Building a High Performing PLC: One School’s Journey to Model PLC Status in Two Years

By: Brandon Krause, Principal and Katelyn Dwyer, Associate Principal, Prairie View Elementary School, Beaver Dam Unified School District

The concept of a Professional Learning Community (PLC) is not new. Since 1998, Richard and Rebecca DuFour, Robert Eaker, Thomas Many, and Mike Mattos have been researching and educating around the concept of a PLC. Their message: “The PLC process is not a program,” (DuFour et. al 2006). It is not a meeting. It is not something that we do. Rather, it is a way of being. It is a culture whereby teachers and administrators engage in an ongoing, collaborative process in recurring cycles of action, research, and inquiry (DuFour et. al 2006). 

Prairie View Elementary School in the Beaver Dam Unified School District has been engaging in the PLC work for many years, but only since the 2020–21 school year did they fully invest in the process and engage completely in transforming into a high performing PLC. 

Core Values 

To start the true work of becoming a high performing PLC, the staff and administrators at Prairie View had to build shared knowledge around the core values and pillars of a professional learning community. They had to answer the questions: “Why do we exist?” (Mission), “What must we become in order to accomplish our mission?” (Vision), and “How must we behave to create the school that we envision?” (Collective Commitments) (DuFour et. al. 2006). Hereis the Prairie View Mission, Vision, and Collective Commitments that drive the work of their PLC. To further establish the true culture of a PLC, the Prairie View staff committed to believing that all students can learn, all students can learn because of the adults in the building, and that they wouldn’t succumb to the threat of alibi’s in explaining why students aren't learning. These shared understandings and beliefs helped establish the culture of a PLC, and prepared the staff to understand and commit to the three big ideas of a PLC: a focus on learning; collaborative culture & collective responsibility; and a results orientation. 

Focus on Learning 

For the staff to make the transition from just collaborating as a team to becoming a professional learning community, the staff needed to shift their focus from teaching to learning. This began with teachers understanding what it was they were expecting students to know and be able to do (essential standards). District grade level collaborative teams reviewed the ELA and Math standards with the lens of leverage (does the standard apply to multiple disciplines?), endurance (does the standard include skills that are required beyond school?), and readiness (does the standard prepare students for the next grade level?). Teams then used the determined essential standards to create learning targets, and organized the targets progressively for each standard so students, staff and parents could see where a child was in relation to mastering an essential standard.

Collaborative Culture & Collective Responsibility 

In order to have a high functioning PLC, the guiding coalition and administrative team has established a culture of collective responsibility. Their definition of collective responsibility means all staff take ownership and responsibility for student growth and learning. They have come together under two fundamental assumptions: educators assume primary responsibility to ensure high levels of learning for every student and educators assume that all students can learn at high levels (Buffum et al. 2012). With these assumptions in mind, the collaborative teacher teams use the determined essential curriculum so all students have a shared learning outcome. As collaborative teacher teams work together, they benefit from the expertise and collective efforts of their team and in turn, improve student achievement. 

Results Orientation 

It’s not enough for teachers to simply plan collaboratively, and consider themselves a true PLC. Teachers need to focus on student learning in a collaborative manner to be considered a high performing PLC. The final big idea to bring it all together is using student learning results to impact teaching. At Prairie View, teachers meet in collaborative teams once a week with support teachers and administrators for 45-60 minutes, focused on the four PLC questions: 1) What do we want students to know and be able to do? 2) How will we know they’ve learned it? 3) What will we do for students who don’t understand? 4) What will we do for students who have already mastered it? During these collaborative sessions, teams plan unit-by-unit in ELA and math focusing on the essential standards of each unit, design assessments to measure student learning, review and analyze student learning results, and discuss instructional actions to take for students that don’t understand the standards and actions to take for those that mastered them. To support this, teams engage in the Teaching-Assessing Cycle of inquiry to guide the discussion. Teams use this guideto support and capture the conversations. 


To ensure that the PLC process functions as intended, it is important that systems are established to address all tiers of academic and behavioral instruction (Tier 1, II, & III). To support this work, Prairie View transformed their leadership team into a Guiding Coalition, to shift the focus on Tier 1 instruction, and to support the school’s mission, vision, goals, and collective commitments. The school also established a School Intervention Team, composed of administrators, pupil services staff, and literacy/math experts in the building. This team reviews academic and behavioral intervention data weekly to determine the various supports students need to be successful. These teams, along with the grade level/department collaborative teams, represent the professional learning community system that ensures the PLC process is followed and maximized to achieve high growth and achievement for all students. 

As a result of the work that Prairie View teachers and administrators have done around the work of Professional Learning Communities, the school earnedModel PLC statusfrom Solution Tree through an intensive two year focus. As one of only about 400 schools internationally recognized with this distinction, Prairie View has demonstrated a commitment to the PLC process and ongoing improvements in student learning.


Buffum, A., Mattos, M., & Malone, J. (2018). Taking Action: A Handbook for RtI at Work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree. 

Djabrayan Hannigan, J., & Hannigan, J. (2022). Don’t Suspend Me!: An Alternative Discipline Toolkit (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. 

DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T.(2016).Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work (3rd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree. 

Hannigan, J., Djabrayan Hannigan, J., Mattos, M., & Buffum, A. (2021). Behavior Solutions: Teaching Academic and Social Skills Through RtI at Work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.