Clashing Instead of Collaborating

A Tale of a Derailed Professional Learning Community

Imagine a group of educators, diverse in experience and expertise, convening to discuss the latest NWEA MAP scores. This is a snapshot of a Professional Learning Community (PLC) in action, a setting that’s become a mainstay in educational institutions geared towards collective growth and student achievement. Yet, these collaborative sessions can quickly devolve into contention when opposing views clash, especially without strategies for resolution. This was the case for Mr. Thompson, a staunch proponent of conventional methods, and Ms. Lee, a proponent of avant-garde, research-backed pedagogies. Their conflicting stances led to a discordant session that culminated in heightened tensions and a divided faculty.


The Root of the Problem

At the heart of such breakdowns in PLCs is not the diversity of thought but the absence of a strategic framework for constructive navigation of these differences. Without a conflict management protocol, vigorous debates can overshadow the intended collaborative discourse.


Dissecting the Dynamics

The conflicts that arise in PLCs often transcend simple disagreements over teaching methods; they are manifestations of deeper concerns like resistance to change, the apprehension of becoming obsolete, or the need for recognition within a professional community. Mr. Thompson’s preference for traditional methods may be rooted in his apprehension towards the rapidly changing educational landscape, whereas Ms. Lee’s advocacy for new approaches might stem from a desire for validation as a competent, contemporary educator.


Practical Steps to Address Conflict in PLCs

1. Establish Ground Rules for Engagement: The foundation for successful PLCs is the establishment of clear ground rules that promote mutual respect and encourage open dialogue. These rules might stipulate equal speaking time for all, procedures for active listening, and equitable participation. Such ground rules are not just procedural; they are symbolic, setting the expectation that every voice is critical to a holistic decision-making process.

2. Promote Active Listening: Active listening should be more than a mere policy; it should be a value deeply embedded within the culture of the PLC. Members should be encouraged to listen with the intent to understand rather than respond. This practice validates each member’s perspective, fostering a sense of belonging and contribution.

3. Structured Problem-Solving: Implement structured problem-solving models such as round-robin sharing, think-pair-share, or the “I Notice/I Wonder” protocol. These methods democratize the discussion space, ensuring no single voice becomes dominant and transforming reactive situations into proactive problem-solving opportunities.

4. De-escalation Techniques: Heightened emotions are a common byproduct of conflict in PLCs. Facilitators must be skilled in de-escalation techniques to calm emotions and refocus the group on shared objectives. Techniques might include taking a brief pause, reminding the group of shared goals, or temporarily shifting the conversation to a neutral topic.

5. Conflict Resolution Training: Providing conflict resolution training to all PLC members equips them with the necessary skills to address disagreements effectively. Such training enables members to handle confrontations constructively and autonomously.


Sentence Frames to Facilitate Constructive Conversations

Effective communication is pivotal in resolving conflicts. Below are various sentence frames that can help guide conversations towards constructive outcomes:

  • “Mr. Thompson, your extensive experience is invaluable. How might these traditional methods be adapted to accommodate new research findings?”

  • “Ms. Lee, could you elaborate on how the new approach might address some of the limitations we’ve observed in the past?”

  • “I sense there are varied opinions on this. Could we each share one aspect of the new proposal that resonates with us and one that concerns us?”


Implementing Solutions

Once conflicts are addressed, the PLC can move towards implementing solutions informed by all perspectives. This might involve piloting a new approach while systematically evaluating its effectiveness compared to traditional methods. It could also mean creating a hybrid model that marries the strengths of both established and new pedagogical approaches.


Further Sentence Frames for Diverse Situations

In addition to the aforementioned sentence frames, here are more examples tailored to specific situations within PLCs:

  • When a topic becomes contentious: “Let’s pause and reflect on what each of us hopes to achieve for our students with these approaches.”

  • When a member hasn’t contributed: “We haven’t heard from you yet, [Name]. Your insights would be greatly valued in this discussion.”

  • When the group needs to make a decision: “It seems we have a few options on the table. Let’s take a moment to weigh the pros and cons of each.”

  • When bridging divergent views: “Both of these ideas have merit. How can we integrate these concepts to benefit our students’ learning experiences?”


By embracing these strategies, a PLC can transform conflicts into catalysts for growth and collective learning. The harmony achieved isn’t a suppression of discord; it’s the alchemy of turning differing opinions into a cohesive, innovative approach that respects and utilizes the strengths of all members. With the right strategies, a PLC can effectively navigate through conflicts, ensuring each session contributes positively to the shared goal.


Call to Action

Don’t let your school’s PLCs be just another checkbox. Transform them into dynamic, results-driven communities with the VOYAGE Horizons Bundle. The Facilitator module will equip your staff with the skills needed to turn clashes into collaborations. Available now on Teachers Pay Teachers, this comprehensive package is your key to unlocking the full potential of your educational team. Invest in the future of your school today – buy the VOYAGE Horizons Bundle on TPT and begin your journey towards educational excellence!

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