Mary Hendricks-Harris

Mary Hendricks-Harris is chief academic officer for the Francis Howell School District in Missouri. With more than 20 years of experience, Mary has been a special education teacher, director of special education, and director of assessment.

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.


Sunni Hart

Thank you so much for providing these solutions to common problems coaches face in PLC meetings. I am starting my first year as a Math Coach at my school and these issues you wrote about are things that I know that I will face in the coming year. These solutions are professional and easy to implement. I now have tools to use to begin the year with these norms and how to stick with them. I look forward to using these tips and feel confident in running my meetings.

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A Buckley

Thank you for sharing. My school does not have official PLC, but the grade level teachers would meet during planning sometimes (Not as often as we probably should). Even though we are a small group, we had some of the issues you addressed. I love the fact that your ideas for dealing with these problems all include a group effort, rather than individuals trying to "fix the problem". Thanks.

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Great post Mary and thanks for sharing. You touched on a couple points our TBT is struggling with. We are a team of nine and have established our norms. We are following through on our roles but not always adhering to our norms. I like the suggestions you made and plan to present them at a future meeting. The thing that attracted me to your blog was voting someone off the island. Unfortunately, we have a negative member on our team this year and it has become very draining. My personal mantra is if it's not positive or productive, I don't participate. I've shared that with our group but unfortunately, it falls on deaf ears. We have tried to address the situation but still lack any improvement. There are days where I find it best to say nothing. I know this is not a solution but again, it's becoming so draining. I am the only one in our group that has attended a PLC conference and would love to see us establish a strong community, but I'm feeling a bit lost as to where to start. Any suggestions?

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melinda alumbaugh

When our group set the norms, we all helped write them, and agreed on them. We then post them at each meeting, and we all monitor whether they are being followed. Our group is small (6) so it has been easy to follow the norms. We have a variety of teaching experience ranging from new teachers to 23 years experience, and it has been a wonderful experience. Everyone has a voice. We have learned so much from each other.

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Bryan Mix

Great post and positive solutions to a negative situation. Currently our PLC has rotating facilitators. This has helped to foster a more effective and collaborative team. It is essential that the team understands that the time spent together should always be focused on student work, achievement, and instructional strategies. The framework PLC-4REAL is a great way to start. It provides some direction for an ineffective PLC team. Many times PLC teams are made up of a very diverse group of professionals. This can be very powerful or destructive. It is imperative that a competent and confident facilitator has the ability to navigate through the diverse practices and be able to redirect people to the norms that have been developed by the team.

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norma aguayo

Having difficult conversations is necessary in order for any team to be effective. There has to be an understanding the student learning is the focus, not teaching. Negativity is present many times and only hurts the effectiveness of the team. When issues rise within teams, it is viable to refer to the team's norms and if possible, peer edited articles or research that address the issues being faced.

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Bill Hogan

I think it is imperative for the leader to address these behaviors. If not, the group could become cynical of the work, and be unwilling to become an effective PLC.

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