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Sharing the load

April 11, 2017 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor
Leah McDonnell (left) and Chris Logan have been job sharing partners for 20 years.

Edmonton teachers mark two decades of successful job sharing

Any relationship expert will tell you that the key to achieving longevity in any partnership is communication. 

By all accounts, Chris Logan and Leah McDonnell have that down as the two Edmonton teachers have been sharing one job for two decades.

“Leah and I say our relationship is better than most marriages as we have not had a disagreement in 20 years,” Logan says.

McDonnell and Logan have been teaching for 29 and 30 years, respectively. The colleagues first started talking about job sharing when they were both on maternity leave. 

“We said we’d try it for one year because we knew it would be a lot of work and here we are 20 years later — still a lot of work but it’s worth it,” McDonnell says.

Currently teaching at John Barnett School in northeast Edmonton, the pair splits each week, with McDonnell teaching Mondays and Tuesdays and Logan teaching the other days.

The key to the seamlessness that they’ve achieved is communication, they say. The pair gets together weekly to plan and also communicates regularly by email and phone. If a parent brings a concern to one, the other knows about it.

“Our philosophy is we are one,” ­Logan says. “When one is not there and the other is … nobody would know the difference because we are in synch.”

Getting in synch required some trial and error at first. For example, the elementary teachers first tried splitting the subjects between them, but then realized there were too many days ­between lessons.

“We decided at that point that we would just share all subjects and I would plan for her and she would plan for me,” Logan says. “It just seems to work. I just pick up from where she left off.”

Benefits and challenges

The teachers say they benefit from having greater balance in their own lives, more time for their own families and also more energy and enthusiasm for their students. Not being in a classroom full-time also enables each of them to stay more abreast of education trends and research. 

“If one of us is motivated in some sort of project, then the other one kind of gets dragged along,” Logan says. “We try it together and both of us determine whether it really worked for us.”

And having a partner enables them to collaborate on solutions to challenges they face in their class.

“We often say we’d be very lonely if we couldn’t share,” McDonnell says.

On the other hand, sharing a class means coming into the school on non-teaching days, for meetings and special events.

“We are often back at the school when it’s not our teaching day. That’s part of that seamless plan,” McDonnell says.

A comment the two often get from other teachers is “it must be nice.”

“I always say, yes it is nice but it just doesn’t happen nice,” Logan says. “You’ve got to work for it and there are days that you don’t see that we’re putting in time that we’re not getting paid for.” 

And of course their paycheques are smaller than they would be if they worked full-time.
Logan and McDonnell have taken their partnership to four different schools and have worked under several principals. Some administrators who have inherited them have wondered about the arrangement at first.

“Some principals, they’re just not sure. It’s something different,” McDonnell says.

“The lion’s share of the principals that we’ve had are very supportive once they figure out what we do,” Logan adds.

The two make it work because of their dedication to job sharing, teamwork and putting students’ learning first, said John Barnett principal Lorraine Goruk.

“For me it doesn’t present any ­challenges,” she said. “It’s just a good success story for us.” ❚

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