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.

Collaboration Empowers PLC Process

We received an inquiry from a teacher who was attempting to lead the implementation of the PLC process in her school. She wanted to provide each of the teams in her elementary school with possible common assessments that teams could use. Her hope was to lighten the teachers’ workload and convince more reluctant teachers to participate. She asked where she might go to gather common assessments. Here is my response.

First of all, thanks for your willingness to assume a leadership role in implementing the PLC process in your school. I have great admiration and affection for teachers who are willing to impact the culture of their school beyond the classroom. So again, thank you.

In terms of your inquiry about providing teachers with examples of common assessments, I want to stress two things. First, there is nothing magical or different in the appearance of an assessment created by a team of teachers versus one created by an individual teacher or by the district. If you provide teachers with examples of common assessments, those assessments will not look substantially different than those teachers have created individually. The magic is not in the product, but in the process of colleagues working together to create a common assessment. In doing so, the team must grapple with the question, "Assess what?" The team must become crystal clear on what they want students to learn and agree to common pacing that allows them to assess student learning at the same time. The team must also become clear on the questions: "How will we know if students are learning?" "What is the best evidence to gather?" "How will students demonstrate their learning?" "What criteria will we use in assessing the quality of student work?" and "Can we apply the criteria consistently?"

It is the process of exploring these questions collaboratively that brings power to the PLC process. If you shortcut the process by providing teams with assessments, you shortcut the opportunity for the deep professional dialogue essential to improved student learning. Furthermore, when a team is engaged in this dialogue, has agreed that certain things are essential for students to learn, and has agreed on what members consider is a valid instrument or process to assess learning, they are much more likely to take an interest in and responsibility for results.

So my advice is, don’t bother showing teams examples of common assessments. They won’t serve to inform the team or generate ownership. The state assessment is a common assessment. District benchmark assessments are common assessments. They do not provide timely and relevant feedback essential to student learning nor do they generate teacher ownership in results. A key to the successful implementation of the PLC process is team-developed common assessments. Once again, it is engaging in the process that leads to adult learning, so don’t circumvent the process.


Jeffrey McAlpine

For the past couple of years I have been involved in turnaround work in Nevada and went from a Mike Mattos team of a 1 my first year to a definite 10 my 3rd year. Seeing this success I became a full time PLC/instructional coach. The goal was to assist stalled teams in their PLC journey. I did a lot of this through support and smiles and critical study. My copies of Learning by Doing and Learning by Doing Revisited are marked up beyond recognition. I printed out and close read every single PLC model school profile, article, and many other books by the biggies of PLC. I was fortunate to attend the conference in Pheonix last year and literally didn't sleep as I poured over the materials. . the inspiration helped me design and develop an extremely innovative structure that offers every PLC team on campus 300 minutes a week to collaborate. Based on my research of every model PLC school. . this is the most amount of time any school structure has ever freed up for this work. Even better this is cost neutral, no extra money is spent, no substitutes or specialists are needed, we don't take before school or after school time, and each teacher still has an individual prep each day. The PLC time happens each and every day. It really took a leap of ingenuity to get there, but I figured it out. After I made this leap at the conference on I went back to Nevada and wrote about 600 pages outlining the structures we would put in place that could maximize the cultural shift through critical study and collaboration.
My principal at the high school insisted my plan was genius but I quote "too innovative". Luckily, the assistant principal that I was good friends with was hired as a new turnaround principal at a middle school. He read the book, loved it, and we are now running full speed ahead with my "Stacked Teams" model.
Just as a quick sample of this the 300 minutes are utilized strategically throughout the week. . one quick sample of the power of the plan is that every single teacher stacked into Mr. Ibarra's classroom throughout the day to particervate in his lesson (what we call observing + participating in the lesson). So every period 35 students and 12 teachers were in his classroom being led by a master teacher showing us some powerful teaching techniques. Thus, all 62 staff members at our school that day had a powerful real classroom practical learning experience as they rotated through. . truly job embedded during the day staff development.
After now thousands of hours of research, writing, exploring, tinkering, investing my energy into PLC. . I can honestly say I am part of one of the most beautiful systems ever created in a public school. So far we are just 4 months into this grand experiment and we are doing things that schools have dreamed of and talked about doing but weren't able to make happen.
I haven't stopped the research. I had yet to read the blogs section. .and thus, I am now on blog 73. . starting from the beginning and reading the blogs and the comments. I have learned so much more and I'm not even half way through the blogs.
I know that we are just starting this new innovative structure and the results are what matters the most so I won't be able to apply to be a PLC model school for a long time, and I am of course open to the possibility that we will not achieve the desired results. That after all is a big part of learning by doing. However, I just wanted to say two important things that I have learned in the past 5 years:

1. You have to both live and study PLC at the same time. I feel that some blog posts so far are misinformed as to the true work of a PLC with the 4 questions. .they are simply trying to live PLC without studying what it truly is. I feel that some are simply studying PLC and not trying to truly live it but only just sample it as much as they feel comfortable. As a result some posts describe school structures that are actually the exact opposite of what is recommended by John Hattie and Rick DuFour. Be careful that your decisions as school leaders truly reflect what these great minds have discovered.

2. 4 years ago. .I was just a teacher in a system I didn't understand. As a PLC leader our team became a 10 with my leadership. Through this I was made the science department chair at my high school and helped all the other science PLC's flourish. . as a result in the 3 years that I led the department we went from 22% of students passing our state science assessment to 84% passing the state science assessment at one of the highest risk schools in all of Nevada. It was this success that gave me a voice to become a coach. . it was through careful study that an administrator gave me the absolute honor of listening to my plan and simply saying. "Jeff, you got something here, let's go with it" and in that moment I knew I had become a reformer. Any teacher can enact systematic school wide change. The thing is, it doesn't happen over night. It happened because of years of careful diligent study and results. It happened because I didn't just complain. . I saw the problems. . and I did something about them.

It's funny my mentors that have seen me through this journey don't even know me. . I was just some crazy PLC coach from Nevada that posed for a picture and Rick & Becky signed my PLC book.
Since Teach For America sent me to Nevada, and for 10 years I have had one wish. To be a part of something that truly works for kids. Because of years of true and careful study and implementing PLC practices. .and then taking a few innovative leaps that other schools were so close to discovering, I was able to design an entire school structure that I am fully confident will see incredible results . . . we are sooo close. .at the end of the day the PLC concept has revolutionized the way I view all of education. I can honestly say that I love this work.

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Dick Dewey

Thank you for writing.

I would encourage you to start on at least two fronts:
1. Begin by gathering a guiding coalition of building-wide leaders (formal and otherwise). Send this leadership team to a PLC Institute and/or another of the many Solution Tree training opportunities that are available. You might also consider bringing a Solution Tree Associate in to meet and work with your leadership team. The objective would be to build shared knowledge among these leaders, along with the capacity to function as a team of leaders/trainers to spearhead your second front.
2. That second front would, of course, be your entire faculty and staff, as you develop an understanding and begin bringing to life the concepts, attributes, research-based best practices and standards of a professional learning community.

Solution Tree offers many outstanding resources to support these efforts. Some of my favorites that would really serve you well in the early stages of growth include:
1. DuFour, Richard, et. al. (2002). Getting Started: Reculturing Schools to Become Professional Learning Communities. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
2. DuFour, Richard, et. al. (2008). Revisiting Professional Learning Communities at Work: New Insights for Advancing Student and Adult Learning in our Schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
3. DuFour, Richard, et. al. (2010). Learning By Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work (2nd Edition). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Best wishes on your journey.

Dick Dewey, PLC at Work Associate

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I enjoyed reading this article. I currently work at a very small private school and we do not have a active PLC. As I learn more about professional learning communities, I realize their importance within school system.It would be very helpful if we all worked together to build close knit bond within our teaching community. I am really not sure of how I can begin to stir up a change; in order to bring myself and my colleagues closer together.

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We do not have PLC at our schools however we do collaborate within each grade. I teach in a smaller school where there are only two teachers to a grade until 6th grade. I would love to have an ongoing PLC within our school system (other than twice a month--if that) where all of the fifth grade teachers got together with both 4th and 6th grade teachers to see where our students have been and what they need to know to reach the next level.

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Our school has focused on common assessments in order to gain perspective on each teacher's strengths and weaknesses. We were able to compare data and discuss the different strategies for teaching the same concept. If only time was on our side to continue those discussions. I found them very helpful, reflecting on my own practices and providing suggestions to others. PLCs at our school vary from being very effective to draining one's desire to participate. I value the PLCs that allow teachers to have input on an entire process, the planning, collaborating, implementing and reflecting aspects. Other teachers' ideas and input inspire me to improve my teaching strategies and challenge myself to try innovative practices.

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I agree completely with you that emplementing a PLC with my school district would also take a great amount of time and effort due to my schools views being the same as yours.

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Divine Design 8432

I would like to comment on your post huguette and to say that you can determine the difference between the called educator (teacher) and the one that just came. The called one will be the one who will not only desire the PLC but will do whatever it takes to see it take on its fullest potential for the good of not only the student but for the educator as well. Where as on the other hand, the teacher that just came pretty much has either never had the zest nor the quest to see life advanced through their students, does only marginal work and its only a J O B (Just Over Broke) for them. The expert teacher knows that this is a calling and PLC are assets if given the proper opportunity to thrive and survive.

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In my experience and research with PLCs, when one is forced upon teachers, they may follow their directions and do what they are told, but something will be missing. When teachers are not happy, they let you know about it. If they feel something is a waste of their time, since a teacher's time is so valuable, they will not have the right attitude for a PLC.

I think the administrator needs to be careful how they approach it. If you can begin by asking teachers what their most important, authentic problems are and work from there to find solutions together, that might be a more productive route. I also believe the administration needs to be instrumental in finding ways to remind these teachers how important their jobs are and how they have a responsibility to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.

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Jessica Lundby

I work in a district that is currently in our second year of incorporating PLCs. Last year we mostly just focused within our own building. We set our SMART goals and worked to implement these goals while utilizing a new math curriculum. We got many of the kinks worked out and have a little bit more flexibility this year, whereas last year much of the work was driven by the goals of the district rather than by our own account of our student needs. This year we have a little bit more flexibility in creating our own goals and a big focus (as an additional goal by the district) is to create new common assessments to match up with WA state's new performance expectations.

I find it rather frustrating that the district is asking us to create common assessments across the district when we have not had the opportunity to get together with the kindergarten teachers from other schools. So we are approaching the end of first quarter and no common work has been done other than agreeing on when to teach each performance expectations. Although this has been helpful in directing our planning for the year, we are approaching the end of first quarter and the only common assessments we have align with the old standards.

So although I agree that common assessments are a great asset to PLC work, I believe that the process can at times be frustrating. It does take time for a large group to come to consensus, and finding the time to get together is difficult. So in our second year of implementation we hope to get common assessments in place for our third year. In the mean time, we hang on and make adjustments to the current assessments so as to match up with what we are actually teaching the students.

My fear in all this is explaining to parents why some pieces of the current assessment are not addressed. Our standards have changed and we have agreed across the district that we need to focus on the current performance expectations even though the current assessments (and report card) are not yet adjusted to meet these new standards.

I wish anyone going through this process luck and advise you to have a lot of patience. Rushing through the process will not benefit the students and the eventual outcome will be well worth it!

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I have just recently learned about the importance of having professional learning community in the school. I wish that my school had that learning community in which teachers could meet to discuss classroom challenges, and come up with solutions that promote learning. Teachers prefer to compete with each other instead of coming together to help our students. Therefore, implementing this learning community in my school would be very difficult for a teacher to do. However, this change would be possible if it is done at the administration level. And the staff would have to accept it regardless of how they feel.

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Antoinette Christie

In the school that I am employed, there is currently no professional learning community. In fact the term is relatively new to me. I have only been exposed to it, now that I am reading for my Masters and my readings pointed me in the direction of Richard Du four's article on Professional Learning Community. I am enthused about what I have read and would love to implement this learning community in my school.

I really feel though, that it is going to take great effort, why? From my experience, I have seen where students are upgraded to other classes, despite that fact that they are unable to read at required levels. These students are often allowed to float through the system with little or no intervention. Teachers usually do not have the time to establish after school programs as other occupational opportunities vie for their attention. Hence, regardless of the fact that I see the relevance of the Professional Learning Community, I grapple with the idea of implementing it in my school and the challenges that will be encountered along the way. Teachers at my school resent change and often complain about insufficient time, while making negative comments about students. Though I am new to PLC, I see where is is essential for the development of teachers, schools and more importantly students. Do you have any suggestions to assist me in implementing this new venture?

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I, too, am new to PLC, but I see the value in it. As part of our school-wide professional development, we are doing a book study on "Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work", and I am finding it very helpful. The big idea I am getting from our discussions about the chapters we read, with the article above, and doing further research on my own about PLCs, is the deep conversations that can come from teachers who are essentially and genuinely asking questions about teaching and learning. I see there is power in people working together and keeping the two important questions in mind: 1) What do we want our students to learn? and 2) How will we know our students have learned it? I will admit, however, that after 9 years of teaching, I find it very interesting that this idea of collaboration is not as easy as it looks on paper..."Collaboration" seems more intentional and meaningful to effective ways to help our students make progress.

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The PLC process requires hard work to commence; however, once in full process, the collaboration among the school administration, teachers', and parents would assist in arriving at solutions with today's challenges within the school and classroom. School's mission is the students learning and success. In order to fulfill this mission, we must collaborate as a whole to arrive at a solution. For instance, parents, school administration, and teachers' should address the current problems that are being faced within the school and classroom. Then brainstorm different solutions that can resolve the issues. Teacher's among the same grade level should collaborate weekly regarding subject matter curriculum and assessments needed to track our student's progress. In depth, other grade levels should collaborate with upper or lower grade levels to address what standards need to be accomplished prior to entering the next grade. In my current school, we have adopted many programs for different subject matters such as reading and writing. Research has shown that teachers went into the field in order to apply their creativity. This creativity would assist them in properly constructing and applying lessons that teach skills; however, when schools adopt teacher scripted programs, it limits the teacher's capability of meeting every students needs and reflecting upon their lesson. Reflections can be made, but no further action can be taken because the program must be followed as scripted. These kinds of programs should be withdrawn from schools, but this won't happen unless we have a collaboration among teachers expressing their feelings regarding these programs.

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janice jacobson

I don't think that the true meaning of PLC is understood by those in my building or district. Staff consistently complain about meetings and mandates. We leave feeling fatigued, rather than empowered. Why? Because we do not feel like we have a voice. We are lectured on the latest new idea that needs to be implemented. We are often asked to complete online surveys, but feel like the wording is stated so that a specific outcome will be attained. Staff complain that they do not feel respected or appreciated.
Teachers are given 90 minutes twice a month to collaborate in grade level teams. Unfortunately, this time is spent on individual catch-up work by many who feel they don't have the time for collaboration. How do we communicate the value of true collaboration?

I have had the privilege of participating in a PLC for the past two years--(we are in our third year now). The reason it has been so powerful is that we have a common purpose and we share openly our desires, our fears, our frustrations, our joys with one another. We evaluate best-practices and seek ways to implement them within our buildings. We enjoy each others company and have come to know each other as individuals, not just educators on the same committee. We feel like our voices are heard and that we are able to make a difference.

One suggestion I hear repeatedly is that we are tired of hiring outside "experts" to come in to our district when we have an amazing amount of expertise sitting right in our district. We need to tap into the talent of our own teachers who know our students and are working in the trenches right along with us!

Some common reasons so many are hesitant to participate in PLCs are 1) time: there is not enough time to get everything done that is required, so there isn't time for the "luxury" of a PLC; 2) mandatory: if teachers feel that PLC participation is forced upon them, then they feel they have lost their voice; 3) not valued: so many teachers don't understand what a true PLC is and therefore don't value them. They haven't experienced their power; and 4)relevance: teachers want their voices heard regarding decisions and they want to utilize the talents from amongst them.

One action I can take is to encourage reflection and collaboration at my building. I can initiate dialogue with my team. I can share my experience with the PLC I am involved with so that others will see the value and want to participate too.

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In response to Jeanne, I too just recently learned about PLC, and am blogging as a requirement for a class toward my MSED. As of right now, my school has not adopted the PLC program, but after reading the DuFour’s article, “Schools as Learning Communities” I have found that my school actually requires us to follow many of the PLCs approaches. We have an after school program that provides an after school tutoring session everyday working with students who need additional help. The program is made up of 60 students chosen by their teachers by means of assessment scores, lack of parental support, and classroom observation. The teachers work with the program administrators providing them with the tools they need to get the student/s at their appropriate stage of learning.

Not only do I rely on the after school program, but I also use the time the students are at recess to catch students up or help them finish work they have not completed. Since I teach Kindergarten, my class does not receive study hall, therefore while my students are playing at their center, I also use that time to catch students up or assess them on current skills.

DuFour’s article also says in order for us to create a professional learning community teachers must work in teams, engaging in an ongoing cycle of questions that promote deep team learning (DuFour, 2004). Something new to my school is a group I put together called, “MOM” which stands for meeting of the minds. Here teacher s get together to discuss ideas, problems, assessments and other pressing issues to promote a since of community and to learn new strategies that are best for our students.

Like Boones Mill Elementary, our school also has each grade level meet with the next grade level to discuss what they hope students will have mastered by the time they leave our class. We also have every teacher belonging to a team that focuses on student learning. My team consists of the social studies and science curriculum and outline. (DuFour, 2004). All these things we do focuses on us collaborating for school improvement.

The last thing I was able to relate to in DuFour’s article was the fact that our school has each teacher in their grade level meet to develop common formative assessments throughout the year for us to identify how our students perform in skill compared with the other grade level students (DuFour, 2004). One way we do this is by forming the same writing assessment. We administer the writing assessment with our students, then meet back to grade each one of our Kindergarten students writing assessment. We do this several times a year and keep documentation of how they performed previously to continuously check for improvements.
I think you will find that even though your school may not implement the PLC mission, you may still be doing many of the techniques that they recommend.

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I am new to PLC's this year in the school system where I work. I really enjoyed reading this article. It offered insight to my feeling overwhelmed about losing a lot of my precious (plan) time throughout the day. I am looking for more collaboration with these PLC's however. Because it is so new, I feel that our district is still venting about the process and not working together to reach student and teacher success. I hope we can come together and do good work like the article above states.

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Rick DuFour

In terms of common assessments, even if you are the only person teaching a course, you can gather information regarding the learning of your students when you incorporate released items from achievement tests from different state or national testing organizations. For example, if you Google "nation's report card," it takes you to National Assessment of Educational Progress. Click on sample questions, then question tools, then the subject area (they have assessments for every subject). You can limit your search to questions for 8th graders and high school. You will have 79 different multiple choice questions, 71 short constructed responses, and 20 extended constructed responses from which to choose. For each it indicates whether the question was easy, medium or difficult and it gives you the percentage of students who got the item correct across the nation. The constructed responses questions come with a scoring guide and examples of student responses.

So you can learn, for example, that only 28% of the nation's 8th graders could explain the effect of the depletion of the ozone layer on humans. If you find that 80% of your students can do so on the same assessment, it is a good sign. If for another concept you find that 85% of the nation's students understand the concept, but only 30% of your students can do so, you know you have a problem to address. Here is where your electronic team, or a vertical team of science teachers could work with you to address the issue.

The College Board is willing to release a lot of information about previous AP exams. ACT is another viable source.

In terms of an interdisciplinary team approach, the team will need an overarching goal - "students will be able to write a persuasive essay." That means the team has to agree on what are the elements of a good persuasive essay (versus a poor one or a great one and practice applying the criteria to real examples of student writing until they establish great consistency. There are a number of rubrics that have been developed to help teams with a process like this (Google "writing rubrics" for examples). This is a very high leverage strategy that helps students learn at higher levels in all subject areas.

Rick DuFour

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I couldn't agree more. We led high school math team and ELA team to create own common assessments and it was extremely powerful.
Two questions:
1. How can outliers create common assessments? i.e. one economics teacher or 1 AP calculus teacher.
2. What is an example of a common assessment for a middle or high school grade level team in which all teachers teach a different subject?

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natasha campbell

I really enjoyed reading and hearing how different schools develop PlC's and also how well they function. The school that i am currently teaching at do not effectively use PLCs, but I have worked at two other school here it made teaching so much easier because we had the support from one another.

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Hi, I am new to blogging and wanted to start getting involved. The school I work with does a very good job at implementing a professional learning community, we work to move all students to higher levels, and focus on individual students strengths and weaknesses to provide adequate instruction. We also collaborate on many different levels to analyze, monitor and track data. Common formative assessment are created. We focus on all students being successful. With that said, I am unfortunately the only teacher of my grade level (preschool), so I meet with the kindergarten teachers. I was curious ways that I can make the most of collaborating with another level instead on preschool. I know it is beneficial to use this time to learn what the students are expected to know before entering the next grade, but what can I do to create common formative assessment when the grade levels are different.

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As a new educator, I find that there are times that I am thrown into situations without really understanding the purpose and the PLC is one of those situations. On my previous campus there was always grumbling going on in regards to the PLC, that I found myself not wanting to attend. There were teachers that have been teaching for many years at PLCs grading papers. Although I was eager to participate initially my ideas were quickly shot down with the comment "I have been doing things like this......" As I am learning the purpose of the PLCs I realize they are designed to strengthen us as educators and not to bore us with meaningless information.

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I enjoyed reading this article. The school that I teach at has a fairly young staff, with many of us being new teachers. With that said, most of us are willing to collaborate with one another to better ourselves as educators. Learning about how the PLC process is actually supposed to work will really focus in on what it is that needs to be accomplished. This year the staff in my building will be focusing on bettering our school-wide collaboration. I am excited to see what the year brings. I agree with what Kay said. All of our scheduled planning time is only with our grade level. It would be nice to be able to do some vertical teaming at least monthly to collaborate with the grades before and after you, as to better prepare your students for the upcoming year.

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The PLC's at the elementary school where I teach are only of members of the same grade level also. We meet official once a week to discuss the curriculum, student needs, and grade level matters. This does not give a whole lot of time to discuss the instructional details collaboratively. We usually end up meeting a couple other times throughout the week to finalize the plans. We also create our own common assessments. It seems to help unify us on the lesson plans when we create these together, rather than individually. I hope that over time our grade level can branch out and work collaboratively with other grade levels. This will only help in our efforts to meet each student's needs.

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I remember at a high school where I worked we would have team planning sessions. In the years that follow more and more schools have adopted the professional community learning concept. Yet many of these communities initially were just venting section, and as such little was accomplished. However, last year was a more cooperative collaboration and although the school did not show AYP (adequate yearly progress) I feel that we were headed in the right direction. This year I hope to introduce to the team a more creative approach and a unified school wide collaboration. It is my hope that we can learn to work smart and not hard.

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I taught at a Baccalaureate school where we had to come up with a unit of inquiry for each subject being taught. The units were set up by our coordinator prior to the beginning of the school year. You may want to do some research on IB schools and look at how to implement this process. Each grade level would do different units throughout the year where the teachers would collaborate to come up with essential learning, how things would be achieved, measurements and assessments to see if their goals were being reached. This may give you a starting ground for how to make your own assessments. Of course things will change from school year to school year, but this is a way to get things moving in that direction.

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The PLCs at the elementary school where I teach are collaborative, but they are comprised solely of members of the same grade level. While this allows teachers to interact with others who are teaching the same skills and giving the common assessments, it does not allow interaction between grade levels. We have not yet established the "critical outcomes" for each grade level. Our principal will frequently attend our meetings to further his own agenda which seems to derail the group. We actually seem to get more done when left to our own devices. We do spend a few minutes before everyone arrives for our "vent sessions." I think that anytime two teachers meet, you'll always have a bit of that! I hope we can establish more timely, systematic interventions for struggling students. We currently only have interventions in place for reading.

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The school I work at is very collaborative. When we meet with our grade level we have free range as to what we will discuss. We usually touch base on every subject and sometimes there is not a lot to discuss in some areas, but we always take time to bring it up in case there are questions. Sometimes the administrators have something they want us to discuss, but they do not dictate the whole meeting time. I do like the idea of the questions of how and when to keep on track and to make sure things are revisited. In our district after the meeting is concluded our grade level chair types up minutes and sends it to the administration. On the minutes it has any questions that may need to be addressed by administration as well. This way the administrators can answer back through email if simple or plan to attend the next meeting if need be.

I feel that most teachers will discuss what needs to be discussed, but I understand the administrators wanting to know that they used their time to discuss important and meaningful topics. I feel I am thankful to work in the district I do where teachers are always collaborating and administrators are supportive.

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Wow, Kate. I cannot believe the curriculum supervisor was unsupportive of collaborating with other professionals. My principal and school district are very supportive of collaborating and creating team developed common assessments as well as instructional strategies. We are actually given time out of the school day (not often, but throughout the school year) to collaborate, plan, and look at areas of improvement. My team meets in grade level meetings to collaborate each week on our plan time before school. It isn't much time, but perhaps your team could plan to meet and work at a time like that. You might also offer some supportive research into the benefits of PLCs and collaborative planning, practice, and reflection. Here is one article you may have come across:

DuFour, Richard. (2004). Schools as learning communities. Educational Leadership, 61 (8), 6 – 11.
Retrieved from

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Wow! I can't believe that your curriculum supervisor would do that. A couple questions pop into my head after reading this and that is does your curriculum adviser have any teaching experience? I know that in my district it seems that all the supervisors have little or no experience with teaching in the classroom which I find very frustrating. How can they know what curriculum works or the resources necessary to teach when they don't have any classroom experience? As a new teacher myself I know the importance of collaborating and learning from other teachers. I would keep collaborating and working with other teachers on your team and in your school. I know that through common assessments and PLC opportunities through my school I have become a better teacher for my students.

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I just recently learned about PLC, and this blogging is actually a requirement for my first class toward my MSED. I looked at the U.S. map, did not find any PLCs in my state, and when I plugged in the statistics for my last school, did not even find one school in the entire country that matched my school's profile. That answers a lot of internal questions, and brings up many more. I suppose if I want a PLC in my district, I will have to start it.

To reply to KateH: My school district, prior to the current budget cuts, paid substitutes for the English/Language Arts teachers one Friday a month, and they all went to training paid for by the district. Attendance was mandatory. Science, on the other hand, had to meet on Saturday mornings for $15 an hour, and never more than three hours at a time. Since starting salary for teachers in my district is approximately $180 a day, doing the math would imply that our district values teaming in ELA much more than science. ELA and Math have standardized unit assessments and the data is prominently displayed in our now-defunct teaming rooms. Teaming by grade level went under the budget knife this summer. I suppose this means the inequity is common, but subjects differ by district or state.

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It has been interesting to read all of the comments on how different schools develop PLCs and how they function. My district uses the PLC approach in creating common assessments in some content areas, but they have never identified it as a PLC, nor have they discussed the intended purpose or the "why," which I believe is very important. While PLCs are encouraged in some content areas, it is strongly discouraged in others. For example, Science and Social Studies teachers are provided time in school to meet together, discuss the curriculum, and create common assessments throughout the year. Language Arts, however, tried to meet once a couple of years ago, and we were told no. In fact, the curriculum supervisor came into my room, and in front of my students, yelled at me for wanting to collaborate with other teachers. In her words, "I had just graduated from college. I should have plenty of new ideas and not need to work with other teachers to develop curriculum." Since then, myself and the other teachers in my content area have been forced to meet in secret. To this day, I am uncertain of the "why" behind PLCs for some subjects and not others. It does not make sense, and it is ridiculous to be relegated to meeting behind locked doors and over the summer to collaborate with other effective teachers. Has anyone encountered a problem like this before? Is this type of inequity common? Are there any suggestions on how to combat this?

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I really enjoyed this post being that the real meaning and purpose of PLC was stressed. I think too many of us (teachers), me included, have grown to see PLC as just another obligation that takes our precious planning periods. I know my previous teammates have strayed too far from focus, wanting to find quick ways to get things done or look for easy answers. This post has made me realize and remember the true purpose of PLC; working as a team to accomplish great things for our students' learning.

Though I have to admit that find myself wondering because I believe all of this can be easier said than done. In previous teaching teams, I have worked with many who are jaded, negative, and unwilling to participate. This then usually puts all the responsibility on one or two teammates during PLC time. This is extremely frustrating! I'm afraid that my optimism can only go so far when working with teammates who exhibit those behaviors. What can you do when working in that atmosphere?

This year's benefit is that I am working at a brand new school and look forward to turning this advice into a more successful PLC time for both myself and my other teammate.

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Our district recently attended the PLC conference in Salem, Oregon, and is eager to start the process.

Due to severe budget cuts, we cut a half-time reading specialist, and a 1/2 time kindergarten. As a result, we will have two half-day kindergartens instead of three.

Should the district have two reading specialists teach 1/2 day kindergarten and 1/2 day reading so they can collaborate, or just one person as reading specialist and one person as kindergarten teacher?

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I completely agree that the team should be creating the common assessments. In my school, my department is made up of some very young teachers, as well as some veterans... and those of us in between. It is very hard to get all of us on the same page, and excited to use the same ideas and assessments. I feel very fortunate that my district was able to receive a grant that paid for our teachers to get summer work and create the assessments together. Since we all worked on the common assessments, we all took ownership of what was being created, and I do believe that we will be on the same page for the first time this Fall. If we had not created the assessments together, I am sure that there would be some teachers who would not want to use them. Fortunately, since everyone was able to contribute to the creation of the assessments, we are all very excited to begin using them.

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Mahalia Davis

All assessments are taken seriously in my school. At the beginning of each nine weeks, all grade level content departments are required to meet, and create the common assessments. The assessments are created based on the GLEs (Grade Level Expectations) required for our students to master, by the State Department of Education. The teachers decide how many easy, moderate and hard questions we want to administer to our students. Our weekly assessments can be teacher made, district assessments, or Discovery Assessment created from a database. We also create common lesson plans after we create the assessment. We know what our objectives are before we began any lesson. Assessments and lesson plans are turned into administrators before they are presented to our students. Each teacher in the grade level content uses the same lesson plan; however, we are all able to use different strategies when presenting the lessons. We meet weekly to discuss the outcome and decide if we need to re-teach any of the GLEs.

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The collaboration in a PLC team is rather sacred in our schol. Our PLC teams use some common assessments or assessments already created by our district to align with our district standards. But we do create some assessments ourselves. More often, we create our own rubrics to determine how we will know which students have learned the outcomes we decide are essential. The point, though, is that WE decide! We decide what we want our students to know, how we will determine who knows it, what we will do if they don't know, and what we will do if they do know. We take ownership of the process and we take our responsibility very seriously. And, we get the results to affirm our efforts. If someone handed me an assessment to use, it would only confuse me as to what my purpose is in the process of PLC.

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You make an excellent point, "If you shortcut the process by providing teams with assessments, you shortcut the opportunity for the deep professional dialogue essential to improved student learning." Our district-wide benchmarks, were created by Key Data Systems; this was an administrative choice. Although there were some benefits to using a "test bank" to create the assessments; such as the appearance,alignment with standardized tests, and availability of data/results; we lacked teacher buy-in. On the other hand,a team of teachers created the common assessments for our district. This team consisted of approx. two-thirds of each grade level. These assessments were created through collaborative efforts and professional dialogue; in the process, we became better aquainted with the standards. We are now in the process of reviewing and "tweaking" them. It's a time-consuming process, but well worth it.

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This will be our first year participating in Professional Learning Communities at my school. I teach at a middle school and we often did work in isolation. I am so excited about this and the collaboration that will stem from it. I agree with creating the assessments as a team. Each teacher has ownership and feels a part of the process instead of just being given something and told to administer it. I am hoping that all teachers will be on board at my school so that we can truly become a community.

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I completely agree that coming up with the finished product is truly the learning experience, not seeing one to copy. I volunteered to write the common benchmark assessments for the district - we are almost half way done. What we are finding out is that we don't know the state standards nearly as well as we thought we did and are constantly going back to re-check something.

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Jose Alonso

Before this year, we always used the assessments that were created by teachers longs ago at our grade level. We also used the assessments provided by the district. With pressure for standardized testing and adopting a new curriculum, this year we had the chance to finally create our own assessments. The technology provided ways to easily create an assessment that addressed all the state standards that we need to be teaching. During this process, my team was able to understand how difficult some of the problems are, what we need to be teaching in order for our students to be able to answer those types of questions and ways to improve our own teaching practices. It has definitely been an eye opener for all of us, it would not be the same as if the district or the school coach provided those assessments for us. The impact would not be anywhere close as the one we currently have.

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I'm glad to have read so much information on assessments. I just began going to my school's Friday meeting. Every Friday teachers do have the opportunity to meet and talk about lesson plans and other academics. But, after reading this article I think it will be a good to bring to our next meeting. We have not talked about assessments, who make them up or where they come from. The director would give us the assessment tools, give us the date to complete and return them to the office. I never thought about getting involved with the assessment process or creating them. This was very interesting and I will bring this idea to my school. I believe that collaborating does help teachers brain storm in order to provide the best learning to our students.

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Our learning communities operate with a commitment to the norms of continuous improvement and experimentation and engage all stakeholders in improving their daily work to advance the achievement of school district and school goals for student learning.
We do have learning teams. Our learning teams may be of various sizes and serve different purposes. For instance, the faculty as a whole may meet once or twice a month to reflect on its work, engage in appropriate learning, and assess its progress. In addition, some members of the faculty may serve on school improvement teams or committees that focus on the goals and methods of school wide improvement. Our school base leadership teams make important contributions to school culture, learning environment and other priority issues; they do not substitute for the day-to-day professional conversations focused on instructional issues that are the hallmark of effective learning communities. Our learning teams meet almost every day and they discuss ways to improve teaching and learning. The members of our learning communities take collective responsibility for the learning of all students represented by team members. Each teacher member of learning teams, which consist of four to six members, assist one another in examining the standards students are required to master, planning more effective lessons, critiquing student work, and solving the common problems of teaching.

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This is year was the first time I have participated in vertical collaboration from K-5 including Title,EIP, and Special Education teachers. I have to agree with having the whole team create the assessments. In our collaboration we had a half day which was great however it was directed by two coaches within our school and it felt very rushed. I know they had things they needed to go over and deliver to us but when we were allowed to break up into small groups amazing things were happening across grade levels. A lot of teachers came away from the experience bitter, confused, and exhausted by the end of the day. When we were allowed to explore among our groups it was great but as soon as restrictions per say were put on us people began to shut down. It was almost like the coaches were frightened they would lose control. I think that is one of the major problems that come into play with collaboration. The presenter/admin team don't want to feel like they have lost control when in reality if they would just sit back and watch the magic they maybe amazed at the finished product.

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We use common assessments for a vast majority of our courses. Most of which are created through collaborative efforts and each year, those assessments are reviewed and modified. Everyone appears to take ownership of the work, and the students do not complain about taking it. We also implement a performance exam that helps demonstrate their knowledge that shows that PLC's work. I am confident that collaborative PLC practices will grow and become the norm in today's educational environment.

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Two years ago began implementing a PLC. Although the initial workload was overwhelming, the large majority of the staff find the common assessments to be beneficial in numerous ways. The process of creating the common assessments involves unwrapping standards which helps teachers understand what students really need to know to be successful when learning a new standard. Also,the common assessment allows teachers to compare data, analyze student achievement, and provide standard based interventions that lead to student mastery. At first, there were reluctant teachers; however, after two solid years of collaborating, I am 100% certain that each and every staff member can see the benefits that are being provided through the use of PLC.

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Our district is in it's first year of PLCs. So far, teachers are not feeling like collaborators. Instead they resent the planning time taken away from them and the agendas that are basically outlined for them. We (PLC leaders) can't seem to get administrations attention that these things will destroy PLCs and that what we saw at our training meetings is not what we're experiencing. Advice?

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I agree with this. I would go further as to say that the team should be the one to develop the assesment all together, even thought it may take more time. In our case, one teacher developed many of the assesments, and then the other teachers sometimes are hesitant to suggest changes, even in format, because they don't want to step on eachother's toes. It's even harder to find time to revamp the tests now that they've been used once - so do it right the first time!

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