Jamie Virga

Jamie Virga has been a teacher, principal, district staff developer, principal coach, and associate superintendent in Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland for more than 20 years.

Dealing With an Ineffective Team Leader

In Leaders of Learning, Richard DuFour and Robert J. Marzano point out that selecting and training teacher team leaders is one of the most important tasks that a principal must perform in order to lead a dynamic PLC process at his or her school. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to have a thriving PLC without effective teacher leaders. As I have worked with numerous schools and districts, a question that comes up frequently toward the end of the school year is, “What do I do if one of my team leaders is ineffective?”

When principals tell me that one of their team leaders is ineffective, I suggest that they start by asking themselves a few questions:

  • Have I been clear about the expectations for team leaders and how they should lead their teams in the PLC process at our school?
  • Have we provided team leaders with frequent job-embedded professional development on critical PLC content knowledge (essential outcomes, formative assessments, SMART goals, data analysis, etc.)?
  • Have we provided team leaders with ongoing job-embedded professional development on the leadership skills they need to be successful (coaching strategies, conferencing techniques, facilitation skills, etc.)?
  • Have I personally supported this team leader with coaching and guidance?

If the answer to these questions is “no,” then the principal should take some responsibility and look at strategies for clarifying expectations and providing professional development and personal support. Being a team leader is a challenging job that requires different skills than being a teacher, and principals should provide supports to help team leaders be successful. I believe that principals should go the extra mile to support their teacher leaders.

However, if the answer to these questions is “yes,” and there are still team leaders who are not leading their teams effectively, then the principal needs to ask, “Is this a problem that involves the beliefs of the team leader?”

When the problem is clearly that the team leader doesn’t believe in the PLC process, principals should look to make a change. The team has little chance of success if the team leader is not supporting PLC efforts at the team level. The principal should schedule an individual conference and engage in a candid conversation with the team leader to review the expectations, discuss the feedback that has been provided over the course of the school year, and explain why there needs to be a change. While this is a difficult conversation to have, principals need to have the courage to address ineffective performance from a team leader and make a change when necessary. Failure to confront ineffective leadership at the team level undermines the PLC process and sends the message that avoiding conflict is more important than ensuring dynamic leadership at the team level. Making a needed change at the team leader level can give a team a fresh chance for success in the coming school year.


DuFour, R., & Marzano, R. (2011). Leaders of learning: How district, school, and classroom leaders improve student achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.


Michael Savage

On reading this article I found myself completely in agreement with your statements and those of the other commenters. Team leaders are a the glue that holds departments together and as such they must be effective in their roles. Principals should appoint such team leaders having assessed them both on their merits as well as their commitment to the school learning community. Equally all staff members should be clear of the purpose, objective and goals to be achieved by participating in PLCs. It is essential that staff members are genuinely committed to achieving a productive change from such endeavours. As teachers we must constantly remind ourselves of the reason for PLCs and that is to improve our practise such that it benefits the students providing a better learning experience.

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Cindy Young

I am currently studying leadership. I work in a school division that has had PLCs for 5+ years, but in my opinion, are very ineffective. I am looking for ways to improve our current PLCs. I think a good place to start is to assign leaders and train them, no wonder our PLCs are ineffective!!!

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Jacqueline Brown

It has been approximately five years since the implementation of PLC in our school district and its schools. The following conclusions have emerged from my experience with PLCs (to date): training of principals and team leaders need to be augmented with ongoing professional development; professional development for the initial training cohort (principals and team leaders) and for the entire faculty of the school. Further, strong and stable leadership is essential to achieve the desired outcomes of professional learning communities: improved student learning and achievement through the establishment of respectful, professional, collaborative relationships.

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James Dallas

I strongly agree that the PLC process is too important to allow ineffective leadership to dismantle the dynamics of the team. I pride myself on providing the consistent, ongoing training that is essential for team leaders to be successful in their role. In my case, the team leader of one of our teams simply sucked the energy out of the other members who ultimately gave up. What I discovered was that she had a controlling personality, which was completely misaligned with one of the PLC tenets- collaboration. After some coaching, counseling and transparent conversations, I decided to make a change that I felt was in the best interest of the team. We now have a new team leader. Team morale and dynamics are up and the team is on the right trajectory. If all of the right kind of training has been provided to Team Leaders and clarity and ongoing support for the role is offered, the Principal MUST have the courage to make the change that is in the best interest of the TEAM so that the TEAM can flourish.

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Darian Levy

My response is "no," the principal should take some of the responsibility as well and he/she should make sure they did all they could have done as administrator. Being a team leader is very challenging when you are supporting team members continually and they don't follow your lead, now that as look at the principal for hiring teachers on their own without the team leader input . The reason the team leader should be interview process is because the principal isn't in the day to day classroom with students team leads have the insight on the classroom , feel of the students. I believe that principals should go the extra mile to support their teacher leaders.

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Doug Atteberry

I have only been at my position for six months, but what I have noticed is that nobody wants to be the team lead. I don't want to because I am new, and still working on things in my classroom. Other teachers have young kids at home and don't feel they can do the job the right way. Everyone is hoping that they don't get picked for team lead. Maybe if their was better training for the team leaders people would want to step up and do it.

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I am a Kindergarten teacher and part of the leadership team, as well as Kindergarten team leader. At the beginning of the year, I felt that it was me that my team was not responding. I had the PLC Cylce posted, our PLC creed, and always emailed my team ahead of time to let them know what data we needed to look at or what assessments we need to create.

I could never get a response out of my team, because the conversations always turned to why can't we lesson plan? I have stuff to do in my classroom, etc. I continue to feel that I was doing something wrong. I asked my admin to please come in and observe or allow my team to observe a model PLC.

So, I agree with that it does start with the top. When team leaders are not being shown what an effective PLC looks like, how can they perform as leaders?

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