Robert Eaker

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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

Leading PLCs at Work Districtwide: From Boardroom to Classroom


Every year hundreds of educators visit White River School District to observe the work of our collaborative teams and the districtwide systems that are in place to impact the work of our teams. We invite them to pull up a chair alongside our teacher teams and observe how they analyze data along with student work, and plan for additional time, support, and extensions–kid-by-kid and skill-by-skill. We share the tools our teachers use, from the websites that house unit plans, resources, and data, to job descriptions for our team leaders, to data collection tools. By observing the teams in action the things we are “tight” about across the district quickly become apparent, as well as how the work throughout our district aligns—from the boardroom to the classroom.

Well, we finally got our act together and put it all into a book (Leading PLCs at Work Districtwide, 2021). This book provides practical, step-by-step guidance that we hope will ignite educators as they lead and align the work of a professional learning community districtwide. Chock-full of practical resources, it should become a coveted resource for any district. Read more

What can you do in 100 days?

What Can You Do in 100 Days?


Based on 100-Day Leaders: Turning Short-Term Wins Into Long-Term Success in Schools

Our book, 100-Day Leaders, makes the case for immediate change—change that can take place in a single semester. We argue that change must take place now, just as the US Constitution, one of Dostoevsky’s best novels, and some of the world’s best music were all created within 100 days. This is not just one more leadership strategy; it’s a moral imperative.

Imagine that you took your child to kindergarten and the principal said, “We’re working on a great literacy program, and we expect to fully implement it in five to seven years 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 12, and it’s a bit late at that point for your hot, new literacy program to become effective!” Read more