Focusing on the Work
Unlike the show Survivor, in education we do not have the option of voting tribe members off the island when they aren’t effective PLC members. Most PLCs function well, but for those with issues, there seem to be some commonalities. Teachers often are uncomfortable addressing concerns with their colleagues. Here are some ideas to address the three common problems:
Issue 1: A team member comes late, finds an excuse to leave early, or isn’t focused on the work during the meeting.
Solution: Most teams set norms, but once that task is complete, rarely do teams refer to them again. One team I work with made little “Norms” (the guy from Cheers on Popsicle sticks) that one or more team members held up when norms were broken. This was a lighthearted way to address members who did not stick to the agreements. Others do norm surveys quarterly and discuss results. One team I work on has chosen a norm we are particularly weak in adhering to, and we individually verbally reflect on that norm occasionally. Another option is to assign a team member to be the “norm police,” someone to draw the team’s attention to noncompliance with norms. “Norms can help clarify expectations, promote open dialogue, and serve as powerful tool for holding members accountable” (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2006, p. 111), but only if we move beyond identification.
Issue 2: A team member monopolizes the conversation or assumes his or her thoughts are the thoughts of the group.
Solution: While it may seem unnatural at first, the use of protocols will help all members have an equal voice. Protocols are ways to structure conversations and can include structures for sharing airtime. This limits monopolizers and encourages those who are reluctant to speak but have great things to share. Even something as simple as going “round robin” and asking each member to share an insight on common assessment data can help.
Issue 3: One team member is especially negative, often complaining about students, parents, administration, and generally all aspects of the job. No matter the topic, this person is unable to be positive, and it affects the tone of the meeting.
Solution: Set the tone for the meetings by beginning with celebrations. Consider adding a norm to address negativity such as “Presume the positive.” Make a decision to not engage in the negativity when it occurs. Should the person make positive statements, be sure to acknowledge and reinforce the member’s contribution. Sticking to the agenda and staying focused on the critical questions should minimize negativity.
No team is perfect. Sometimes we just have to have tough conversations with our colleagues. Conflict is part of the PLC process, but some dysfunctional behaviors can be dealt with by implementing these simple strategies.
DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2010). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work™ (2nd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.