Small Group Instruction

Turning Past PLC Challenges into Future Successes: A Strategic Plan for Integrating the Science of Reading

In my journey as an instructional coach, I’ve spearheaded several school-wide Professional Learning Community (PLC) initiatives across different schools. Each experience offered unique insights, with the last being particularly successful, largely due to lessons learned from previous endeavors, especially the one that I consider my biggest failure. Reflecting on these experiences has been instrumental as I contemplate a new approach to integrate Professional Development (PD) focused on the Science of Reading into our school-wide PLCs for the upcoming year.

Learning from the Past

The second initiative, which I led, aimed to enhance instructional strategies using “The Reading Strategies Book” by Jennifer Serravallo. This approach, however, fell short for several reasons. Primarily, it lacked teacher buy-in, resulting in minimal engagement and participation—teachers were merely checking a box. Additionally, the strategies often didn’t align with the curriculum, reducing flexibility and applicability. Most critically, we didn’t use a short data cycle; thus, our discussions and decisions weren’t data-driven.

This experience highlighted a vital lesson: imposing a top-down approach without genuine teacher engagement and failing to anchor our actions in data are sure paths to failure. Reflecting on this has reshaped my thinking on how to effectively merge PD with PLCs, even when it involves complex topics like the Science of Reading.

Meta-PLC: A Strategic Approach for School Leaders

A combined implementation of PLCs and Science of Reading PD cannot be truly effective without the active participation of school leaders in their own Meta-PLC. This involvement was a key factor in the success of our last PLC initiative. In this structure, the Meta-PLC, was a year long PLC comprised of school leaders that focused on building a strong foundation for PLCs and supporting teachers within school-wide PLCs. By participating in a Meta-PLC, leaders lay a strong foundation for the initiative, ensuring they are equipped to continuously evaluate, guide, and support their teams effectively throughout the school year. This strategic leadership commitment is essential for fostering an environment that truly embraces and sustains educational excellence.

Strategic Planning for a School-Wide Literacy Initiative

Recognizing past pitfalls, I’ve outlined a potential strategic plan to successfully integrate the Science of Reading into PLCs, ensuring that we align our efforts with data-driven methodologies and genuine stakeholder engagement. This comprehensive guide supports principals and instructional coaches through the initial planning phases, considering both strategic steps and potential challenges.

Step-by-Step Planning

1. Define the Scope and Purpose of the Needs Analysis

  • Focus on enhancing literacy through a comprehensive understanding and application of the Science of Reading.

  • Assess components such as phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

  • The Meta-PLC goals should align with the school wide goals for the year for best results.

2. Collect Data

  • Gather both quantitative and qualitative data to get a full picture of current literacy levels and practices. This includes standardized test scores, classroom assessments, teacher surveys, and observations.

3. Analyze Current Literacy Programs and Instructional Practices

  • Review existing literacy programs to align them with the Science of Reading principles and identify gaps.

4. Engage Stakeholders

  • Through interviews, focus groups, and surveys involving teachers, parents, and students, gather diverse perspectives on literacy instruction.

5. Identify Professional Development Needs

  • Determine the current levels of understanding and implementation of the Science of Reading among staff and identify targeted PD needs.

6. Prioritize Areas for Improvement

  • Using collected data, prioritize literacy needs and areas for improvement considering urgency, impact, and resources.

7. Develop a Strategic Plan

  • Craft a detailed plan including goals, strategies, timelines, and responsibilities to address the identified needs, integrating PD and PLC engagement.

8. Implement and Monitor

  • Roll out the initiative according to the strategic plan, with continuous monitoring using the short data cycle to evaluate impact and make necessary adjustments.

9. Reflect and Adjust

  • Ensure regular review sessions with the Meta-PLC to remain adaptable and responsive to feedback, fostering a culture of continuous improvement.


Professional Development and PLC Integration

During staff development days, staff will receive targeted PD about Science of Reading strategies that support school-wide goals. For example, a focus on phonics instruction for K-5 can be a key component. After the PD, teachers will have dedicated PLC time on the same day to discuss and integrate what they learned while it is fresh in their minds. Follow-up PLC sessions will then focus on applying the short data cycle, discussing and expanding upon the insights gained during PD.

By reflecting on past experiences and applying these lessons, we are poised to implement a robust school-wide literacy initiative that not only addresses our specific needs but also sets a precedent for data-driven, collaborative educational practices. This strategic approach, grounded in the Science of Reading, promises a sustainable improvement in literacy outcomes, driven by a community invested in fostering educational excellence.


Feel intrigued by the Meta-PLC but daunted by its complexities? Check out ‘The Source of the Issue’ from VOYAGE Horizons. This essential module provides a roadmap for school leaders to effectively set up and manage Meta-PLCs. It extends beyond theory, offering practical tools and strategies for:

  • Identifying and Overcoming Common PLC Barriers: Learn to tackle issues such as resistance to change, lack of engagement, and alignment with school goals, which are crucial for fostering effective PLCs.

  • Conducting Comprehensive Needs Analysis: Gain proficiency in assessing the specific needs of your educational environment, which informs targeted improvements and interventions.

  • Strategic Planning and Implementation: Receive guidance on crafting actionable plans that integrate continuous data monitoring, ensuring your PLCs adapt and thrive.

‘The Source of the Issue’ translates the theoretical foundations into actionable steps, mirroring the strategic planning, stakeholder engagement, and data-driven methodologies discussed in the article. Enhance your leadership capacity and ensure the sustainability of your educational initiatives. Available now on Teachers Pay Teachers. Start transforming your approach to professional learning today.

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