staff to do things different from what they have done in the past. Most seem indifferent to your idea and some are clearly opposed. How would you proceed?
5. What ideas do you have for giving teachers time to collaborate?
6. What issues would you want teams to focus on during collaborative time and how would you ensure the time is used for that purpose?
7. Did you ever find it necessary to confront a staff member regarding what you considered uncacceptable behavior or performance? Describe the circumstances and how you addressed the issue.
8. Can you describe the school you hope to lead?
9. What are your expectations regarding what should happen when a student is not being successful in the classroom?
10. Tell us how teachers used assessment data in your former school?

I think these questions will help you determine the candidate's position on several key issues related to PLCs.

Good luck.

Rick DuFour

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Amy Wagenveld

Tipping Point Leadership sure does sound like one way to make people accountable. My district has recently began an attempt to implement PLC's. I like the idea behind it, but we are have a long way to go. Our Principal is retiring this year and our Superintendent opened the door for staff input. I would love some of your professional advice on what we should be on the look out for. Obviously, it would be nice to have a Principal who has had some experience with PLC's. What else? Thank you so much!

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Jay Westover

The School Leadership Center at the Riverside County Office of Education in Riverside, California has developed a similar process as Rick depicts in his blog entry as summarized below:

Currently we facilitate monthly collaborative principal teams with two school districts; one with 22 principals and the other with 45 principals. The outcome has been a district-level professional learning community consisting of principal teams that collectively develop, implement and refine leadership practices based on student outcome and classroom walkthrough data. In both of these districts we also facilitate school leadership team training that is accentuated and accelerated by the collective leadership discerned by the collaborative principal teams.

I facilitate the high school and middle school principal teams for which an example of the learning is highlighted below:

The secondary principals came to the following conclusions using a protocol session for reviewing classroom walkthrough and student outcome data; 1) Algebra teachers are not providing sufficient differentiated instruction, 2) collectively as principals we have not conveyed/provided staff with expectations/resources for how to effectively differentiate instruction, 3) collectively as principals we do not have shared knowledge as to what instructional strategies best support differentiated instruction. The leadership strategies discussed were 1) use Marzano's nine strategies more consistently in professional development at our sites, 2) meet with the math departments to begin compiling and further leveraging existing best practices of differentiated instruction, 3) engage in data protocol meetings with the math departments to clearly articulate what challenges students are experiencing and link this to methods of differentiated instruction.

As for the school leadership team trainings, principals say that they engage as a principal team in the same work that they expect of their teacher teams, and so, it provides them with clarity on how to support and lead this important work at their sites.

We would be happy to share our learnings as well as resources that have been developed to support this process.

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