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Building Collaboration and Communities: PLC Expert Offers Insights

A simple flyer was a bridge to a new way of perceiving education for Dr. Luis Cruz.

Cruz, a Los Angeles-based educator and administrator, was working in a middle school and looking for solutions to some pretty weighty problems when he came across a flyer advertising a conference dedicated to Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs.

The event would prove to be a turning point for Cruz, one that had a schoolwide effect for teachers, administrators, students and parents alike.

"I was struggling with getting kids at that level to learn and with getting the adults to take that on as their responsibility," Cruz said. "I was blown away by the common-sense approach that Rick DuFour was teaching," he added, referencing one of the leading experts on PLCs. "(That's) the idea that we can produce a school where all kids can learn at high levels and then go on to do amazing things with their lives."

Years later, DuFour has become a close friend and mentor to Cruz, who's become one of the country's foremost authorities on the PLC model. Cruz visited the Student Achievement Resource Center on Nov. 2 to detail the philosophy that stresses collaboration between teachers, administrators and specialists. Cruz was one of several experts on the subject who've traveled to the Cherry Creek School District to detail their findings; Dr. Thomas Many, a respected scholar and educator, offered insights to CCSD teachers in April, and Dr. Anthony Muhammed, a highly sought-after educational consultant, will visit the district later this month.

Cruz explored some of the most important tenets of the PLC model, which has become a critical resource for teachers across CCSD during the past several years. More than 30 Cherry Creek schools have worked with the district's Office of Professional Learning to implement the PLC model. Thanks in part to support from the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation, additional PLC cohorts were launched at the beginning of the school year.

The growth of the PLC model in Cherry Creek is a testament to the efficacy of its simple core message: Teachers, administrators and students all do better in a culture of collaboration, communication and shared responsibility.

Cruz spelled out these fundamental tenets in speaking about creating a healthy and effective school culture, one that seeks to connect every single student with access to excellence.

"We need to continue to remodel and mold the structure of our schools so that we do produce high levels of learning for all of our kids," Cruz said. "That means that adults are going to have to come to grips with the fact that the fundamental purpose of their schools has to be to work together to help kids learn. That's the reason why we exist; we have to come together and embrace that philosophy."

In a district that comprises dozens of schools and more than 54,000 students, implementing that vision is complex. That's part of the reason why building a collaborative community unique to every school is so important. Having access to the experience and insights of experts like Cruz helps every member of a specific PLC find a way to make the model work in their own environments.

"What he brings to the process is a real practitioner's lens on how to move the work forward," said Mary Shay, Director of Professional Learning for the Cherry Creek School District. "He's served students from diverse populations, and he's seen growth based on the work that he's doing with PLCs. He has shifted culture in schools in bringing teachers together to work collaboratively."

Along with input from other renowned experts, the feedback from Dr. Cruz offered CCSD teachers practical and applicable guidance for implementing the PLC model. Though the approach is still relatively new at Cherry Creek, the benefits of collaboration are already becoming clear at all levels.

"Our teachers are taking leadership roles that I don't think they would be able to take without the training that we've had," said Smoky Hill High School Principal Chuck Puga. "To be able to empower them with the information from Dr. Cruz and Dr. Many has really given them a focus on improvement in the classroom and a focus on improving their relationships in working together as a team."

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