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Professional learning communities are a great way for teachers to collaborate with one another and improve their skills. Sometimes professional learning communities go by different names like communities of practice or critical friends groups. Richard DuFour is an expert on professional learning communities, and he believes that the phrase “should only be applied to schools in which all teachers and school leaders use specific, recommended strategies” (PLC). This post looks at DuFour’s three “big ideas” that will help ensure the success of any professional learning community.

Make Sure All Students Learn

DuFour recommends that each professional learning community should ask itself three questions: “What do we want each student to learn? How will we know when each student has learned it? How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning?” (DuFour). However, there is a fourth question that professional learning communities should ask themselves as well: “How will we respond when students have already learned it?” These four questions might seem simple, but they are very important. They lay the foundation for the structure and organization of the professional learning community.

DuFour stresses that the third question is especially vital to professional learning communities. It’s what distinguishes professional learning communities from other schools. Professional learning communities take the time to develop strategies for students that fall behind. Traditional schools typically leave it up to the teacher to decide how to deal with students that have difficulty learning. Professional learning communities quickly identify students that have trouble in the classroom, and they give the students the assistance they need right from the start. One way this is accomplished is by designating time in the normal schedule for students that need extra assistance.


Professional learning communities are collaborative communities where teachers are encouraged and expected to collaborate. Teachers and staff form teams to tackle every issue rather than operate in isolation. When everyone works together the school can recognize issues quicker and deal with them more effectively. In order for collaboration to happen, schools need to look at their practices and make sure they aren’t hindering collaboration. No barrier is too high to prevent a culture of collaboration. Without collaboration, a professional learning community can’t flourish.


The success or failure of a professional learning community depends on the results. This goes back to the second question above. Every professional learning community needs to have a system for determining success. Looking at results often means looking at data. For example, this might mean looking at the results of a state test to determine the school’s strengths and weaknesses. It also means taking steps to deal with weaknesses. If educators want a professional learning community to work, then they need to confront the weaknesses of their organization in order to improve.

A professional learning community is successful only if everyone is committed to making it work. Yes, it takes hard work and commitment. But in the end, the effort makes teachers better at their jobs, and it helps all students be more successful.