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.

The Professional Teacher

I received an interesting response from a teacher to a blog entry I made in support of giving teachers time to collaborate. In that entry (posted January 29, 2007) I attempted to make the point that in other professions, collaboration is an accepted part of professional practice and that teachers should be treated as professionals and given time to collaborate.

One of the respondents, a teacher, objected, saying I was making false analogies as justification for bullying teachers into things they didn’t want to do. Professionals, in his view, are free to make all their decisions based on their "own professional experience and intellectual discretion." As he writes, "real professionals do not submit to anyone’s view but their own." If we follow this logic, every teacher should be free to teach what he/she wants, when he/she wants, how he/she wants, assess student learning however and whenever he/she wants, and respond to students who experience difficult in whatever way he/she sees fit. Every teacher should be able to ignore the consistent research findings over 35 years on the benefits of students having access to a guaranteed and viable curriculum regardless of who the teacher is, of the link between collaborative school cultures and high student achievement, of the importance of effective formative assessments in the teaching and learning process, of systematic interventions that provide students with additional time and support for learning, etc.

The respondent defines being a professional as being able to disregard all research, all evidence, and all other points of view than his own. I could not disagree more. A "professional" is someone with expertise in a specialized field, an individual who has not only pursued advanced training to enter the field, but who is also expected to remain current in its evolving knowledge base.

My son took several AP courses in high school. These courses had prescribed curricula and high stakes comprehensive examinations. I was grateful that his teachers worked together collaboratively to become student of their AP curriculum, to discuss how to pace it, to study released sets of AP exams, to create a series of formative assessments based on the AP assessments to monitor student learning and to help students become familiar with the AP format, to explore different ways to teach key concepts, and to help students review and prepare for the exam. A teacher who consistently helped students achieve at the highest levels on the challenging AP exams was willing to share strategies, methods, and ideas with colleagues because each teacher was interested in and supportive of the learning of all the students in the course, not merely those assigned to their classrooms. I believe they personified professionals. If each had said, "I see no need to submit to the tyranny of the College Board, I will teach what I want, how I want, assess whatever and however I choose," they would have been exercising their "discretion" and refusing to"submit to anyone’s view but their own;" however, they would be the anti-thesis of professionalism because they would not be acting in the best interests of those they are expected to serve.

Recently, a comprehensive study established that performing an angioplasty, a painful and potentially fatal operation, was no more effective in preventing heart attacks than medication and exercise. That finding will have an enormous impact on the medical field, and the number of angioplasties performed in this country will plummet. Professionals do not disregard evidence or assume the knowledge they have when they enter the field will be sufficient for an entire career. They are willing to adjust their practice on the basis of evidence.

That is what we advocate for educators. That they come together to develop strategies for gathering evidence that their students are learning the things that the teachers have agreed are most essential, they discuss the evidence, and use it to inform and shape their practice. Of course, this is a feckless activity to one who believes every teacher is king of his kingdom, free to follow his personal discretion and unique vision.

This respondent continues to harp on the idea that the PLC concept is an attempt to "bully" teachers into a prescribed way of teaching. I have written 8 books and 50 articles. Not once I have ever suggested that all teachers be required to teach the same way. I have seen some brilliant teachers get wonderful results with direct instruction. I have seen others get equally terrific results with cooperative learning. Teachers at my former school were not asked to obey, or conform, but they were asked to honor and apply practices that have been well established as having a positive impact on student achievement and school culture, a guaranteed curriculum, a collaborative culture, formative assessments to monitor student learning, systematic interventions when they don’t learn. Those teachers have unique styles, personalities, and philosophies, but they were also open to the possibility that someone, somewhere might teach a concept better than they did, and they were willing, even eager, to learn from one another. They welcomed the process that enabled them to do so. They valued the time they were given to collaborate and sought more rather than less time to work with colleagues.

Perhaps the most tiresome of this respondent’s entry is that non-teacher education leadership is infantilizing teachers by suggesting it knows better than they what teachers should do. Why is it then that groups that have specifically been established to support and enhance the teaching profession have insisted that teachers, as a matter of right, should be working in professional learning communities? Why have both the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards and the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future made shaping schools into professional learning communities one of their core strategies for making the profession more rewarding? Why is it that the National Education Association’s plan for improving schools calls for teachers to work together collaboratively to promote continuous improvement of teaching and learning to achieve shared goals? Why is it that the American Federation of Teachers has called for schools to engage teachers in a continuous process of individual and collective examination and improvement of practice as the best method of improving schools?

There is simply no evidence that encouraging each teacher to work in isolation in autonomous classrooms to teach his or her own curriculum according to his or her own idiosyncratic philosophy, vision, and discretion creates a school culture that is beneficial to either students or teachers. Those who advocate such a position should do more than attack the integrity of proponents of PLCs. They should present compelling evidence that their ideas lead to better teaching and learning.



1. Create a Guiding Coalition- convene a group of teachers from your school to help you lead this journey no matter how good a leader is, no leader can go it alone when attempting to make significant structural & deep cultural changes.

2. Build Shared Knowledge about PLCs - that is, you and your guiding coalition should engage your staff in learning together about PLCs. Our book, Getting Started: Reculturing Schools to Become Professional Learning Communities (Eaker, DuFour, Dufour, Solution Tree 2002) is one resource intended to address your question.

We also encourage you to engage your staff in building shared knowledge about both your school's current reality (what does our hard & perceptual data tell us about ourselves) AND best-practice (what are improving schools doing that we're not) This is addressed at length in the chapter on building consensus  in our latest book, Learning By Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many, Solution Tree, 2006)

You and your staff can also learn about PLCs by sharing and discussing articles, such as, What Is a Professional Learning Community by Rick DuFour. (available to download at; attending PLC Institutes and Summits (visit for a listing institutes and events); making site visits to PLC schools (see schools listed under Evidence of Effectiveness on the site); video conferencing with teachers in PLC schools (call Solution Tree at 800.733.6786 for more information);

3. Explore/Utilize Additional PLC Resources:
Learning By Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work provides answers many of the questions you're facing. (i.e. how do I make this happen in my school - what's the best way to structure teams; how do I build consensus for these ideas; how do I deal with the people who still don't want to change/implement new ideas & strategies; how do I sustain the change process etc.) We've also created a teacher Plan Book that helps to guide the team process (you can explore these & other resources at:

4. Network with other principals in similar settings:
Please explore the listings under Evidence of Effectiveness and feel free to contact the principals of those schools. We also invite them and other blog readers to write in and offer insights, advice and support as you learn about and implement PLC practices in school setting.

Rick and Becky

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My particular department uses collaboration time every Wednesday morning. Having this time has allowed us to divide our classes and have multiple teachers teaching the same classes. It used to be that we had a "US History Teacher" and a "Government/Economics Teacher". Collaboration means we have two teachers teaching most classes: planning together, looking at tests, talking about what is working, coming up with strategies for discipline and designing lessons. It has made us more effective (which our standardized test scores are reflecting), has diminished teacher burnout and frustration, and really made our department a truly cohesive unit. The feelings of success and the re-arousal of my "teaching fire" are priceless. I'll never go back to solitude!

Additionally, I have come to suspect those who resist collaboration. All research indicates it is the way to go, and the positive anecdotal records of those teachers who are allowed time to collaborate are very telling. Why would anone resist collaboration?

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Hi Giskinm. I feel the best guide to a nuts and bolts approach to the challenge of reculturing a school to become a PLC is the book, Learning by Doing by DuFour,DuFour,Eaker, & Many. It presents real-world problems that schools face, strategies for overcoming those problems, the research base to help make the case for the strategies, guiding questions a staff could address, and a continuum to assess your schools progress. It could be used by a single school or by an entire district.

Good luck as you begin this important work.

Rick DuFour

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Where does one begin to establish a working model for a plc? To what could an administrator turn as a guide? I work in a school of over 700 students in a district with 9 elementary schools, 2 high and 2 middle schools. How best to begin?

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Breaking down the walls of isolation often leaves in the aftermath the rubble of past practice, the seeds for balkanization, the eggs of scrambled teaching, the spores of discompassionate purpose. We as builders of the temples of best practice, and cultivators of the open spaces and verdant fields of student achievement must be guardians of respect for that has gone before; ever ready to give fertile ground for the "good seeds of good teaching culture."

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As a first year principal, I have been so comforted in the fact that my beliefs about teamwork and professionalism were born out of the PLC's way of doing business. It gave me a framework from which to assist my staff in focusing our efforts based on common knowledge, common language and common expectations. There is absolutely no way that this could have happened, if we allowed our teachers to "do their own thing", as the teacher suggested to Rick. I have continuously shared to our staff that their collective wisdom and desire to share that wisdom, can do nothing but make us better. The staff at Mount Eagle Elementary School embodies true professionalism. They are individuals who all have unique teaching styles, but they use our "The Questions" to collectively focus every instructional conversation and decision making process.
1. What is it we want all students to learn?
2. How will we know when they know it?
3. What will we do when they don’t learn?
4. What will we do when they already know it?
5. How do we engage in relevant pedagogy and professional development to ensure that we are collectively answering these questions?
If the teacher has other ideas, as to how to improve student achievemnet and professional development of teachers, I am willing to listen. My experience is that the best professional development, is done daily as the teachers collaborate both formally and informally around data, assessments and instructional strategies. As a former college and professional basketball player, I can not imagine not having teammates and coaches, to consult, to challenge me and to ensure that I along with my other teammates were constantly improving for the good of the team. How could I do that without constantly assessing my skills and getting honest feedback from my colleagues? Rick, collaboration works in any profession. In my opinion, it is most important in our profession, as the students are the ones that will benefit the most from our collective intelligence. My hope is that the teacher who questioned you, will become open to this possibility and share the marvelous gifts that I am sure he has and allow his colleagues to share theirs. If this happens, the teacher will at last get an understaning of the true meaning of the word "TEAM".

Brian Butler, Principal
Mount Eagle Elementary School

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I am happy to say I don’t know of any teachers on our middle school staff that would prefer to teach in isolation rather than benefit from the knowledge and experience of their peers. Our staff recognizes the changing expectations in the world of education and while not all are completely comfortable with the changes, all are at least willing to work to meet these expectations. The time our administration has created for teachers to work within their departments, both at the middle school level and 7 – 12 has been greatly appreciated and, after some trial and error, these PLC’s have moved forward in their attempts to complete the work necessary to improve student performance. This movement would not have occurred without the establishment of collaborative teams, and the willingness of the teachers share and grow as individuals and as a department. I am proud of the professionalism our teachers have demonstrated throughout the PLC process, as well as the level of support provided by our administration!

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Amy Wagenveld

Wow Rick! Maybe that teacher is trying to take "old school" to a new level. Collaboration is such a wonderful thing. this world would be pretty ugly without it.

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Bravoooo Rick!

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The PLC work that my building is doing is also fantastic! It's now the accepted practice of collaboration and dialogue rather then a new trend.

We often hear the comparison of a teacher to the private contractor, yet this analogy does not sit well with recently trained teachers who have never worked in such a setting. Lets hope this method of professional development continues.

Megan Glynn

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Colleen Smith

The PLC work I see my staff doing is fantastic. It has brought a wealth of knowledge and experience together in one spot with a shared vision. My staff have appreciated having the time with one another to work, dialogue, problem solve, put best practices to the test, and grow professionally.

Those who question the works of PLCs are grossly misunderstanding the bigger picture of what they are all about. PLC work has been a breath of fresh air for my staff. For years they have worked in isolation as the "Miracle Workers" and the "Lone Rangers". Student progress wasn't discussed unless it was in the staff lounge. PLC work has opened dialogue with staff across grade levels. We no longer have the miracle workers or the lone rangers in our building, every child is the responsibility of every staff member; we are now the "Whole Village".

Staff have reflected on their own best practices with specific smart goals in mind. PLC work has validated the work of the staff and raised student achievement. We still have growing to do at my school, but I am proud of the way my staff has embraced opening the classroom doors and letting one another in. We have appreciated the different teaching styles, assessment tools used, and the various perspectives of student performance. Staff are sharing the tricks of teaching from their own personal experiences. PLCs are alive and well. I don't see this as a fad but as the building of professional credibility that has been so long over due.
Colleen Smith

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