Utilizing the High Reliability Schools Model and PLC at Work to Improve Learning

Driving continuous improvement across five key areas
By: | Issue: May 2020 | Web Seminar Digest
May 1, 2020

In this webcast, Solution Tree expert Cameron L. Rains discussed how to harness the power of the PLC at Work® process, in tandem with the High Reliability Schools™ (HRS) framework, to drive continuous improvement in a school district across five key areas:

  1. a safe, supportive and collaborative culture
  2. effective instruction in every classroom
  3. a guaranteed and viable curriculum
  4. standards-referenced reporting
  5. competency-based education

Rains outlined how each of these five areas positively impacts students, teachers and parents.


Cameron L. Rains, Ed.D.
Director of School Improvement
Solution Tree

Cameron L. Rains: PLCs have been around for over 20 years. They are about three big ideas that will shift our culture.

First, learning is the fundamental purpose of schooling. It’s why schools exist. It’s why we have kids who come through our doors every day. We have to ensure that they’re learning and learning at high levels. Second, we’re going to do that in a collaborative culture. We’re going to open our doors, work together, lock arms and get the job done for kids. In a PLC, there is no such thing as my kids and your kids. All of the students are all of our kids. Third, we work hand in hand to ensure results. We are results-oriented, and we continuously monitor our progress. All the decisions we make—from day to day to minute by minute—will be based on what’s likely to produce better results for the students we have the privilege of serving.

You can’t overemphasize the importance of collaborative teams. Together, they are the building blocks of PLCs. They are the primary vehicle for getting the work done, and the work they do is important. How do we know what that work is? There are four PLC model questions:

  1. What do we want our students to learn or know? That’s a curriculum question.
  2. How will we know if students are learning? That’s an assessment question.
  3. How do we respond when some students are not learning? That’s an instructional question.
  4. How do we respond when some students already know the material? That’s also an instructional question.

There are two HRS model questions:

  1. How will we increase our instructional competence?
  2. How will we coordinate our efforts as a school?

District leadership is essential. But we have to think about leadership a bit differently. No longer can we think about leadership in terms of a person who’s going to provide that for a school. We have to think about leadership in terms of what all of us can do collectively to help move a school forward. The HRS model is all about putting in place the conditions that are necessary to ensure that people are successful.

Higher reliability organizations are organizations that cannot fail. There would be a public backlash. The expectation is that they get it right every time. So they’re constantly monitoring, scanning the horizon and looking for errors that could become more significant problems. When they find errors, they take immediate corrective action and fix them before they become systemwide failures. And they recognize the interrelatedness of their operations systems.

To take a high reliability perspective in schools, we need to look at the research-based factors that have to be in place to ensure that students learn. We need to monitor students with lagging indicators, and when we see something that looks out of whack, we need to jump in and take care of it right away. That’s what it would mean to operate as an HRS.

There are many options in the HRS framework. One possibility is that school leaders can simply dig into the work, dig into the books, dig into webcasts like this, and work as a team within their school to go down the path of becoming highly reliable.

Another popular option is to partner with us. School leaders can do some work on their own, obviously, but they can also lean on experts, people who have experience implementing the model, people who have designed the model, and people who have seen different things play out across the world. The most intensive level is that a school leader could say: “We want external certification. We want an expert in the model to look at our evidence and make a certification decision.” We work with schools on that as well.

To watch this webcast in its entirety, please visit DAmag.me/ws032420