Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Thinking Contract Negotiations: Ideas and Questions

I am on the educator committee for salary and working conditions. Our teacher contract is up soon, and I'm one who will work with a team of educators to find out what teachers desire and need to do their best work by students and schools each day.

Timeline for Budget Plans/Requests
As I think about this, I wonder a lot. I wonder why the school system is busy making budget predictions for costs and programs, but not outwardly taking into account these negotiations. It seems like the negotiations should have happened prior to budgetary work. Although I can see that both work items have to be done in a timely manner. I'm sure I'll learn more about this in time. I wish educators had more say with regard to future programming and the budgetary process since both affect our work environment, climate, and potential. That level of voice is something we may think about as we meet and discuss upcoming negotiations.

Implications of the New ESSA Legislation
I also wonder how ESSA will affect negotiations. ESSA, The Every Student Succeeds Act, lays out laws that will affect the way teachers and schools operate. There is promising language in ESSA that promotes school environments that serve both educators and students well. I've read that every system is supposed to have an ESSA team, but there's been little talk of that locally or at the state level to date. I'll be reading more about this. I've been invited to a virtual ESSA event next week and that should shed light on the new legislation. I've also read about ESSA and posted initial knowledge in this portfolio.

Teacher Voice and Choice
There is a lot of current research and literature which points to the promise of promoting autonomy, mastery, and purpose in the workplace to elevate positive outcomes. When it comes to school this means giving teachers voice and choice over many decisions that affect the work they do. I hope our new negotiations will look at these issues and the need for greater autonomy, mastery, and purpose to elevate educators' role and authority with regard to teaching and learning. After all educators are well educated and have substantial day-to-day experiences with children. This, I believe, is one reason why educators should have substantial say over the work they do each day. This autonomy, I believe and research shows, will elevate the tenor of the classroom as well as the optimism and love of learning for both educators and students. In many ways this call lays the path to models of more distributed leadership rather than the old time top-down factory models of administration. When educators exhibit this kind of teaching and leading, they model for their students the kinds of leadership collaboration students will need in their future too.

Transparent, Forthcoming Information
I often watch the school committee meetings to find out what's going on or what to expect in the school district where I teach. I think it would be better if there were a type of regular communication such as a weekly bulletin from district administration that informs educators about what has happened, is currently happening, and possible future events or discussions to keep everyone in the loop. I believe the more that everyone knows about what's going on, the better we can collaborate and reach for our collective goal to teach children well. At this point, when I watch the school committee meetings, I learn a lot about current system events that impact my day-to-day work and perspective in important ways.

Streamlined, Accessible Systems
Some systems and potentially roles currently in place are outdated, cumbersome, and inaccessible. They don't contribute to the good work possible or priorities for all educators. I'd like to see those roles and systems streamlined and/or redefined to make them more accessible and positive with regard to helping educators do the work needed to teach every child well. It's possible that all roles could profit from a review and new language.

Many educators are going to be paying almost $1,000 more in health care costs this year due to a new health care benefits system. This is a pay cut for those educators. Also with the dramatic hike in home prices in the area, many young educators simply don't make enough money to hope to own their own home, pay for day care, and have a good life. I'll work with the team to look carefully at how our salary structure meets the requirements for good living for people at many differing years of experience and compare that structure to other local systems and positions that require the same amount of commitment and educational training. There's research to do in this area.

Growth Potential
It could be that greater growth potential could be integrated into the ranks of teachers which therefore would eliminate the need for multiple administrators as we could embrace the now popular hybrid role where classroom educators teach and take on leadership roles too. There are many ways to implement these kinds of roles, and the result could be increased salaries for teacher leaders and reduced budgets overall since the district would need less administrators that do not work directly with children.

Streamlined and Straightforward Language
Due to multiple changes, our old contract now has language that's confusing and problematic. I want to work to make our new contract straightforward and streamlined. This will help everyone who works with the contract to understand it well.

Overall I hope our new contract will be a professional contract--one that paves the way with clear, understandable language for a professional environment where educators have the time they need to collaborate, the voice and choice necessary to do a good job, access to budgets, materials, and support if needed to carry out optimal service to children, and reasonable salaries so they can devote their professional time mainly to school efforts and not have to work multiple other jobs.

I look forward to my work on the committee. It will be interesting to hear what teachers throughout the system desire. Our system is small. There are a number of educators who are married to and good friends with administrators, or play a dual role as teacher and administrator--thus an overlap of administration/educator and personal/professional values, knowledge, and need. I'm sure this too will impact the work we do. Ideally administrators, the school committee, educators, and citizens will work together to create the best possible contract that outlines optimal professional work conditions and salaries to meet a positive vision, effort, and focus with regard to teaching children well. We know that well educated, happy children contribute substantially to a positive community culture. I'm sure there will be some give and take, and I hope that in the end educators and the townspeople will have what we need to create the most promising learning/teaching situation for the children and families we serve. I am fortunate to work in a system that is already strong and moving towards stronger and better--a positive place to be.