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My colleague doesn’t share curriculum changes. How do I approach them?

You have different teaching styles, but notice the teacher’s positives and trust your colleague. See if you can help solve any problems.

Two teachers in conversation separated by a large divide in the shape of a quote bubble.

This teacher seeks advice on how to work more successfully with a colleague who changes their curriculum without communicating.

Source: SolStock and Klaus Vedfelt / Getty | Photo Illustration: Lauren Bryant / Chalkbeat

A weekly advice column for K-12 teachers to share their joys, frustrations, and ongoing questions about teaching.

I teach the same class as one of my colleagues. We’re meant to give the same assignments, quizzes, and assessments, but the other teacher keeps changing their curriculum without telling me. I only found out because one of my homeroom students, who has the other teacher, asked me for help with an assignment. 

I know everyone has different teaching styles, but I think it’s important that students learn the same content. This other teacher has been teaching the class longer than I have. What should I do? — Out of the Loop

Out of the Loop,

To answer your question, we have to zoom out. 

Historically, students learned in multi-grade, one-room schoolhouses. Theorists who led school reform in the early 20th century decided that educators who wanted to build student learning should not work in isolation. 

In the early 1960s, the term professional learning community (PLC) first emerged among researchers and became popular during the 1980s and early 1990s. PLCs provide teachers with an opportunity to use collective efforts to achieve a clear, commonly shared purpose for student learning.

You are PLC-ready. Your partner may not be.

PLCs arrived in my school district in the early 2000s, after I’d been in the profession for five or six years. I remember that implementation of PLCs was difficult, and there was not a lot of teacher buy-in. 

PLC requirements were closely connected to student testing and common formative assessments. Administrators used testing data to determine if students were learning and some bonuses were determined by these scores. Teachers resisted because they were not willing to churn out robots who could perform well on tests but not necessarily know the content. 

There are teachers who believe that all students can learn, just not on the same day or in the same way. 

Your philosophy differs from your co-worker. Which one of you is right? 

In the times we are facing, teaching should not feel like an episode of Survivor. If someone is isolating and not sharing information, there is a reason. 

The students are not suffering and they can still thrive with either approach. It seems like what’s actually not working is the relationship between you and your colleague. Ask yourself if there are ways to build trust.

How to break the ice

- Notice the positive. Teachers arrive to school early, stay late, bring work home, contact parents, grade papers, plan lessons, write curriculum, manage behaviors, provide social and emotional support, keep up with pop culture, redirect cell phone usage, buy materials, arrange for field trips and guest speakers, and manage whatever the principal requests on a daily basis. 

Have you noticed your fellow teacher doing well at any of these tasks? Check in and acknowledge the teacher in genuine ways. Your consideration could go a long way even if it is as simple as a thank you card or a gold star sticker.

- Look for ways to help. I remember attending teacher development training at The Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta. I was blown away by Kim Bearden’s personal story of divorcing while being an educator and leader at this prestigious well-known school. She suffered in silence. Some days she suffered aloud. Her story reminds us we need each other to get through the toughest times in our lives.

We have all worked with a teacher who was overwhelmed. If you haven’t, you will. 

Find out where and how you can provide support. You do not know what this other teacher is experiencing. There is an unfortunate trend of teachers judging other teachers when really there are areas where they may need assistance. Ask. If that teacher does not accept your offer, then do not continue to press. Let time work in your favor.

- Trust your colleague. I have one literature class where I have to adjust my lesson plans every time. We move at a slower pace and sometimes I change the lesson completely from the other classes. I am not doing that class a disservice. I am adjusting according to their needs. When testing time comes, they will be as prepared as the other classes because I intuitively know what they should be learning and how to remove the non-essential agenda items.

The other teacher has been teaching longer than you have. I have to assume that you learned about PLCs early in your career and adapted the concepts into your pedagogy. Your teaching partner may not have. They may be operating under PLC resistance, but trust that their students are getting the information to succeed in the class.

- Do not take it personally. Let’s imagine your fellow teacher is doing the bare minimum and is muddling through this year. The lack of effort can truly be disheartening at a time when there is so much work to be done. 

Please do not allow those work habits to interfere with your personal and career goals. If you were to become derailed by a fellow teacher, the students will face the problem of two distracted and possibly disconnected teachers. 

Out of the Loop, workplace dynamics can be challenging. Teaching is meant to be a career and not your life. Make sure you do not fall into the trap of alienating co-workers. Get back into the loop by building an environment of trust and academic professionalism. 

Dr. Kem Smith is Chalkbeat’s first advice columnist. She is a full-time 12th-grade English teacher in St. Louis, Missouri. Submit your question to Dr. Kem via this submission form, and subscribe to How I Teach to receive her column in your inbox.

If you have a rebuttal or additional advice you’d like to share with Out of the Loop, please email afterthebell@chalkbeat.org.

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