Misconceptions Revealed! Everything you need to know about the Extended School Year

Extended School Year (ESY) is an extension of special education and related services that are provided to students beyond the normal school year. ESY in the United States is part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) federal law.

Here are 4 common misconceptions about ESY:

ESY only occurs during the summer: False!

ESY services are provided when school is not typically in session. That’s often during the summer, but for some students it can also be during other extended breaks, such winter vacation. ESY services can even be an extension of the student’s normal school day, such as a special tutoring program.

Students automatically qualify for ESY if they have an IEP: Not Everywhere!

ESY is not guaranteed for all students who have IEPs. The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act lets each state or school district set its own rules for eligibility, and so each IEP team will determine the need for these supports annually. To be eligible for ESY services, the student must have evidenced/documented substantial regression and recoupment issues during the previous IEP year and/or there is evidence of emerging skills which are often referred to as “breakthrough” skills.

ESY focuses on academics: Not Always!

ESY services are not necessarily a continuation of the same instructional program and related services the student receives during the normal school year as prescribed by the IEP. IEP teams have flexibility in determining what ESY services might be needed. For example, ESY services may take the form of teachers and parents working together by providing materials for home use with progress monitored by the teacher, supports needed just in occupational therapy, social skills/social emotional learning supports, or support in multiple areas that may or may not include academics.

ESY’s priority is to teach new skills: Practice, Practice, Practice!

ESY services are designed to support an eligible student to maintain the academic, social/behavioral, communication, or other skills that they have learned as part of their Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 accommodation plan. The priority for ESY programs are generally not to teach new skills but to practice maintaining previously acquired or learned skills. This is a great time to ensure all that learning that occurred throughout the year remains as the student moves into their next grade.

Parent Engagement When Addressing Challenging Behavior

By Christine Penington, MA, BCBA

Parent engagement in addressing challenging behavior across a variety of settings (e.g., school settings, community settings, in the home) is a critical component of meaningful, lasting, positive behavior change for learners. When parents and teachers collaborate on the development and implementation of positive behavior support strategies across the home and school settings students will benefit from the clear and consistent expectations. Parents can remain engaged in developing effective positive behavior support strategies for their children by collaborating with school team members during the assessment, development, and implementation of behavior support strategies across home and school settings.

1. Assessment: Evaluate and Complete the Picture

The first step is to identify “why” the challenging behavior is occurring. Is the child engaging in problem behavior to get attention, to get out of a task, or to gain access to a desired item or activity?

In a function-based behavior intervention plan, why a behavior is occurring is referred to as the function of the behavior. Parents often have valuable information to contribute when the function of the behavior is being assessed. For example, maybe there have been recent changes in medication that may be effecting behavior. Perhaps there has been a significant change at home such as a grandparent moving in or a favorite family member moving out. Also, Parents can provide information on if the challenging behavior is happening in the home setting, what it looks like if it is happening at home, and if there are a pattern of events that take place to evoke the challenging behavior. Parent engagement during the assessment portion of behavior intervention planning can yield a more complete picture of why the challenging behavior is occurring.

2. Antecedent Strategies:

Step 2 is to develop a comprehensive function-based intervention plan with strategies for addressing the challenging behavior. Antecedent strategies are interventions that are implemented before the occurrence of the challenging behavior. These are strategies that increase the likelihood that appropriate behavior will occur. Examples of antecedent strategies include using visual supports, visual schedules, and setting clear expectations, providing choice, and providing scheduled access to breaks or attention from preferred people.

Antecedent strategies can often be powerful agents of behavior change and decrease the likelihood that problem behavior will occur. If an antecedent strategy is working well at home, this information can be shared with school team members, so a similar strategy can be implemented (the reverse is also true). Having similar proactive supports in place will help provide consistent rules and expectations for our student’s.

Teaching appropriate communication is also an important component of an effective behavior intervention plan. Functional communication training is the practice of replacing challenging behavior with functional and appropriate communication. For example, if a student is engaging in challenging behavior to get out of a task, a functionally equivalent and appropriate response is to ask for a break. For non-vocal learners, or learners with an emerging vocal repertoire, it is important for parents and school team members to discuss appropriate communication methods to support the learner in all environments. For example, if parents are already using a picture exchange communication system at home it is important to share this information with school team members and vice versa.

3. Consequence Strategies:

Step 3 is to develop a consequence strategy. While antecedent strategies can be highly effective at decreasing or eliminating problem behavior, a comprehensive behavior plan will also include consequence strategies. Consequence strategies, specify how the team will respond if the challenging behavior occurs and alternatively if the desired, appropriate behavior occurs. These consequence strategies are also based on the function of the behavior, or “why” the behavior is occurring. For example, if the assessment shows a child is engaging in challenging behavior to get out of a task, the consequence strategy for challenging behavior may be to follow through with the task. In this case the challenging behavior is not reinforced.

A comprehensive behavior support plan also specifies how team members will respond if the child engages in the appropriate, desired behavior. For example, if a student has a history of engaging in whining to get out of doing homework and instead of whining the student engages in the desired behavior (homework completion), it is important to reinforce the appropriate, desired behavior. Parent-teacher communication is important for developing and implementing effective reinforcement strategies. It is important to ask: Are there highly preferred items or activities the child engages in at home? Could these items or activities be utilized as part of the reinforcement system at school? If a specific type of reinforcement system is being utilized in the school setting such as a point system or a token board, can parents implement a similar system in the home setting? Sharing information on effective reinforcers, reinforcement systems, and reinforcement materials (e.g., token boards) can help promote consistency in expectations across settings.

4. Planning for Success: The last step

Planning for success is key for implementing positive behavior support strategies across settings. In the school setting there are multiple team members working together to address student needs with access to behavior support materials and resources. In the home setting there are often competing demands for parent’s time and attention and behavior resources and materials may be limited. Given the realities of implementing behavior strategies across these different settings it is important for teachers and parents to discuss realistic supports and strategies that can be put into place and maintained across settings.

For example, parents and teachers should discuss: If visual supports are suggested as a proactive support for a learner, what type of visual supports will be beneficial at home and where will parents access these materials? If scheduled access to attention is suggested as a proactive strategy who will provide attention to the child, at what intervals will attention be provided, and what supports are in place to remind parents to provide this attention (e.g., a vibrating timer)? What type of appropriate communication method is being used to replace the challenging behavior? What does the challenging behavior look like at home and how will parents respond when the behavior occurs? What time of reinforcement system is in place for appropriate behaviors?

By anticipating barriers to consistent implementation of behavior supports at home, how those barriers will be addressed, and what specific supports and strategies will be put into place parents can effectively plan for success when addressing challenging behavior across various settings.

Regression and Recoupment Data Collection and Analysis over Winter Holiday Break

By Patricia Wright

Qualifying students for Extended School Year (ESY) is a multi-faceted process. One of the considerations is regression and recoupment; is the student likely to lose skills and fail to gain those skills within a reasonable time-frame upon return to instruction. The winter break is an ideal time to assess regression and recoupment. Collecting data immediately prior to the break and immediately following the break can demonstrate the student’s performance over a two-week absence of instruction.

For example, the student below showed a significant regression and it took an entire month to recoup to the prior rate of performance. This may be a consideration in determining eligibility for ESY.

Utilizing data-based decision making for ESY eligibility can decrease the challenges created when relying on personal perspectives or opinions. Use Rethink Ed to actively collect data immediately prior and immediately following winter break and see how your students perform.

Inclusion Benefits All Students

By: Debbie Burney

October is National Bullying Awareness Month, and our most vulnerable population for being the victims of bullying are children with intellectual, developmental, or other disabilities. Every student deserves to thrive in a safe school and classroom that is free from bullying, and schools have an obligation to keep kids safe. The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) notes that:

A growing body of literature suggests that the two most notable predictors of the bullying involvement of students with disabilities are lack of social skills and communication skills. Therefore, teachers could incorporate activities in their daily curriculum that reinforce socially appropriate social and communication skills without directly implementing a prescribed anti-bullying program.

Rethink Ed provides teachers with lessons they can use with their students with disabilities to learn alongside their non-disabled peers in general education classrooms. The four domains into which the lessons are categorized are:

  1. Social Communication
  2. Group Participation
  3. Study Skills
  4. Peer Interaction

Join us as we take a deep look into this powerful curriculum from Rethink Ed, and learn how it provides the tools for Special Education teachers to help their students safely integrate into the general education classroom. Watch the Webinar Recording Now: Inclusion Benefits All Students

5 Ways to Prevent Bullying Through Peer Advocacy

By: Maria Wilcox, MA, BCBA

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, which is a campaign that aims to prevent bullying and encourage acceptance across communities.

According to Pacer.Org, all studies conducted on the connection between bullying and developmental disabilities found that children with disabilities were two to three times more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled peers.

Peers are more likely to see bullying than adults are and are more likely to have a greater impact on telling a bully to stop than an adult doing the same. PACER Teens Against Bullying

A unique model used in a variety of schools are Peer Advocates. This is a student or group of students who look out for other students who may be bullied, excluded, or otherwise isolated by speaking up for them, advocating for them, and making sure they are included and kept from harm.

Here are five ways to use peer advocates in your own school and activities:

  1. Sit with individuals likely to be bullied or experiencing bullying at lunch.
  2. Invite them to all school activities, such as sports events and include them with your friend group.
  3. If you see bullying happening to an individual, get them away from the situation.
  4. Listen and give advice as a friend.
  5. Use peer advocates in every aspect of the school community and culture from in-class, to lunch, to assemblies, and more. The more you include those likely to be bullied, the more peers will come to accept.

There are no simple solutions to bullying but awareness and change in culture seem to be most effective in providing safe and secure learning environments. Please check out the following resources for more information on peer advocacy, bullying prevention, and school culture change.

Peer Advocacy

Bullying and Harassment of Students with Disabilities

What We Don’t Say: A SEL Approach to Helping Your Students Understand “Take a Knee”

By Christina Cipriano, Ph.D. and Lori Nathanson, Ph.D.

Even if you are not a football fan, it’s likely you’ve seen images from the NFL in the past few weeks. The action captured occurred before kickoff; players and coaches across the country have “taken a knee” or linked arms in solidarity during the national anthem. These powerful photos elicit a wide range of emotional responses that may contribute to conflict in our schools, homes, workplace, and on social media.

But they don’t have to end with conflict. Controversy can provide an opportunity to be constructive if we look through a social and emotional learning lens. Social awareness –the ability to take another person’s perspective and feel empathy– is a core competency of SEL. This competency is critical for creating and maintaining supportive relationships. It requires understanding social norms (how do I act in this situation or place?), as well as an understanding and appreciation that people have different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences and they may be different from one’s own background, culture, and experiences. This issue, these photos, and our emotional responses offer an opportunity to develop social awareness.

Have you heard (or said) the proverb, “A picture says a thousand words?” Explore with your students the kinds of emotions we can identify in these photos as well as the emotions these photos elicit in the viewer. Photos may show intense emotions, vehement disagreements, and sometimes violence, but for this purpose, let’s focus in on the individuals in these photos and what types of emotions we see expressed.

Consider this task. Give each of your students an index card. On one side of the card, ask students to identify one person in the photo and write down how they think that person feels in the moment captured. They can use emotion words, note body language, draw pictures or phrases to indicate how they perceive the person feels.

Next, direct your students to turn over the index card and write how they feel when they see the image of the athlete taking a knee. Again, students can use emotion words, draw pictures, or write phrases to express how they feel about the image.

• Are your students younger? Do the activity as a group or in small directed groups with larger pieces of paper. Use emojis or have them draw their own!

• Have more time? Have students trade their index card with another student. Review each partner’s responses and decide which perspective (Self or Photo) it represents. Take 3 minutes to review and decide which perspective each side represents. Have students discuss with their partner what went into making their decision. What did they notice that was the same? What words or interpretations did they have that were different?

• Are your students older? Have them work individually, collect the index cards from your class, shuffle them, and redistribute them back out to the class. Have your students read aloud the perceptions on the index cards.

Take it one step further. Combine all the reactions to make a word cloud or word wall; have each student place their reactions or those of their classmates up on the wall. Note, these will be mixed now that they are no longer the ones owning their perspective. As a group, decide if there are any emotions or descriptions that are missing and add them on index cards to the wall. Doing so will enable your students to recognize and identify the feelings and perspectives of self and others during group discussion.

Lastly, debrief with your students. In the activity, we focused on how the people in the photos felt or our reactions to the photos, but let’s take a minute to assess how we feel after spending time looking and analyzing the possible perspectives of those in the photographs, ourselves, and our classmates. Close your eyes if you are comfortable and sense what’s going on in your minds and bodies. Are thoughts swirling or calm? Does your body feel hot or cold or in between? Is your heart racing or steady? By moving your students to a debrief scenario, you will increase their social awareness, which promotes their ability to prevent, manage, and resolve interpersonal conflicts in constructive ways.

When faced with controversy, teach our students to see and feel what we don’t say; empower a future generation of empathetic thinkers. Share with us how you applied social awareness skills to support students with processing the “take a knee” controversy, or other powerful images and moments in history.

Supporting the Whole Student with a Disability – It Takes a Village

In today’s world, we are required to think and act quickly and efficiently.  We are exposed to massive amounts of information and are expected to communicate well, work effectively, and act responsibly.  Learning these skills in school paves the path to a productive, healthy adulthood.  To better prepare students for independence, college, employment, and healthy relationships, it’s important to think beyond academic outcomes.  Students who have good health and good relationships are far more likely to succeed in school, and succeed after graduation.  Focusing on the whole student leads to better outcomes.  While this is important for all students, it is even more essential for students with disabilities.

Special education students need a safe and inclusive environment that provides appropriate accommodations and encourages growth.  Their diverse needs in areas such as: communication, behavior, safety, social interactions, health, and cognitive/academics, must be supported. Focus should be placed on their strengths and their contributions to the group, rather than on their disability.  This whole-student approach requires all those interacting with the student to be engaged in promoting positive outcomes; this is not just teachers- it is the entire village. 

To truly serve the whole student, everyone needs to be on board including educators, school support personnel such as bus drivers and school safety officers, administrators/leadership, families, and community members.  Collaboration, communication, and consistency are the 3 key ingredients for the whole-student approach.

Disability Awareness

To promote collaboration, communication, and consistency with all the student’s support team, it is important to provide professional learning for everyone that interacts with that student.  Training can be brief and inexpensive but it’s essential that everyone, including other students, have access to basic training about awareness, understanding, and interactions with students with disabilities.  Research supports the fact that improving awareness in others (adults and other students) can improve safety, interactions, and outcomes for students with disabilities. Rethink Ed understands this need and is developing a comprehensive online training series to provide disability awareness training for the whole village.  Training modules will be available for School Support Personnel such as bus drivers, cafeteria and playground professionals, school safety officers, and school office staff.  Training will also be available for educators, peers, administrators, family members (including siblings), and introductory modules for community members or anyone wishing to have some basic understanding of students with disabilities.  These modules will cover the needs of students and all of the people that support them to reach their highest level of success.  The training series is time and cost efficient and provides flexibility via online videos.

For more information on our training series contact info@rethinked.com

High Quality IEP Goals

By Christine Penington, MA, BCBA

A student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) provides critical information for parents and educational team members related to understanding a student’s disability and how this disability may impact the student’s progress related to academic and functional living skills. IEP goals describe a plan of action to address individualized areas of need to aid students in progressing in the academic curriculum and developing appropriate functional living skills. Selecting meaningful IEP goals and writing these goals in specific, measurable terms is critical to ensure all team members are working together to address and monitor student progress on these goals in a consistent manner.

Step 1: Conduct an Assessment

The first step when creating quality IEP goals is to conduct an assessment to identify the student’s present levels of academic achievement (math, social studies, ELA) and functional performance (activities of daily living, social skills, communication skills, employment skills). In addition to conducting appropriate assessments, it is critical during this phase to get input from parents on areas of need for their student, particularly with skills that may be difficult to assess in a traditional classroom setting (e.g., independence with toileting skills, social skills with peers, independence level with dressing skills). Conducting this assessment will yield information about the student’s strengths and needs, which will be used to select appropriate academic and functional goals for the school year.

Step 2: Select Meaningful Goals

A thorough assessment will often provide team members with a lot of information regarding possible areas of need for a student. This phase of the IEP process can be overwhelming, so to select the most critical and meaningful goals to be targeted as IEP goals, it is important to ask several questions regarding the assessment results. For example, which skills will help this learner function as independently as possible? Which skills will help this learner build meaningful relationships with peers? Which skills will allow this learner to access desired items or activities from other people in his or her environment? Which skills are necessary for this learner to develop appropriate employment skills? Which academic skills are critical building blocks when working towards access to the general education curriculum? By asking and answering these questions, the team can start to formulate appropriate, meaningful, and individualized academic and functional living skills goals.

Step 3: Make it Specific

Clearly defining each goal in observable terms is the next step in building a quality IEP goal. Creating and implementing IEP goals is a collaborative process with multiple stakeholders often involved in this process; parents, teachers, administrations, speech language pathologists, and occupational therapists are a few examples. For this reason, it is critical to define the skill or behavior targeted for improvement in specific, observable, and objective terms to ensure there is agreement across all team members on the exact skill being worked on. Team members can create specific goals by avoiding vague and subjective descriptions such as, “John will listen attentively on 3/4 trials”, or “John will be flexible on 4/5 trials”. Using action words such as “John will read”, “John will state”, “John will name”, John will write”, and “John will point to,” helps to make sure we are describing observable behaviors that can be measured. In addition to using action words, a specific definition can be created by replacing broad labels such as “John will be attentive” or “John will be flexible” with specific behaviors.

A good place to start breaking down broad terms like “attentive” is to start by describing what attentive behavior looks like. For example, attentive behavior in the classroom may be attending to the smartboard or teacher when she is speaking, complying with instructions when presented to the group, raising your hand to answer questions, or following along with the group while reading an informational text passage out loud. After describing what it looks like to be attentive, think about your learner; do any of these behaviors apply to your student? Would one of these behaviors apply to skill deficits in your student’s current repertoire? Will working on this skill help your student access a less restrictive/ more inclusive environment? If so, this is likely a great place to start!

Step 4: Make it Measurable

After selecting and describing a specific skill or behavior, it is important to include information about how this skill or behavior will be measured, where it will be measured, how often it will be measured, what the mastery criteria for this goal will be, and when you anticipate your learner will meet mastery criteria for this goal. There are many ways we can measure progress towards a specific goal; for example, we can collect data on duration, percentage correct, a task analysis, or frequency of occurrence. The type of data being collected should be specified in the IEP goal. How often will data be collected (e.g., will it be every day, once a week, or once a month)? Where will data be collected (e.g., in the occupational therapy room, in the lunch room, outside during recess, or in the classroom)? How will team members know when the goal is mastered? What is a reasonable amount of time to master this goal? Including these details in the IEP goal, increases the likelihood that there will be consistency among team members on what skill or behavior is being taught, how data is being collected, and how often data is being collected.

Examples of Subjective vs. Objective and Measurable IEP goals:

Subjective: John will increase attending on 3/4 trials

Objective and measurable: By the end of the school year, John will raise his hand, wait to be addressed, and answer a question related to the current lesson a minimum of 3 times during English class. Data will be collected on this goal 1 time per week using a frequency measure.

By clearly defining the behavior being targeted, how the behavior will be measured, where it will be measured, and how often it will be measured, all team members will have the information they need to target this specific behavior, monitor this behavior, and discuss student progress on this goal in an objective manner.

Step 5: Add Objectives

While the annual IEP goal gives us information about what we anticipate our students will master by the end of the school year, short term objectives give us specific information about how we plan to break down this goal in specific, sequenced steps. For example, if the annual goal is, “John will identify pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters, by pointing to specified targets within a larger set,” the short-term objectives may be, “1. John will identify penny and nickel, 2. John will identify dime and quarter, 3. John will identify a random rotation of all four coins.” Breaking the IEP goal down into short term objectives ensures team members are working towards the broader, annual IEP goal in a logical and consistent manner and that prerequisite steps are mastered prior to working on new material.

Step 6: Remove Prompts from the Annual Goal

If you are a parent of a child receiving special education services, or have worked in the field of special education for any amount of time, there is a good chance you have read a goal that looks something like this, “John will wash his hands with less than two physical prompts.”  If this goal can be mastered with prompts given, is it a truly functional skill? Will the student be truly independent? While utilizing systemic prompting and prompt fading techniques often assists our learners with acquiring new or difficult skills, including prompts in the annual IEP goal may allow our learners to master goals prior to being truly independent. If we anticipate a learner may need careful and systemic prompt and prompt fading procedures, the short-term objectives, which outline how we plan to reach the annual goal, may be a more appropriate place to specify how we plan to teach this goal, while the annual goal will provide a description of what this behavior will look like once the student is able to independently demonstrate the skill or task.

Creating high quality IEP goals takes time and anyone working in the field of education knows this is in short supply! Investing time at the beginning of the year in creating individualized, appropriate, observable, and measurable IEP goals it will decrease the likelihood that team members will need to spend time throughout the school year providing clarity on what the student is working on and how the goals are being monitored. Investing the time to create high quality goals ensures that all team members working with the student will be on the same page when working together to address areas of need and provide the foundation for consistent and seamless progress monitoring throughout the school year.


  • Use action words (student will read, write, state, identify) to create specific, measurable goals
  • Replace broad terms such as “Tom will be attentive” with specific, observable behaviors such as “Tom will raise his hand to answer questions related to current academic lesson”
  • Have a peer read the goal to check if it is specific, observable, and measurable. Would they be able to teach this skill by reading the goal? Will they know how to collect data and how often to collect data? Will they know when the goal is mastered?
  • Consider removing prompts given by adults from the annual goal to promote student independence

Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP)

The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP) is a language assessment based on B.F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior (1957), a landmark analysis in the study of language and the teaching methodology of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). It is a behavioral approach to language assessment and can be used for any individual with significant language delays regardless of age.

There are 5 components of the VB-MAPP:

  1. Milestones Assessment: which is designed to provide a representative sample of a child’s existing verbal and related skills.
  2. Barriers Assessment: which provides an assessment of 24 common learning and language acquisition barriers faced by children with autism or other developmental disabilities.
  3. Transition Assessment: which contains 18 assessment areas and can help to identify whether a child is making meaningful progress and has acquired the skills necessary for learning in a less restrictive educational environment.
  4. Task Analysis and Supporting Skills: which provides a further breakdown of the skills, and serves as a more complete and ongoing learning and language skills curriculum guide.
  5. Placement and IEP Goals: which correspond with the four assessments above. The placement guide provides specific direction for each of the 170 milestones in the Milestones Assessment as well as suggestions for IEP goals.

The VB-MAPP is now available as an add-on feature to Rethink’s comprehensive program. Rethink provides educators with convenient, online access and an easy, paper-free way to utilize the VB-MAPP. The Rethink Lesson Library is also aligned to the VB-MAPP Assessment and provides lesson recommendations based on the scores attained on the assessment.

Marooned on Teacher Island

Using Professional Learning Communities to Foster Peer Support and Collaborative Practice Among Educators

By Katherine DeCotiis Wiedemann, M.A., BCBA

Being a teacher can sometimes feel a little bit like being stranded on the island in Lord of the Flies – wading through the endless chaos of high-energy kiddos with no other adults visible on the horizon. With class sizes on the rise, many teachers rarely get the chance to see their colleagues in action, and often feel overworked and under-informed. Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Luckily, there are ways to access help and input from colleagues, and they can be a lot easier than lighting signal flares with a piece of glass or writing “SOS” in the sand with a stick. How can teachers access peer support to boost morale, encourage new ideas and improve existing teaching practices?

In recent years, one of the most popular channels for fostering peer support among educators and promoting positive student outcomes has been the use of professional learning communities (PLC). Rather than conceptualizing this model as a “program” or specific kind of meeting, teachers should think of a PLC as an “ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve” (DuFour 2006). A professional learning community focuses on students learning rather than just teachers teaching, working collaboratively and holding the group accountable to real results. Members of a PLC come together to consider three crucial 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 has trouble learning? Together, the members of a PLC set attainable, measurable goals related to specific issues or concerns facing the school. In a traditional school, teachers are dispersed in separate classrooms throughout the building, and are basically responsible for implementing the curriculum in their own way. In a school that uses PLC, however, there is a fundamental shift towards a team-based approach to learning, curriculum and school climate.

When schools begin to address their issues as an entity, they may identify individual inconsistencies and can create schoolwide, systematic approaches and strategies to address a wide range of issues with consistency. The implementation of professional learning communities can also establish and nurture a school-wide culture of collaboration, which serves as a great example to students of the importance of asking for and accepting help from others. This way of thinking takes the pressure off individuals to come up with the right answer on their own and instead fosters a more cooperative approach to education. Many in the field assert that there is now enough evidence and research to suggest that the implementation of professional learning communities in schools represents best practice.

The long-term benefits of PLCs are powerful and two-fold. On one side of the coin, teachers gain knowledge and access to new ideas through joint questioning and investigation, and feel less isolated and more committed to their profession. On the other side of the coin, when implemented effectively, PLCs can lead to higher levels of student achievement across the board.

If you’re stuck on Lonely Teacher Island and don’t want to end up like Piggy, put out the smoke signals and strike up a conversation with your colleagues about boosting peer support and collaborative learning in your school. How might you use Rethink to create or enhance existing professional learning communities?

For more information on PLCs, check out these resources:




DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2006). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Moore County Schools. (2012). Professional learning communities [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from https://www.ncmcs.org/cms/lib7/NC01001076/Centricity/Domain/16/Leadership/2012-13/PLC_Powerpoint.pdf.