Building the Collaborative Culture of a Professional Learning Community
Richard DuFour and Rebecca DuFour
Thursday, March 22

My school is in the early stages of working toward becoming a professional learning community (PLC) school, so I was excited to have the opportunity to hear first hand from the developers of this effective educational practice.

One of the first things Richard and Rebecca DuFour shared was the idea that "clarity precedes competence." My school has been talking a lot about Common Core and how we need to work smarter and create a deeper level of learning. The idea of having clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before you can become competent makes a lot of sense.

I learned from this session that PLC is not a book, although there are books that will help you implement its ideas, but instead is a philosophy and a process. The DuFours presented the definition of PLC as "an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students we serve.

I had to digest this definition for a little while. One of the key words for me was ongoing. Too often in education we "do something" for a little while and then think we are done with it. The PLC process is continuous, ongoing and cyclical.

The DuFours explained that it is important to be "tight" on certain areas of this process. Areas that are not negotiable or cannot be ignored are:

 

  • Learning at high levels for ALL children (not just the few);
  • Teachers will work in collaborative teams; and
  • Ongoing assessment being used to understand the needs of students and lead to change in practices.
     
Richard and Rebecca DuFour defined collaboration as "a systematic process in which we work together, INTERDEPENDENTLY to analyze and impact professional practice in order to improve our individual and collective results."

One of the keys to this definition was the word "systematic." People need to be taught how to collaborate. They talked about a "Group IQ." Not everyone knows how to work well in groups and the process of collaboration will likely need to start with teaching staff and students how to collaborate. Rebecca DuFour advised attendees to think of collaboration as "co-labor." I think this is a very good play on words that helps me remember collaboration's true definition.

Another take away from this session was the four critical questions that need to be answered when following the PLC process:
 

  • What is it we expect them to learn?
  • How will we know when they have learned it?
  • How will we respond when they don't learn?
  • How will we respond if they already know it?
     

I now feel more prepared and invigorated to help lead my school into the process and philosophy of PLCs.

This is a great example of the high quality of speakers that NAESP has brought to its national conference each year. There is something special about hearing a person live whose work you admire and are trying to implement.

The new name for this convention "Best Practices for Better Schools" is very fitting. Hopefully all of you will get the opportunity to attend often during your professional career!

 

David M. Hanson, elementary principal, Wyndmere Public Schools, North Dakota

 

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