Teaching Profession

Richard DuFour, Advocate of Professional Learning Communities, Dies at 69

By Madeline Will — February 09, 2017 3 min read
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Richard DuFour, a renowned education consultant and author who advocated collaborative teaching environments, died Feb. 8, following a long battle with cancer. He was 69.

DuFour was a leading voice in the movement to improve schools through professional learning communities, in which teachers come together to analyze and improve their classroom practice.

His 1998 best-selling book, Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement, that he co-wrote with former education school dean Robert Eaker, includes collaborative strategies for teachers and principals. DuFour held that principals should have a “loose-tight” leadership style that allows teachers some autonomy in decisionmaking, but protects the school’s shared vision and values.

In a 2015 opinion essay for Education Week Teacher, DuFour, along with Douglas Reeves, wrote that school leaders must do more than simply provide time for teachers to collaborate. “A professional learning community is not simply a meeting: It is an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recursive cycles of collective inquiry and action research in order to achieve better results for the students they serve,” they wrote.

Essential elements for professional learning communities include consistent criteria that teachers use to assess student work, an ongoing assessment process that includes frequent, team-developed common formative assessments, and a collective sense of responsibility for student learning.

DuFour’s other well-known works include Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work and In Praise of American Educators: And How They Can Become Even Better.

A former teacher, DuFour spent 19 years as a principal and then a superintendent in Lincolnshire, Ill., during which he received numerous accolades. Under his leadership, Adlai E. Stevenson High School won the U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon Award on four occasions—one of only three schools in the nation to do so.

An Education Week article from 2008 profiled Stevenson High School for its focus on teacher teamwork.

“We have to collaborate and make a collective effort” to help students succeed, DuFour told Education Week. “The beauty of working in isolation and doing your own assessing is that you are buffered from an external source of validation. But here we want you to talk to colleagues, want you to look at common assessments that you and your teammates have developed, and that’s pretty scary initially. ... [But] we didn’t want to be a good or good enough school, but an exemplary school that lived up to a model of success for every student.”

DuFour is survived by his wife, Rebecca DuFour, a former teacher and principal who implemented a professional learning community in her own school. After retiring from their jobs as educators, the DuFours were business partners—writing, consulting, and presenting about the PLC model described in their books. In a District Administration feature of the pair in 2012, the DuFours said that more than 200 U.S. schools have been recognized as implementing the ‘Professional Learning Community at Work’ model because of the schools’ significantly improved student achievement.

Rebecca and Richard participated in a live chat with Education Week in 2007 about how schools can build professional learning communities.

Image provided by Solution Tree

DuFour’s Appearances in Education Week:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.