Steven Weber

Superintendent or Asst Super

Fayetteville, AR

Interests: Curriculum design and...

  • Posted 7 Years ago
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Five Dysfunctions of a Professional Learning Community

What is a Professional Learning Community (PLC)?

“The very essence of a learning community is a focus on and a commitment to the learning of each student. When a school or district functions as a PLC, educators within the organization embrace high levels of learning for all students as both the reason the organization exists and the fundamental responsibility of those who work within it.” 

- Rick DuFour, Bob Eaker, & Becky DuFour (2007)


 From Isolation to Collaboration

As I have watched teachers and administrators make the shift from teaching in isolation to operating as a collaborative team, I have witnessed several commonalities across schools.  This article addresses Five Dysfunctions of a Professional Learning Community.  The purpose of this article is to describe how dysfunctional behavior can interfere with the school’s commitment to the learning of each student.


All Teams Are Potentially Dysfunctional

Lencioni (2007) wrote, “Like it or not, all teams are potentially dysfunctional. This is inevitable because they are made up of fallible, imperfect human beings.”  This is nice to know, because educators frequently struggle with teamwork, sharing resources and working with a co-worker who views teaching and learning from a different lens.

Five Dysfunctions of a Professional Learning Community

Dysfunction #1:  Lack of Norms

Team norms are the foundation of a PLC.  Some teams feel like they can operate without norms, but conflict or a dysfunctional team member usually highlight the purpose of norms.  When teams operate with norms, each member of the team understands how to communicate, how shared decisions will be handled, when to arrive for meetings and how to professionally disagree.   I have observed teams that developed norms five years ago, but they fail to revisit the team norms.  When a new teacher moves from a different grade level or from another school district, it is difficult for the teacher to participate in the PLC because the team norms are akin to living and working in a different country or culture.


Developing Team Norms


Dysfunction #2:  Lack of Team Goals

“You must have long term goals to keep you from being frustrated by short term failures.”   -  Charles C. Noble

“If you’re bored with life — you don’t get up every morning with a burning desire to do things — you don’t have enough goals.”   -  Lou Holtz

Successful teams establish goals and when the team begins to succeed or fail, they return to their established goals.  Establishing a school or district-level PLC will not mean that a team will meet its goals any more than a basketball team will go undefeated by having a daily practice.  Some teams fail to establish goals because they believe that teaching hard and developing rigorous lessons will support student achievement.  Other teams have a lack of trust and they do not wish to share instructional strategies or discuss student misunderstandings.  A team without goals will lack purpose, urgency and a destination.  It is difficult to celebrate a small win without established goals.


Setting Team Goals

Team Action Planning Template

Dysfunction # 3:  Lack of Trust

According to Lencioni (2007), a lack of trust “occurs when team members are reluctant to be vulnerable with one another and are unwilling to admit their mistakes, weaknesses or needs for help. Without a certain comfort level among team members, a foundation of trust is impossible.”

A PLC that operates with Trust will ask:

1)     Which students seem to struggle with the key concepts and skills identified by the team?

2)     Which skills and/or concepts do I struggle teaching?

3)     If our students do not do well on the state writing test, then what strategies should we incorporate at our grade level?  at the grade levels prior to our grade/course?

4)    Some students are struggling with note taking and organization skills.  What can teachers do to support students who are struggling in school, due to a lack of study skills?

5)    Our students are struggling with Algebra I.  Are there areas of the curriculum map that could be revised to support teaching and learning?


Team Trust Survey

Dysfunction #4:  Lack of Communication

In the traditional high school, the Department Chair(s) met with the building principal and then returned to the Department Meeting to tell the other teachers what to do.  Top-down leadership is drastically different from the shared leadership that occurs in an effective PLC.  Communication problems occur when teams operate without established norms or goals.  Some communication barriers occur because teachers fail to take advantage of email, discussion threads, web 2.0 tools, blogs, wikis, Google docs and other methods for communicating between meetings.  A humorous video on the importance of clear communication between team members is available at “Communication Problem!”


Evidence of Practice in Action

How Teams Function

Dysfunction #5:  Lack of Essential Learning Outcomes

Effective teams develop and agree to provide all students with Essential Learning Outcomes.  In the absence of learning outcomes students receive a disjointed curriculum experience.  Why do some teams skip this step if it is such an important part of teaching and learning?  From my observations, developing essential learning outcomes involves trust, conflict, debate, time and the ability to come to consensus.  If teams lack one or more of the items listed in this article, it will be difficult if not impossible to identify essential learning outcomes.  Swan (2010) wrote, “Learning outcomes refer to the skills, knowledge, and attributes students should have upon completion of a particular course or program of study.”  For additional resources on developing learning outcomes visit BYU Center for Teaching and Learning.


A Guide to Developing Measurable Student Learning Outcomes
Developed by Canada College

Example of Essential Learning Outcomes

All Things PLC
Canada College
Communication Problem
Conquer Team Dysfunction
Patrick Lencioni
Developing Learning Outcomes
Richard Swan
BYU Center for Teaching and Learning
Solution Tree Reproducibles
What’s A PLC?
Rick DuFour, Bob Eaker, and Rebecca DuFour
All Things PLC (January 9, 2007)


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24 Mar 13, 09:22 PM

Norms are essential for effective PLCs. I have had the opportunity to work with different grade level teams, all of which were successful for the most part. However, this year is the first year that my team and I established norms. There is definitely a difference! Each team member knows what is expected of her and follows through. If one member falls short of what is expected, we refer to our norms and a solution is found. After reading the article, there are areas that still need improvement, but I am pleased that we are on the right track.

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10 Oct 12, 06:01 PM

Communication is certainly a key. I know I need to work better at that with my colleagues. My problem is that our professional personalities don't work.


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09 Oct 12, 10:15 PM

This really hits on the problems with PLC's in my school. It also offers some really good insight on how to fix the problems, and encourage learning


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05 Apr 11, 05:26 PM

When PLC program is introduce to a school, Leaders need to establish cohesion among the staff before appying the concept. Trust is an issue when starting a new ideal. Not providing time, without stress, can be an concern among the teachers because they already care a lot on their plates now. Thanks for the article. I will share this with some of peers.

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24 Mar 13, 09:38 PM

I agree with your statement about the importance of cohesion. At my school, teachers move grade levels often due to the changes in student enrollment. This in turn leads to teachers being unable to form a bond or a sense of cohesion with their grade level team members. A lack of trust is present and the teams are not able to function effectively. I too plan to share this article because it addresses issues that many educators can relate to.

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06 Dec 10, 02:08 PM

I think the lack of trust is an important one to think about. If a teacher is not willing to admit thier weeknesses and not ask for help, how will they ever become a better teacher? Thank you for your article. It was filled with great information about Professional Learning Communties.

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14 Nov 10, 10:13 AM

Trust is the big one at my school. Thanks for the info.

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13 Nov 10, 11:37 PM

Another excellent post, Steven!


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