Letting Good People Go Who Can’t Get Along With Others

Odelia Epstein
KC Topics: 
Personnel Development & Empowerment, Community Building Inside & Out, Recruitment & Retention of Teachers, Thought Leadership, Prizmah Thought Leadership

By Debby Kinman-Ford

Here’s the scenario: Talented teacher. Loved by the parents. Best bulletin boards ever. Can’t get along with the other staff. This talented person is divisive, causes issues with other staff weekly especially when you aren’t on campus and is a constant problem for the morale of your staff.

What do you do? You hate to lose someone so loved by your families, and yet it’s destroying your team. Here’s my hard-earned lesson: let them go.

Two years ago, I had this same situation with not one but two staff. We are first and foremost a team-based environment. Our faculty makes most decisions together about programming, curriculum and general direction of the school—even whether or not to expand. We promote collaboration between classes as well as staff. It is at the core of the “community” in our school. 

Both teachers were great at their work—wonderful behavior management, fantastic lessons engaging all kids, and so on—but every time they interacted with other staff, they were rude and exclusionary. When I came back from a conference, day offsite, or any other situation that caused me to be away, I had staff lining up at my door begging me not to leave again. If one of these teachers walked down a hall, they would not acknowledge the other staff, just look past them. They didn’t want to work collaboratively with other classes, which is required at least once a month.

The other teachers constantly questioned their own decisions, as these two teachers told others unsolicited that they were wrong, inadequate or not up to par. They acted as if they were authorities on any topic, and spent more time breaking down relationships instead of creating them. Our school spends a great deal of time and money on professional development and team building. We encourage our staff to explore areas of interest to them, they have easy access to me if they have concerns, and we all work hard to create a fun, exciting environment to learn.

Working as a team is not for everyone, and in this scenario, I think that was partly the case. As our school has grown, our philosophy for collaboration and teamwork has increased. These teachers just didn’t care if they got along with others—in fact they were very upfront about that. For some schools, that might be fine, but not ours. Only after I finally helped these educators on their way to new jobs did I realize how detrimental they had become to our school’s culture.

This is the procedure I followed to help move them along. I brought them in individually and, as professionally as I could, discussed that I was concerned other staff had issues with some of the interactions they had had with these educators. I gave specific examples, and we discussed how much I was invested in a team philosophy at my school. One of the two told me that was the complaining teacher’s issue, not theirs, and the complaining teacher needed to learn to deal with it. Don’t be surprised if you get a cold shoulder instead of an apology.

When the situation did not improve, I called each one in again and told them there were still staff who were having issues with their unsolicited comments about how they ran their classes or their projects. I told these two teachers this needed immediate improvement, and I went over strategies to get along with others. I also made sure our professional evaluation form included “Ability to get along with others” and “General comradery with other staff.” That’s important, as you may need to show that that character trait is part of your school culture.

Then, I went about the business of documenting each time someone went to complain about them. I made sure the stories happened the way the complaining staff said it did, and then I documented it. Finally, when it came time to conduct end of the year evaluations, I gave them both low marks on ability to get along with others and comradery. At the conclusion of the school year, both teachers opted not to come back of their own choice, although I was prepared to let them go.

Since this transition, everyone at our school is much happier. Our staff is very competitive, but in friendly way. We challenge each other to do better. We see each other’s success as our success. When I am offsite, I am more relaxed and focused, and we are making great things happen. These women were strong teachers, but we truly live a team-focused philosophy at our school, and for us helping these teachers move on their way to another school was one of the best things we ever did.

Had I known how much happier my staff and school would be once these teachers were gone, I would have done it much sooner. If you are faced with a similar circumstance, best of luck and stay strong: it’s not a fun situation to maneuver, but you’ll be happy you did.

This article is cross posted on our blog.