Teaching in the context of the Agreement and building parent support
This is a long term strategy. At the April Council meeting I responded to the question of how to build support with parents over the next three years. In short, here's my response based on what I know about how to do that.
1. Parents respond to respect to teachers cho care about thier kids.
2. Talk to parents in the school community that are influential
3. Work with colleagues who are respected by parents to share messages about teacher workload
4. Listen to parents talk about their stress and worklives.
5. Attend events where your school parents are present. Be visible and participate actively and genuinely. They will see you as more than a 9-3 teacher.
6. Leave key ATA literature that presents the reality of teacher work for parents to pick up on thier way in and out of hosted events. Get permission first.
7. Personally invite parents to school events where their children perform.
Developing a Winning MLA Strategy
Not all MLAs are created equal. In terms of accountability, an MLA is primarily responsive to the concerns of their constuents who helped get them elected. That being said, we cannot simply walk into an MLA's office an make demands for them to address the issues teachers face. MLA's have tactics to get around even having to honour a scheduled meeting; it's called having another scheduled meeting of more importance. An MLA is not likely to meet with a hostile group, or even with a group that is mildly perceived to be in opposition to their political philosophy. I learned this from watching my father, who was a politician. I also learned from my grandfather, who was a mayor.
What is primarily important in approaching an MLA is knowing what they are about. This takes research and time, but the dividends are well worth the investment. Consider that beneath the veneer of political life, an MLA has human values, and human commitments. Family and friendships are a real part of an MLA's life outside of politics and this can be a starting place for building relationships. We talk about building relationships as though this is something done only at a dinner table, reminiscent of the infamous 'relational dinners' I heard about 2 years into my induction in our Local. What would happen if we looked at preparation for MLA relationship building a different way? What if we though about it in terms of the effectiveness of small, but dedicated and highly strategic team we put together? What if we gave these people the resources and supports they needed to do the work of real relationship building with MLAs?
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever had." --Margaret Mead
Are we ready for a fight?
There are teachers among us who I have confidence in their professional actions, yet who need to know as well what it means to fully engage in job action which ranges from forms of civil disobedience, to work-to-rule and picket lines. I know, because I've been in job action. Three times. In 1997 when I was a teacher in Ontario working under the Mike Harris Liberal government, Ontario teacher were on strike for two weeks. The respect I had for my High School colleagues never waned as we responded to then Minister of Education John Snobelen's Bill 160, which extended the time teachers spend in class and cut preparation time for high school teachers, among other things. 160,000 of us walked off the job to support our colleagues.
The history gets more hairy (not pun intended). Across the province, our intent was not uniformly applied. Some schools provided extracurriculars, others did not. In the spring of 2000, the government introduced legislation to make extracuriculars mandatory. This angered us and the government backed off. It took a government convened task force to work out a deal with teachers to return extracurriculars to schools.
I have been on both sides of the issue as a teacher and as a school prinicipal in Ontario who was not a union member. However, being the union school rep at my school when this was happening (having been the vice President of my High School student council who staged a student protest on the steps of the legislature less than half a decade before that, incidentally), What did I learn from this?
1) Government has the power to enact legislation regardless our best intentions. We need to know the law and work within it's scope. The walkout was largely unsuccessful as the Harris government ruled the strike illegal. Government policies that were against teachers remained fixed.
2) We need to be prepared for any action we are willing to take. Members in earnest will not prepare others for a fight we cannot win. This will divide our lines and cripple our ability to achieve our goals. Preparedness comes from communicating in and out of bargaining seasons. We need an informed membership and we need an engaged membership.
Back to the story: Premier Harris resigned 5 years later for unrelated reasons, and joined the infamous Fraser Institute, where he applies the ideas of Preston Manning to influence Alberta politics. If you're dissatisfied with the way the government is managing it's responsibilities, remind them where their votes came from.
Here's a brief comparative table between Ontario then and Alberta now:
minority government majority government
organized disorganized (i.e., unprepared)
no principal members principal members
This is important: The political drivers that will position our local most strongly are:
1) clear and concrete communication with our members about the things going on in our local and the issues that impact their schoolwork
2) a winning strategy for building relationships with our MLAs and holding them accountable
3) real understanding of and involvement in the economics motivating government action.
In terms of the third driver, I'd like you and some friends to join me by invitation of the Parkland Institute at the Oil and Social Economy speaker series on May 9 from 7-10 at the UofA NRE 1-001.