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PLC M A G A Z I N E Summer 2020




all things


Summer 2020

Features Building PLCs at Work Through 100– Day Cycles Robert Eaker and Douglas Reeves

The six steps of 100–day leaders: A way of thinking


and doing.

PLCs in Higher Education

Heather K. Dillard, John Lando Carter, and Kevin S. Krahenbuhl Creating the mission, vision, values, and goals.

The Lander Valley High School Story  Brad Neuendorf

One school’s mission to guarantee higher levels of learning for all students.

The Old Boss Is Gone, So How Do We Sustain Our PLC Culture?  Breez Longwell Daniels

Sustaining a PLC culture is the job of all staff.

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To o l s & R e s o u rc e s fo r I n s p i ra t i o n a n d E xce l l e n ce

First Thing


Becoming a PLC: It’s just like riding a bike.



In case you missed it.

FAQs about PLCs


Attendance for interventions.



Get joy out of helping someone in pain.

Learning Champion


Jennifer Deinhart and her PLC fairy tale.

PLC Clinic


Trying to do everything at once.

Words Matter


Word scrabble merry-go-round.

Skill Shop


Unpacking essential standards.

Classic R&D


The nature of human motivation.

Contemporary R&D


Collaborative teaming and teacher engagement.

Why I Love PLCs Why I love PLCs more than numbers.


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PRESIDENT & PUBLISHER Douglas M. Rife ART DIRECTOR Rian Anderson PAGE DESIGNERS Abigail Bowen, Laura Cox, Kelsey Hergül, Rian Anderson

AllThingsPLC (ISSN 2476-2571 [print], 2476-258X [Online]) is published four times a year by Solution Tree Press. 555 North Morton Street Bloomington, IN 47404 800.733.6786 (toll free) / 812.336.7700 FAX: 812.336.7790 email: info@SolutionTree.com SolutionTree.com POSTMASTER Send address changes to Solution Tree, 555 North Morton Street, Bloomington, IN, 47404 Copyright © 2020 by Solution Tree Press


AllThingsPLC Magazine/Summer 2020

First Thing Becoming a PLC: It’s Just Like Riding a Bike Kim Bailey


y grandson, Braxton, recently became the proud owner of his first two-wheeler bicycle. With the confidence and energy only a fouryear-old can possess, he eagerly hopped onto the bike only to immediately topple off and fall to the ground. Although he is a natural athlete and has found success in every sport he’s tried, he quickly realized that riding a bike was a very different skill, one that didn’t come naturally.

Before actually learning to ride, he had to learn the parts of the bike and their functions. He acquired the skills of braking, pedaling, and steering. He practiced with training wheels, learning through trial and error during his practice sessions. Throughout his journey, he received a lot of support from his parents. In the first few days, the number of failures were disproportionately higher than his successes. But over time, he progressed from fully relying on the training wheels to riding without them. He evolved from having his dad hold onto his bike seat to needing only emotional support from his family cheering him from the sidewalk. He had gone through the learning curve, complete with the occasional bumps and bruises, and was now owning the road. In many ways, the process of embarking on the journey to implement a professional learning community model can be compared to that of learning to ride a bike. Professionals can’t simply jump on the bike and ride with skill and confidence. There is a learning curve inherent in the model, sometimes a steep one, that requires teams to develop new skills. These new skills include learning how to collaborate with colleagues in meaningful ways, clarifying essential targets for student learning, designing and analyzing common assessments, and responding to student needs when they’re not learning. As part of their learning, teams must engage in continuous trial and error and reflect on their results, adjusting their practices to keep getting better and better. Throughout, they must have guidance and support, as well as recognition and celebration to build confidence, proficiency, and efficiency in the work.

How can schools move forward to create a focus on continuous improvement in student learning while also considering the learning curve its professionals will experience? Following are some guiding principles leaders can keep in mind as they think about the context of their school’s implementation. Begin on a Flat Surface, Then Tackle the Big Hills When first embarking in their PLC journey, leaders and teams within a school can be overwhelmed by the needs of their students and the sheer magnitude of work required. They might rush to tackle everything at once or fail to spend sufficient time in foundational areas. When the work is approached in this fashion, schools run the risk of fragmenting their focus and efforts and, despite their hard work, creating little impact on student achievement. Schools that approach the work systematically, however, think big and start small. They first get grounded in their school’s foundations and initial work and then incrementally move forward. For instance, after ensuring that members are clear on their school’s mission, vision, and collective commitments, the school will spend concentrated time building collective clarity across teams about what students need to know and do by the end of their school year. By deeply engaging in the work around critical question 1 (What do we want students to know and do?), team members will learn more about their standards, prioritize those that are essential, and ensure that all members have the same picture of proficiency. While leaders know that the next hill teams must tackle will be to design common assessments around those essential standards, they don’t rush the process. They recognize that expecting teams to begin building common assessments without first reaching clarity around question 1 could result in a lack of alignment in instruction, assessments, and interventions. Because of the school’s “think big, start small” approach, teams will not only be ready for the next steps but will have already begun to impact the alignment of instruction with their heightened clarity. Don’t Forget the Training Wheels Teams need to learn new practices and processes in order to reach their goals for student learning. And like riding a bike, learning new practices requires some training wheels. Leaders ensure time to build shared knowledge with opportunities to receive feedback and support. Knowing that teams can find the work clunky and unfamiliar at the beginning, leaders empower them to engage in the work slowly and provide scaffolded support to build confidence. For example, if a team has never developed a collaborative unit of study, they may need to be guided through the steps of defining their learning targets or designing their end-of-unit and formative assessments. It’s

important to monitor how teams are doing with the intent to provide support, not to evaluate. After gathering evidence of the teams’ needs, leaders respond with the right type of support through a variety of vehicles, such as instructional coaches, model teams, videos, and exemplars. Over time, while teams may no longer require the training wheels, they may encounter occasional challenges, so monitoring and support must be ongoing. Just Keep Moving Just as a cyclist can lose balance when a bike is stationary, schools and teams run the risk of losing momentum. Distractions, mixed messages, fear of failure, or even a sense of complacency might keep a team from moving forward. For instance, a team that spends countless hours seeking perfection while designing their first assessment might actually miss a window of opportunity to impact student learning. Rather than allowing teams to get paralyzed by the need for perfection, leaders can foster the mindset of continuous improvement, encouraging teams to act within a reasonable timeframe and embed the processes of reflection and revision into their work. In this approach, teams improve the quality of their products over time. They accept that their initial work may not be perfect and they will likely encounter challenges during their journey. However, they will maintain a growth mindset and respond to those challenges with greater insights, making continuous revisions and improvements to practices, products, and processes. Celebrate Along the Way Schools that demonstrate continuous growth are deliberate about their celebrations. Leaders intentionally ensure that all improvements, large and small, are celebrated at the school. Schools can celebrate both growth and overall achievement of individual and groups of students. They also recognize individual and team processes that led to improvements in student learning, including insights gained as they overcame particular challenges. These celebrations aren’t random or accidental but are built into the traditions and practices of the school. The maxim “It’s like riding a bike” implies that once a skill is learned, it’s not easily forgotten. First developing the ability to ride, however, requires new learning, practice, and support. The same holds true for schools developing as PLCs. And just like riding a bike, as these practices are implemented, supported, and celebrated, members of a school can’t unlearn them. The important work of a professional learning community becomes second nature, and like a confident bike rider, the school can continue its journey to impact student learning—focused, determined, and empowered to own the road.

Summer 2020/AllThingsPLC Magazine


Building Professional Learning Communities at Work Through


CYCL E Robert Eaker and Douglas Reeves



hen working with school districts and schools that have embarked on the journey to reculture their schools into high-performing professional learning communities, we are frequently asked, “How long will it take before we will see meaningful structural and cultural changes that reflect the Professional Learning Communities at Work framework, along with an accompanying increase in student learning?” Our answer surprises many. The evidence is clear: A significant impact can be made in school improvement efforts in a much shorter time period than was previously thought. When leaders use high-leverage leadership strategies within short, recurring 100-day cycles, significant results can be achieved much more quickly than is generally thought. And importantly,

success in the first 100 days sets the stage for the next 100 days and the successive 100-day cycles that follow. There is little wonder why our answer is often met with skepticism. For decades, the normative thinking was that significant school improvement efforts took three to five years in elementary schools and longer—five to seven years—at the secondary level. Recent work by researchers and practitioners alike has revised this view. Michael Fullan (2019) observes, “In the 1980s, I said that systemic change in schools and districts requires five to seven years of work. Now we know that change can happen at a much faster pace. Since then, research has shown that leaders armed with practical knowledge and partnering within their communities can achieve remarkable changes within a year

or two” (p. xiii). That significant accomplishments can be achieved within just 100 days should not be surprising. History is replete with examples. Consider that in 100 days (Reeves & Eaker, 2019): • The US Constitution was written. • Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote The Gambler. • President Franklin Roosevelt led the passage of legislative enactments that lifted the United States from the grips of the Great Depression and set the stage for saving the world from fascism. • Some of the world’s greatest music was written.

S A Sense of Urgency Effective leaders create a sense of urgency. John Kotter (2008), in his New York Times best seller, A Sense of Urgency, observes, “At the beginning of any effort to make changes of any magnitude, if a sense of urgency is not high enough and complacency is not low enough, everything else becomes so much more difficult” (p. ix). Although a desirable vision of the future, long-term goals, and strategic plans may be necessary, by themselves they are inadequate. It is difficult to energize people around the idea that “someday” our district, our school, or our team will be better. Imagine taking your child to kindergarten and the principal says, “We’re working on a great literacy program, and we expect to fully implement it in five to seven years

If a sense of urgency is not high enough, everything else becomes so much more difficult. because, after all, that’s how long it takes for effective change.” You might say, “Thanks a heck of a lot, but my five-year-old child will be twelve, and it’s a bit late at that point for your hot new literacy program to become effective!” Teachers, school leaders, and parents don’t have time to wait—they need shortterm wins now rather than eventually (Reeves, 2019).

The Six Steps of 100-Day Leaders: A Way of Thinking—and Doing! Simply dividing work into 100-day segments is inadequate. Effective 100-day leaders are deliberate in their behavior. They approach each 100-day planning cycle through a prism of specific steps rather than one-and-done actions. In short, 100-day leadership is a way of thinking and behaving that when followed with consistency, specificity, and fidelity will produce cycles of short-term wins that lead to long-term success. In our recent book, 100-Day Leaders: Turning Short-Term Wins Into Long-Term Success in Schools (Reeves & Eaker, 2019), we present six steps that leaders can use in planning 100-day cycles of success (pp. 27–55). Step One: Identify Your Values A set of collaboratively developed, clearly articulated values communicates to everyone, “This is what we stand for. These

are the things we will promote, protect, defend, and celebrate. In short, these are the things we are willing to fight for because these are the things we care about the most.” Values can communicate what organizations will do and, importantly, what they won’t do. Let’s face it; articulating a list of organizational values has become so popular that organizations often fall into the trap of creating values that might sound compelling to the public but do not reflect the reality of what occurs within the organization day in and day out. It is not unusual to find a disconnect between what an organization, such as a school district, school, or team, professes it values and the behaviors and attitudes that are exhibited on a regular basis. Hundred-day leaders engage others in processes that collaboratively get to the core of the question “What does our organization value the most?” To answer this question, Richard DuFour and Robert Eaker (1998) proposed a list of questions that, taken together, communicate what is truly valued by any organization: What do we plan for? Planning is simply an organiza-

tion’s way of communicating, “This is so important to us, we are going to make plans to make sure it gets done.” What do we monitor? It’s often said that what is valued

gets checked on. It’s true. In most organizations, what gets monitored gets done. Monitoring is the leaders’ way of communicating, “We care about this so much we are going to monitor, on a frequent and timely basis, how well we are progressing.” Formative assessments are effective beyond the classroom. They also apply to tasks that those within an organization are undertaking in order to achieve short-term goals. What questions do we ask? The questions that organi-

zations are attempting to answer communicate priorities. The 100-day leader uses questions that focus on improved student learning to drive the collaborative efforts to get better, day in and day out. What do we model? Modeling is a way leaders “adver-

tise” what they care about the most. The fact is, leaders communicate more by what they do than what they say. A leader’s failure to model organizational values themselves is a sure way to create cynicism throughout the organization. How do we allocate our time? In schools, time is a val-

ued resource. It should be viewed as a tool for enhancing the effectiveness of teachers and staff in order to enhance student learning. How an organization allocates its time communicates what it values. What do we celebrate? Regardless of how well-inten-


tioned the communication of values may be, values will have little impact unless the implementation of the values is recognized and celebrated. Hundred-day leaders

100 develop rituals and ceremonies to communicate, “Our hard work is paying off. Here’s how, and here’s why. And, you—both faculty and students—are appreciated for your hard work and commitment to what this school stands for.” What are we willing to confront? Leaders who are unwilling to defend

and protect organizational values place virtually all school improvement initiatives at risk. This doesn’t mean leaders must be rude or harsh; it simply requires confronting behavior that is antithetical to a school’s values in a polite and professional—yet unequivocal—manner. The bottom line is this: leaders must be crystal clear about what the organization values the most, then be prepared to promote, protect, defend, and celebrate the best of these values frequently, publicly, and in meaningful ways. Step Two: Take an Initiative Inventory Initiative fatigue is pervasive in schools. Today’s educators face more demands than ever before, and many feel overwhelmed. Sadly, increasing numbers simply succumb to despair and leave the profession. Often, the issue is not that leaders aren’t implementing best practices; in fact, leaders who lack a sense of focus may randomly implement too many best practices. Importantly, as needs increase, initiatives begin to proliferate. When leaders try to do too many things—even with the best of intentions—little gets done. We recommend leaders use a three-step initiative-analysis process. First, take an initiative inventory. To achieve focus, leaders must first identify every single initiative the school has in place. Second, create implementation rubrics for each initiative. A general four-point rubric might contain these criteria (Reeves & Eaker, 2019, p. 35). Level 1: We have the materials, but we have not yet begun implementation. Level 2: We have trained the staff, but there is minimal implementation by

only a few adopters. Level 3: We have achieved full implementation by more than 90 percent of

the staff.




Unpacking Essential Standards Step 1: Annotate the Essential Standard Instructions: Using a process adapted from the work of Larry Ainsworth (2003) by education leadership consultants Kim Bailey and Chris Jakicic (2019), annotate one of your essential standards in the following box. Begin by circling verbs (skills students should master); then underline nouns (concepts or facts students should master) and put brackets around words that show the context of the task students will perform to demonstrate mastery.

Step 2: Reflect on the Standard Instructions: Answer the following questions about the essential standard that you annotated in step 1. Using your annotations, list the content knowledge that students will need to know in order to master this standard.

Using your annotations, list the skills that students will need to demonstrate in order to master this standard.

Why is it important for students to master this standard?

How can you assess the progress that students are making toward mastering this standard?


AllThingsPLC Magazine/Summer 2020

Step 3: Write Student-Friendly Learning Targets Instructions: Create a set of three to five statements describing exactly what students will need to know and be able to do in order to master this standard. Remember to write your learning targets in student-friendly language so that you can effectively communicate your expectations to your students. Also, remember to include a “doing task” that students can complete in order to demonstrate mastery of the learning target. Expected Learning Sample: Students will need to understand that poets often use figurative language to create a mood or tone for their poems.

Expected Learning in StudentFriendly Language Sample: I can explain how writers use figurative language to influence readers’ interpretations.

Doing Task Sample: This means that I can look at similes, metaphors, and personification in poems and make a prediction about how they might make readers feel.

Source: Ferriter, W. M. (2020). The Big Book of Tools for Collaborative Teams in a PLC at Work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press. Summer 2020/AllThingsPLC Magazine


Why I Love PLCs Why I Love PLCs More Than Numbers BY EMMY HERGERT Last fall at a parent night event, the realization of the impact of all our work as a PLC became clear when I heard the conversations students and their families were having around academics and education. Conversations were unique to each student, but all were focused on learning. Students were focused on academic growth and were able to tell their parents how they could achieve growth through their classes, with their teachers, and with the support programs and times structured throughout our school day. It was a night of positivity and optimism about each student’s hopes and dreams and how he or she was on a path to achieve those dreams. Leaving that night, it was apparent to me how profound our work as a PLC was and is. We have created a culture of learning that is becoming instilled in our students and our community. My vertical math team is made up of four singleton teachers from grades 5, 6, 7, and 8. Each individual teaches math all day to a single grade level of students. Working as a vertical collaborative content team in our small school, we focus on data. We come together twice a week to scaffold student learning that is aligned to a shared SMART goal. Our team collaborates around student data, and our results inform and improve our practice. Our vertical math team increases student achievement by increasing learning student by student, skill by skill. All students grow and all students learn because four years of learning is mapped out by our team and students never experience an instructional gap. Our vertical team is in sync at all times. We use the same academic vocabulary, and we carefully map skill progression, using that information to drive our instruction. My team is continually growing and learning from each other. There is not a best class or the best teacher. We all have strengths and can capitalize on these strengths while learning from each other and helping our students receive the


best education possible. As a PLC, we are not in the mindset of keeping the “good” activities or practices for ourselves or our classrooms. We see every student as our student. All means all. As a team, any celebrations are shared celebrations. When colleagues’ classes experience academic success in math by demonstrating 100 percent growth on a national assessment, meaning every student has measurable growth from fall to spring, I feel like I am part of that success. Being part of the collaboration around our students and best practices for our students, it is easy to be invested in student learning across grade levels. It’s about learning. It’s about our students! Bottom line, PLCs are effective. They work. Sometimes it’s hard work, but PLCs offer a framework to continually seek better results— learn, grow, improve, and learn some more. My team is on this journey. Our students are on this journey. We’ve seen results, some that can be represented through student data and school achievement scores. Every year we get better. The number of students performing at advanced levels continues to increase. This accomplishment is a team effort from the ground up! As each cohort enters our building, we can feel confident saying each class will exit our school with more students performing on state and national assessments at the proficient and advanced levels. Furthermore, we expect growth and have removed roadblocks in our minds toward student success. We have set goals that some believe are unattainable, but we continue to accomplish them. We expect 100 percent of our students will grow from fall to spring as shown through national assessments, and they are doing it! Nobody can opt out of learning and growing. Every student is important, and we value the education he or she is receiving. I’ve also seen positives come from our work as a PLC that can’t be represented by numbers. What impacts me most as an educator, by being in a school that operates as a PLC, is cultural

AllThingsPLC Magazine/Summer 2020

change. It creates a community whose foundation is deeply set on a quality education for all. The definition of what a quality education is has transformed and changed. Sometimes change can result in negativity or backlash toward schools and districts, but I have seen a much different effect in our school. Our conversations around education have evolved into dynamic dialogues about individual students, their strengths and challenges, their paths moving forward, and how our team of professionals at school are there as student coaches and guides. Our students and parents value receiving a quality education and know it is accessible for each and every one of them. Our fall parent night gave me a snapshot of how mindsets have changed. It was apparent that the powerful culture of learning from our work as a PLC had taken root in our students. As seventh graders, students expressed the importance of their education and their power and control over their academic success, with many having discussions about academics in relation to paths further down the line such as ACT scores, scholarships, and career decisions. Even more, parents were playing a vital role in demonstrating positivity toward their children, their education, and our school as a place for them to be successful. Ultimately, this is why we do this work. Through the PLC process, we are instilling a love of learning in our students, which in turn has cultivated something much, much greater throughout our community. My team’s journey has begun. I can only dream of where this journey will take us. I hope you have the opportunity to discover the true magic of being part of a professional learning community. If you have not started, I challenge you to take the plunge and dive in!

EMMY HERGERT is a seventh-grade math teacher at Thermopolis Middle School in Thermopolis, Wyoming.

AllThingsPLC Magazine | Summer 2020 vw

Discussion Questions


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PLC E Z I N 0 G A Summer 202 M A



Use this convenient tear-out card to go over and reinforce the topics discussed in this issue with the members of your team.


Building PLCs at Work Through 100–Day Cycles (p. 10) 1. Think about past school improvement initiatives. How long did it take to see the effects of implementation? What were some of the obstacles to seeing student achievement results quickly?

2. What does your school or school district truly value? Use DuFour and Eaker’s list on page 12–13 to help answer this question.

3. Create a 100-day cycle. What challenges are included in this cycle, and why?

PLCs in Higher Education (p. 17) 1. Why does your team/school/district exist? Compare your answer to your mission statement. Does your mission statement reflect your answer, or does it need to be reworked?

2. What must your team/school/district become to accomplish your purpose? Compare your answer to your vision statement. Does your vision statement reflect your answer, or does it need to be reworked?

3. Write down your collective commitments and norms. What are personal and group applications for each?

The Old Boss Is Gone, So How Do We Sustain Our PLC Culture (p. 28) 1. Think of a time when a change in leadership occurred. What was the result? Could the transition have gone more smoothly? If so, how?

2. What must a new principal do to maintain the culture of a high-performing PLC? 3. What must teachers do to maintain the culture of a high-performing PLC when new leadership arrives?


AllThingsPLC Magazine | Summer 2020

Refresher Course Because everyone needs a reminder now and again.



The fundamental purpose of the school is to ensure high levels of learning for all students. This focus on learning translates into four critical questions that drive the daily work of the school. In PLCs, educators demonstrate their commitment to helping all students learn by working collaboratively to address the following critical questions: 1. What do we want students to learn? What should each student know and be able to do as a result of each unit, grade level, and/or course? 2. How will we know if they have learned? Are we monitoring each student’s learning on a timely basis? 3. What will we do if they don’t learn? What systematic process is in place to provide additional time and support for students who are experiencing difficulty?

2 3

4. What will we do if they already know it?

• Schools improve when teachers are given the time and support to work together to clarify essential student learning, develop common assessments for learning, analyze evidence of student learning, and use that evidence to learn from one another.

• PLCs measure their effectiveness on the basis of results rather than intentions. • All programs, policies, and practices are continually assessed on the basis of their impact on student learning. • All staff members receive relevant and timely information on their effectiveness in achieving intended results.

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