PLC's: Is The Collaborative Work Much Like the Reflective Work of Individual Master-Teachers?

Good afternoon to you!

Some colleagues and I just spent two days at a Solution Tree staff development conference on 'PLCs At Work.'  During the course of our time there, we watched several videos of Rebecca and Richard DuFour presenting keynote sessions during a larger event held in June in San Antonio.  We also saw Mike Mattos speak and participated in sessions with our site-consultant, Rich Smith.  Many of us have had experience with PLCs in one form or another, and have participated in other training and reading about the strategy.  My school, led by our new principal, is really going to dive in and stick with the process (I know, we are way behind owing to several factors--but, that's another story and I'm sticking to my purpose for writing :)

The following are some of my reflections on what we learned:
I was struck by how the PLC process mirrors the processes reflective, master-teachers go through on their own:
*They reflect on their mission and vision for students
*They make commitments to doing what is necessary to see that the mission and vision is achieved for ALL students regardless of their backgrounds or current 'achievement levels' and skills
*They hold themselves to high professional standards (norms)
*They study the standards and the curriculum closely to pick and choose the most essential skills, knowledge, and dispositions they need to guarantee all students learn
*They expect all students to achieve at high levels (defined as 'grade level or above' by Mattos)
*They have clear goals
*They teach using the best strategies they know, research and read to improve their practice, and collaborate with other teachers to benefit from their expertise while sharing their own
*They constantly monitor student-progress with formative assessments
*They examine the 'data' and go back and reteach students who need more support or practice (and, if they are really struggling to move students forward, they again research, read, reflect and collaborate to find ways of doing so)
*They also differentiate to provide meaningful enrichment for those who already demonstrate particular skills, knowledge and dispositions
*They reassess where students are after continued, targeted work and reflect on next steps
*They begin the process again, focusing on another 'big rock' (Stephen Covey) (or, I would argue, they continue this process as they engage in the work across the curriculum and throughout the year)

Thinking more on this, I realize, we often break the 'big rocks' or essential standards down into smaller pieces so we can functionally use this process.  For most, it takes a great bit of time and practice to truly achieve critical larger outcomes like writing a high-quality argumentative essay or, at the K-2 level, writing opinions about topics and texts and supporting them.  Regardless, master-teachers know what these bigger outcomes are and, most importantly, seek to make the everyday work they do with students meaningful and relevant toward those ends.  

So, as our school embarks on making PLCs a part of our routine practice, I walk forward knowing we're simply asking our teachers to engage in a focused, reflective process many of them already engage in on their own.  Now, though, we're looking to firm things up and ensure all our teachers have the built-in time and opportunity to collaborate and learn together, essentially putting more resources at their fingertips.  We already 'share' our students across the grade level to make the best use of resources and target student needs, though, in some areas we could expand our notions of how to do this to provide even better services to students.  I'll keep you updated on any innovations we come up with.

I am impressed with the tools and strategies the DuFours, Mattos and Smith shared.  I think these resources will make the hard work of PLCs easier and more straight-forward.  We have several new teachers this year, new to our building and newer to the profession, and I firmly believe this work will greatly benefit them and their students.

There was a good amount of talk at the conference about those who may 'resist' or not 'buy in' to the PLC process.  Yep, teachers are busy people who rightly want to know why they're being asked to engage in a time-consuming undertaking.  But, in the end, who can argue with our need to keep the most important learning outcomes at the forefront of our classroom work, stay current on research and strive to improve practice, keep abreast of the level of student-learning at all times and use that information to drive next instructional steps?  Now, we're just putting our heads and hands together to work smarter for the benefit of all our students.  We're also basically committing to support one another in even more significant ways.  Gee, I want to work in a school like that!  Oh, yeah, I already do!

Here's wishing you and yours a wonderful, productive and happy school year!  --Janiel

P.S.  I learned about the 'All Things PLC' website at the conference.  You may wish to check it out.   
P.P.S. Thanks to Davis District for sponsoring my participation at this event (particularly Belinda Kuck and Susan Spehar).


  1. I am so lucky to have your support here at Sunset. I am thrilled to be the new administrator that you mentioned and even happier to see the solid steering committee we are developing for our adventure with PLC's. Your summary of the process and reflective comparative to good teaching should strike a solid note with all the masters of our profession. Thank You.

  2. Thank you, Laura! So looking forward to learning together. It's going to be a great year which makes my heart sing for the deserving students at Sunset!


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