They've grown up, but not apart, even at work.
This article originally appeared in The Kansas City Star.
Sibling rivalry is a thing of the past at Bingham Middle School – at least among two pairs of teachers.
Sisters Kay Douglas and Sandra Hinckley and brothers Corey and Kevin Lathrom work with one another daily – and seem to love every minute of it.
“We want to hire the best teachers we can,” said Principal Chuck Garner. “It happened that they were brothers and sisters.”
Each sibling also has other family connections. The sisters were preceded in the district by math teaching dad Sam Brock, who they taught together with at Bingham until he retired six years ago. He still volunteers in their classrooms on Fridays.
The Lathroms’ mom, Cathy, is a counselor at Christian Ott Elementary School.
Douglas, 34, and Hinckley, 31, make up the seventh grade math department and collaborate constantly. It starts on their shared commute, runs throughout the day and continues with phone calls in the evening. Math is even a topic at weekend family gatherings. If that’s not plenty of time together, they also attend the same church.
“Luckily our husbands are very understanding,” said Hinckley. “They never gripe about how much time we spend on the phone about school stuff.”
Douglas said their family relationship facilitates an unusual level of collaboration.
“The dinner conversations definitely wouldn’t happen (with a non-sibling),” she said. “Sandy and I are on the same lesson every single day. Our classes actually mirror each other, but of course our styles are different.”
Is there such a thing as too much togetherness?
“Sandy is my best friend, so I can’t ever imagine having too much of that good thing,” Douglas said.
Their father said the closeness started early on.
“From the very beginning we encouraged them to appreciate each other and understand how much more fun life is if everybody gets along,” said Brock. “The girls bought into that. It’s true that they are each other’s best friends.”
In addition to advancing math education, Hinckley said the family partnership helps model healthy relationships for students.
“It lets them see a positive family dynamic where siblings are getting along well together and there is respect between the parent and the children,” she said. “We are awfully excited when they can see us interact with our dad and each other.”
The sisters occasionally combine their classes, providing an opportunity for friendly teasing and swapping anecdotes. They also keep things light by occasionally dressing identically to see if the students notice. In addition, they sometimes use unconventional approaches, such as when their father plays the guitar and leads students in a song about mean, median and mode.
Despite their teamwork, each sister has her own approach.
Douglas, a high school valedictorian, is more driven and goal oriented. She sees the big picture. Hinckley is more laid back and spontaneous, while also tackling important details.
“We have fun every day,” Hinckley said. “I can tell you it’s a blast and a half to get to work with these kids and then to get to work with each other too.”
The Lathroms coach basketball together and also teach social studies, but for different grades.
Still, students often get to experience both brothers in class – just not at the same time. They may have Corey in sixth grade, then finish middle school with Kevin in grade eight. In addition, their mother is a counselor at a school that sends students to Bingham. This arrangement sometimes allows three Lathrom family members to have input into the life of a child.
Cathy Lathrom, the counselor, said some of her students refer to her sons as “cool” and “hot” and voice hope that they will have them as teachers.
She said it’s moving to watch them work together on the basketball court and as educators.
“It’s really very emotional for me to see them,” she said. “It’s very gratifying.”
The Lathroms don’t share curriculum like Douglas and Hinckley, but closely collaborate as coaches.
“That’s where we really get to work together and have an impact directly on those kids together,” said Corey Lathrom.
Like the sisters, the two complement each other with different styles. Kevin, 26, is relaxed yet organized. Corey, 30, is intense and more competitive.
In basketball, Corey will often explain a concept while Kevin demonstrates.
“I can jump in and actually show them,” Kevin said. “We just bounce back off of each other.”
They talk basketball during the day and after practice. But their conversations aren’t all business. They see each other on weekends and, like the sisters, attend the same church.
“As we’ve gotten older it seems we’ve gotten even closer as the years have gone on,” Corey said.
“We’re a pretty close knit family,” he said. “It’s definitely not overkill, not like when we were younger and used to fight and get sick of each other.”
His advice on what it takes to work well with a sibling every day?
“Honesty, I’d say.”