Ten ways to survive, when your teaching team fails to work cooperatively

When a teaching team fails to work cooperatively, how do you survive the school year?

Teaching, as with any workplace, is filled with highs and lows, big personalities and uncooperative people that you must deal with on a daily basis. The following stories come from chats I've had with my fellow teaching friends. I felt this issue was rarely discussed among teachers and needed to be said.

When your team rocks!
When you work in a powerful team of teachers that are not only cooperative but are as excited about teaching as you are it can be an uplifting experience. Good teaching teams support and encourage each other. They share ideas openly and debrief, pick apart and dissect what worked and what didn't. It can be the most exciting time you can have as a teacher and one where you feel like you are growing and learning more than ever.

When your year level team sucks.
Have you been in a year level that is full of jaded teachers? Not only are they unwilling to share their ideas but they are reluctant to consider new ideas. In this team, new ideas are to be avoided at all costs. Information is not shared and fellow year level teachers rarely know what is going on - these golden nuggets of information are closely guarded by the Year Level Head who is often nowhere to be found. Everybody moans and hates their job. Everybody hates parents and the kids are frequently called 'dumb'. Moderation rarely happens and when it does you find out everybody approached the assessment differently and none of you have marked the same way. This is a poor functioning team but what can you do? Often you're not in a position to complain to the Principal and it is more than likely they already know what is going on (they see more than you realise). Does this scenario sound familiar?

What can YOU do?
Firstly, there is very little you can do within your team to change the dynamics. Sometimes it helps to find a co-worker you can share ideas with but sometimes the team environment is so toxic this only makes things worse. So you bunker down, close the door and stop trying to get involved. Regardless of how this impacts on your growth as a teacher, the main concern is how do you protect your mental health until your work situation changes?

Whilst pinning the other day (see my boards here), I stumbled upon this pin and as I read it I realised it could be used as a step by step guide to how to survive a toxic teaching environment. Let's take a look...


1. Don't give advice unless asked. This is brilliant advice but one I totally suck at so I'm still learning. I often fall into the trap of nodding and agreeing with a moaning co-worker then jumping in to give advice. Advice is seldom often asked for and when offered can appear preachy. Wait for your co-worker to ask for advice and then tell them you'll think it over and get back to them. This will stop your discussion appearing bitchy or gossipy in, what is already, a toxic work environment. 

2. Leave the room if you can't be quiet. Yep another one I'm really no good at but I'm learning to hold my tongue. When you come from a teaching team that is open to discussion and airing problems it can be confronting to move to a team where opinions are judged with high suspicion. One of my closest teaching pals is an expert at holding her tongue and I am trying to be more like her.

3. Focus on yourself and what you should be doing, not what they are doing wrong. They didn't teach the curriculum as agreed - let it go. They did a different assessment than the one discussed - let it go. Remember, you're in a toxic work environment and self-preservation is paramount. Concentrate on what you do and do it well. Leave karma (or admin) to catch up with lazy teachers. Which falls nicely to number four...

4. Let them experience their own choices. Chances are admin are fully aware of the lazy teacher, the poor Year Level Head or the bad group dynamics at your school. Principals see and hear everything, even if they don't tell you. Eventually admin will gather enough dirt on these teachers and either split the group by moving teachers to new year levels (or new schools!). Chances are you might move to a more productive team and get your teaching mojo on again. 

5. Stop focusing on their behaviour. When a team member appears reluctant to new ideas, won't share ideas or refuses to work as part of a team, remember the behaviour is often a consequence of other issues. Perhaps they used to share their work all the time before a fellow teacher took credit for their work? Perhaps they are having a terrible time at home and are feeling too low to be cooperative at work? Whatever their reasoning for their behaviour, recognise that there are factors beyond your control at play in their behaviour and don't take it personally. They probably have never seen a good teaching team in action before.

6. Remove the kids before it becomes unsafe. Okay this one didn't, at first, feel like it applied to team teaching but then I realised the way poor team teaching impacts on the students. Students, like all children caught between quarreling parents, see and hear EVERYTHING. They see the look you give another teacher (you know that eye-roll of 'they're at it again'). They hear the tone in your voice when you say "oh okay, nobody told me that was happening today!". It all impacts on their self-esteem like the child of a divorcing couple (Am I worthwhile?) and it all goes home to their parents (You'll never guess what teacher X said about teacher Y!). Whatever discussions develop, keep the students at the forefront of your mind and keep the fallout to a minimum for those in your class.

7. Don't nag them about their responsibilities. This one falls under the 'let it go' criteria again. They haven't run the assessment the same way - yep just let it go. See point 3, 4 and 5 above.

8. Only help when asked. Even in the bad team environment, where I keep my door closed to prevent the bad juju vibes entering my classroom, I will invariably hear a knock on the door at some point. Teachers, when desperate, will seek help and just use it as a chance to demonstrate to your fellow team member, the benefits of cooperative team teaching.

9. Compliment what they ARE doing well. This can feel like Mission Impossible but when the difficult team member actually does something well, don't hesitate to compliment them. They will be shocked at first, then suspicious (what is she really doing?) but they might, just might, repeat that good work again. You use positive reinforcement with your students, so why not try it on your teaching team? It might not improve their behaviour but it may just help you see some good in their work rather than just focusing on the bad.

10. Let yourself off the hook, it's not your problem! I really love this last one. At the end of the day, their behaviour, their teaching, their students are their problem. You can't control everything but you can control how you react to it so take a deep breath - gather your fabulous lesson plans and say "not my circus, not my monkeys" and focus on your own students.

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Celebrating teacher diversity

It's report card writing time. That dreaded time of the year when teachers summon enough strength to gather their thoughts and put them on paper in a meaningful and non-accusatory way. For Australian and New Zealand teachers, we are day-dreaming of our winter mid-term holidays and it doesn't help that we are bombarded with teacher memes about end of year and summer break (I'm talking to you American and Canadian teachers!). 

Okay, I've lived all over the world and have family in the US so totally understand the excitement and anticipation of summer holidays. In countries where the sun rarely makes an appearance, I clearly remember the longed-for long summer days. As a fellow teacher, I would never begrudge you your excitement about the end of year either.

However, spare a thought for your poor fellow teachers in the southern hemisphere who are mid-way through the school calendar, feeling exhausted and wondering if it's too early to start doing a countdown to the end of the school year in December. 

Which brings me to my blog post. How much do you know about your fellow teachers outside of the country you live/work in? I will confess my ignorance of some of the words or terms that are used in US English but I know that when I'm talking about bringing some thongs on a holiday excursion I have to make it clear they are the ones that go on my feet when I'm talking to an American! Bum-bags are commonly known as fanny-packs in the US (let's not go there...) and rooted means a solid foundation in the US, whereas in Australia it means.. er.. broken. As in "...your car is totally rooted mate!" - meaning not working (NB: this is the clean definition of the term in Aussie slang!).

Do your students frequently find British English or American English in their worksheets, websites or activities you've downloaded? If so, use it as a teaching point to explore the differences with this useful Spelling variations poster pack. I enlarge this and place it on the wall of my classroom as a reference poster and it's come in handy on many occasions for my students. 

Okay so what are the differences in term dates. Listed below is information I have gathered while researching this blog post. If YOUR school does something different, please comment below - I'd love to learn more about our differences.


Australia & New Zealand
Late January/early February - December

October - June

August - June

February - November

September - June

September - March

August - June

September - May

September - July

United States of America
September - May/June

United Kingdom
June/July - June/July the following year

Other noticeable differences are the terms for school years (some states may differ slightly from one another slightly):

In Australia we have:
Kindy (not compulsory)
Preschool (not compulsory)
Foundation Year (sometimes known as Prep and newly compulsory in most states) Age 5
Year 1 -6 (through to age 12)
Year 7- 12
UNIVERSITY to follow or COLLEGE for a trade

In the United States you have:
Kindergarten through to fifth grade (aged 12)
Grades 6 - 9
Grades 10 - 12
COLLEGE to follow

For all our differences, what I do know is that teachers are born not raised. I know that teaching, no matter where you are in the world, makes a difference. I know that teachers around the world should celebrate our differences and embrace them. For as educators, don't we encourage our students to acknowledge and celebrate our differences? Our passion for teaching is what unites us. 

To my northern hemisphere teachers I raise a glass and say "congratulations on making it through another school year"! To my fellow southern hemisphere teachers I say, take a breath, push on and in the immortal words of Bon Jovi "we're halfway there!".

Did somebody say "Free resources"?

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