image with the words practicing what we preach

Practicing What We Preach: Continuous Improvement and the PLC at Work Process

Categories: Authors

An essential characteristic of a true professional learning community is continuous improvement—a “persistent disquiet with the status quo” and a constant search for better practice (DuFour et al. 2016). Until every student is learning at high levels, there is a pressing need—an intrinsic desire—to identify and more deeply implement practices, policies, and dispositions that will improve both student and adult learning.

This focus on collective inquiry and continuous improvement is how the PLC at Work® framework was first created. In the 1980s when Richard DuFour, Robert Eaker and the educators at Adlai Stevenson High School began their focus on collaboration, there were not “Three Big Ideas” or “Four Critical Questions” to guide their efforts. Instead, they began by asking this question: “If we have limited time and resources to collaborate, then what are actions we can take that are proven to best increase student learning and build our staff’s capacity to work in high-performing teams?” They did not guess at what these actions would be, but instead committed to collective inquiry—learning together about research-based best practices. Then they applied what they learned, gathered targeted evidence to determine if their actions were actually helping more students learn, and used that information to determine their next topics of study. The goal was not simply to learn a new strategy, but to create the conditions for job-embedded learning and continuous improvement. Read more

A Conversation with Dr. Luis F. Cruz

Episode 11 — A Conversation with Dr. Luis F. Cruz: Leaving Behind Luigi for Luis

Categories: Authors

Captivating audiences everywhere with his charisma, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more vibrant speaker and educator than Dr. Luis F. Cruz. Teacher, principal, writer, presenter…Luis has donned many titles over the years, but none compare to the one he holds now: cultural champion. Embracing his Latino heritage and diverse upbringing, Luis has pursued his passion for equity, making it his mission to ensure that students from underserved populations–and particularly English learners (ELs)–succeed.   

Read on to discover how Luis went from playing in the parking lots in Los Angeles to leading the charge for lasting change in today’s education system.  Read more

The Missing Half

The Missing Half


Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we could substantiate that the majority of a school’s office referrals were for will-based behaviors (verbal/physical interactions, inappropriate language, damage to property or materials, etc.); during distance learning, we have seen these behaviors flipped in the opposite direction into skill-based behaviors (students not logging on, lack of motivation, not turning in assignments, students having low self-concept, etc.).  As a result, the gap has widened in the behavioral needs of our students. If we have learned anything through teaching during this pandemic, it is that the term “behavior” doesn’t simply refer to a disruptive student.  The term behavior refers to academic behaviors (skill-based) AND social behaviors (will-based) and both need to be taught and reinforced schoolwide and in every classroom.

Schools have taken tremendous strides over the past two decades to ensure data driven structures and processes are in place for student academic success. In high performing PLC schools for example, each collaborative teacher team understands their role and takes lead responsibility and collective ownership to answer these four critical questions for their shared grade level or course identified academic standards: 1) What is it we want our students to know and be able to do? 2) How will we know when each student has learned it? 3) How will we respond when some students do not learn? 4) How will we extend the learning for students who are already proficient? (DuFour et al., 2016, p. 59). Read more

Episode 10 – A Conversation with Shannon Ritz: From Pom-Poms to PD

Categories: Authors, Solution Tree

Our Vice President of Professional Development Shannon Ritz has been around the block a time or two. With 20 years of experience at Solution Tree, her tenure rivals that of CEO Jeff Jones. As one of the six original employees, Shannon has ridden the ups and downs, seen the company evolve, and has personally grown our PD from the ground up.

Read on to discover her story and a little bit about professional development at the Tree! Read more

Using a Four-Phase Instructional Model to Plan and Teach for Lifelong Learning

Using a Four-Phase Instructional Model to Plan and Teach for Lifelong Learning

Categories: Authors

Based on Teaching for Lifelong Learning: How to Prepare Students for a Changing World

One of the special joys in life is watching a child or grandchild play sports, like baseball, soccer, or football. It is especially interesting to watch progress over several years. For example, let’s take baseball. During their younger years, children often play because they become interested in baseball and its physical activity, but at this early stage they are novices when it comes to the fundamentals.

As they get older, they become more skillful and learn the strategies of the game, especially with a good coach. Good coaches keep them interested in the game, encourage their improvement efforts, and help them learn and understand the fundamental rules of the game. After some time, with practice and understanding, they can get really good at playing the game. They need less coaching and more individual practice on their own. They are no longer learning new skills but refining their skills. Finally, they may get so good that they themselves become coaches and teachers, sharing what they know, staying at peak performance, and demonstrating their skill by performing well in every game.

These four phases of learning baseball – call them novice, apprentice, self-directed, and expert – characterize how we might also think about planning for good teaching and learning. What if we thought about planning and teaching units of study as a way of creating student curiosity and interest in learning? As a way to raise the level of learning over time? As a way to build more complex understanding and skill development? As a way to lead students towards greater opportunities for self-directed learning and high levels of performance? Read more