Saturday, January 26, 2008

Overcoming Barriers to Establishing and Sustaining PLCs in Schools

Sustaining Professional Learning through Community – Part 3 of 3

What obstacles are preventing us from establishing PLCs and sustaining them in all our schools? According to the DuFours there is a knowing-doing gap in our profession. They contend that we know what to do, but that we do not follow through with the actions that are aligned with what we know. If we know that establishing PLCs is what we should do, in their book On Common Ground, the DuFours identify ten barriers to action and how to overcome them.

1. Substituting a decision for action – be sure decisions are implemented in actions
2. Substituting mission for action – identify collective commitments that must be demonstrated in action
3. Planning as a substitute for action – create and implement ongoing cycle of improvement including team-based action research
4. Complexity as a barrier to action – keep it simple
5. Mindless precedent as a barrier to action – build shared knowledge of best practice
6. Internal competition as a barrier to action – build a “sharing culture” with SMART goals that require interdependent collaboration
7. Badly designed measurement systems as a barrier to action – create formative assessments that provide teachers regular, timely information about student learning
8. An external focus as a barrier to action – focus on what we can and should do to improve learning for each student
9. A focus on attitudes as a barrier to action – create protocols and consistently send the messages that will foster new attitudes and beliefs about improving student learning
10. Training as a substitute for action – balance training and doing by using learning from doing to adjust practice and then do again and adjust again 2

In schools I think we have a tendency to have discussions around topics such as teaching strategies, programs, curriculums, or professional development that we believe, if implemented, will have a positive impact on students learning. After all of that work and effort, however, there is no time to focus on what students are learning each day, using formative assessments to monitor their learning, analyzing collectively how our teaching impacted the learning, and responding collectively to students who did not learn and students who are ready for more.

PLC Resources

To promote better understanding of all things PLC, the DuFours have created a non-commercial web site that provides much information, resources and web links to assist you learn more about the topic: I would also recommend the resource Through New Eyes: Examining the Culture of Your School. It includes a powerful dramatization of the experiences of a high school freshman in a “traditional” school and the same freshman in a PLC school that for me did a good job illustrating the day-to-day behaviors of staff in a PLC school. I would hope my freshmen grandson is having experiences typical of a PLC school. You can find it at

1. Richard DuFour and Rebecca DuFour. Implementing PLC Concepts: Tips for Closing the Knowing-Doing Gap. Northeast ASCD Affiliate Conference, Boston, November 30 – December 1, 2007.
2. Richard DuFour, Robert Eaker and Rebecca DuFour, On Common Ground: The Power of Professional Learning Communities, Solution Tree, 2005.

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