J. Richard Dewey

J. Richard Dewey, PhD, is a university teacher. His 38-year career encompasses service as a math teacher, athletic coach, assistant principal, and principal.

Do the Right Work: Develop Your PLC Road Map

(Promote Accountability while Ensuring Reciprocal Accountability)

Professional Learning Communities at Work™ champion the Building of the Collaborative Culture as Big Idea #2. At the same time, highly-effective PLCs understand that collaboration is inherently neutral, and for the process to generate the outcomes documented in 30 years of research, collaborative teams must do the right work with a results orientation. Evidence of best practice in schools over these same 30 years clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of a simultaneously tight and loose organization. Once again, the key is getting tight on the right things. Toward that end, schools and districts must remain focused on the following essential questions to promote accountability and ensure reciprocal accountability.


As we develop our simultaneously tight and loose journey, on which priorities are we going to be tight? The Four Critical Questions of Learning certainly provide the starting point for this conversation. At the same time, highly-effective teams grow substance by addressing Essential Question #2 in harmony with Question #1, as they build shared knowledge.


What are the specific conditions we expect to see in every collaborative team? Many highly-effective schools and districts address this question by developing a meaningful PLC road map specifically outlining both the evidence and artifacts that each collaborative team is expected to generate on a cyclical basis (think “Action Research Data Cycle”). The template below is an example of a generic template that I use when working with schools/districts as they customize a PLC road map that works for them. You will note that I have referenced the work of Dr. Richard DuFour (PLCs at Work: The Four Critical Questions of Learning), Dr. W. Edwards Deming (Total Quality Management or TQM: Plan-Do-Study-Act), and Dr. Richard Sagor (Five Habits of Inquiry: The Action Research Cycle).

PLC Road Map: Doing the Right Work

Critical Questions of Learning TQM Five Habits of Inquiry: The Action Research Cycle
What is it we expect our students to learn? PLAN Clarify a Focused and Shared Vision of Success Identify the Essential (High-Leverage) Learning Targets of a particular grade level, course, or unit of instruction within each content area (i.e. unwrap the essential content/skills/context; identify key vocabulary and expected rigor; develop common rubrics with agreed-upon and calibrated criteria to be used for judging student work; build inter-rater reliability and establish anchor papers through routine comparative scoring of student work; etc.).
Develop a Collaborative Plan for Instruction and Assessment Brainstorm instructional strategies, resources needed, and common misconceptions as you review prior year results in determining whether to retain, refine, or replace previously used instructional protocols. Screen for essential prerequisite knowledge and skills and respond with timely intervention at the beginning of the instruction/assessment (do) phase, as you also provide access for these students to the essential new knowledge/skills. Design the common formative assessment(s), set proficiencies/protocols, and establish your smart goal(s).
How will we know when they have learned it? DO Implement Instruction and Assessment Implement the collaborative plan for instruction and assessment, while purposefully gathering evidence of student learning (by student, by learning target, by classroom instruction).
STUDY Analyze Data Collaboratively Analyze the evidence with an agreed-upon data analysis protocol, building shared understanding of what the data reveals. Plan systematic responses accordingly.
How will we respond when some students do not learn? ACT Use Informed Team Action Planning Use informed team action planning to improve pedagogy and provide aligned intervention and/or pre-planned extension/enrichments to students as appropriate. After intervention, re-assess to confirm mastery of those remaining essential (high-leverage) learning targets not originally mastered. For students who were provided extensions and/or enrichment, ask those students to produce an appropriate product.
How will we respond when some students already know it?
Commit to continuous, embedded, self-directed professional development.


What must we do to build the capacity of people throughout the school or district to create these conditions? Building shared knowledge is the foundation of this journey. Solution Tree offers an incredible array of resources to support this imperative. At the same time, it is critically important for school and district leaders to create the conditions where people learn by doing. This requires leadership of a different kind and at multiple levels. The table below outlines how members of these multiple guiding coalitions hold one another accountable while likewise providing timely celebration to amplify positive results and timely support to resolve challenges of implementation (i.e. reciprocal accountability).

Promoting Accountability and Ensuring Reciprocal Accountability
  1. Build capacity of your guiding coalitions to lead the PLC process at multiple levels:
    • Collaborative Teams of Teachers: Guide Student Learning
    • Building Leadership Teams: Guide Collaborative Team Learning
    • Principal Teams: Guide Building Leadership Team Learning
    • Central Office: Guides Principal Team Learning
  1. Build capacity of your guiding coalitions to lead the PLC process at multiple levels.
  2. Turn regularly scheduled guiding coalition meetings into a collaborative and collective effort to both celebrate and amplify positive results (rehearse and role-play) and identify/resolve any implementation challenges.
  3. Each coalition team is called upon to present regular progress reports to their leadership coalition and to their fellow coalition team members on how implementation is proceeding.

DuFour, et. al. (2016)



What indicators of progress will we monitor? Learning by Doing is one of those incredible resources from Solution Tree. This handbook contains myriad rubrics, worksheets, and questions that are quite user-friendly in helping your guiding coalitions guide and measure progress.


Are we aligning leadership behaviors with the articulated purpose and priorities (and likewise paying attention to things we need to stop doing). Time is not our challenge in schools; our greatest challenge (and our greatest opportunity) is priority! With the help of a well-developed and well-used PLC road map, high-performing PLCs stay focused on doing the right work—the highest leverage work that generates the greatest impact on student achievement.



DuFour, Richard, et. al. (2016). Learning By Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work (3rd Edition). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Eastwood, K. & Louis, K.S. (1992). Restructuring that lasts: Managing the performance dip. Journal of School Leadership, 2(2), 213-224.

Little, J.W. (1990). The persistence of privacy: Autonomy and initiative in teachers' professional relations. Teachers College Record, 91(4), 509-536.

Sagor, Richard (2010). Collaborative Action Research for Professional Learning Communities. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.


Anissa Torrence

Thank you for establishing these questions in regards to creating a PLC. I have been curious about what it is I need to research before I try to start my own PLC and this has given me some great new questions to ask. I noticed that one of those questions was "What indicators of progress will we monitor?". So does this only focus on the progress while we are constructing the PLC or should we also ask about the goal?

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Anissa Torrence

There is no question that the understanding and implementation of professional learning communities is important for our education and I will consider this a valuable resource. However, I find myself curious about how to first bring this into schools. There are ways to develop a strong PLC once it is introduced to the schools, but do you have suggestions on how first introduce them to the schools? How do we persuade educators to focus on the standards in the first place?

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