Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Contract Ideas: What's Important to You?

I continue to work as part of our local union. I'm one voice among many as educators come together to share ideas for betterment. In what ways can our contract craft the kind of teaching/learning culture and environment that supports our best collective efforts to teach students well?

I have lots of ideas, and I realize that some will come to fruition and others will be left for another day.

As I think aloud, here are some of my ideas:
  • Better Communication Systems: As it stands now there are too many surprises and not enough timely communication to lead our work well. At the building level, communication patterns are very good and I'd like to see this extended to the system and curriculum levels too.I continue to believe that the more people are in the know, the better work will be done. Lack of accessible, regular, and accurate information costs time and money, while transparent, well-shared, and timely information creates greater efficiency, focus, depth, and success. In real time, this might look like regularly published minutes from curriculum meetings, administrative meetings, school committee meetings, and departmental meetings. 
  • Greater Use of Strategic Process: There's too many initiatives that don't go full circle or that are not done in a timely manner. These events result in lost potential and dollars. Greater strategic, inclusive process will result in better work for all. When strategic process has been used, it has been terrific. I believe Hattie's strategic process of identifying success criteria, charting the path, and reflecting, reviewing, and revising along the way is a good process. I also believe that good process benefits from the voices of many with distributive leadership rather than decisions made by only a few who may be distanced from the daily work of teaching and learning. In real time, this might look like curriculum/change protocols that are created and followed to support the best possible learning/teaching work. 
  • Greater Transparency and Inclusivity. Too often the voices of stakeholders are not considered in timely, authentic, and inclusive ways when it comes to decision making. This results in a lack of transparency and potential. With better use of strategic process, there's the likelihood that there will be greater transparency and inclusion of the voice and choice of all stakeholders. This change would align well with the new Every Student Succeeds Act Legislation (ESSA) and the existing ESE protocols for school councils and the evaluation system. In real time protocols may be created that forward greater transparency and inclusivity for decisions that impact stakeholders.
  • Streamlined, simplified language, budgets, and communication. Too often the correspondence and systems are compromised by excessive detail and cumbersome language. The more streamlined and simplified language and communication is, the better everyone will be able to understand and participate. In real time, this may include revised evaluation system language to streamline this effort as well as a more accessible and easily readable contract.
  • Role, Structure, and Routine Audits and Change: There are some role definitions that are outdated. Structure can be updated and routines revised to better what we can do. It's important that the roles, structures, and routines support the best possible education for every child, and this means that there is time for all stakeholders to participate in collaborative decision making and teaching. Creating a landscape of greater distributive leadership or "teams within teams" will support a stronger school system culture and community.  In real time, this may look like recommendations for role, structure, and routine changes that help us to teach all students better. I can imagine some discussion points in this realm to include the following:
    • Is it better to offer some language immersion or to provide all with this experience? Is this the best time for an investment in a language immersion programming?
    • Is there an opportunity to revise roles, structure, and routines in order to provide greater service to students in identified target areas? Where is there extra time? Where is there time that could potentially be used in more effective ways?
    • Could better use of technology streamline efforts so that people are freed up to support students in new and beneficial ways?
  • Fair Pay and Benefits: There's lots to analyze here, and it's important that all educational staff receive a fair pay and benefits. 
    • It will be important to consider many statistics in this realm. There are some who are experts at this information. 
  • Professional Culture: I'm looking forward to working with colleagues to think about the protocols that would contribute to a more professional culture. 
    • What real time changes and additions can enrich professional culture. Our educators are well educated and committed. Many work well into the night and throughout weekends to serve children well. They have a good sense of what will enrich their ability to do their jobs well. 
  • Reasonable Work Schedule and Holidays: Since the school year lasts 180 days for students and a few more for staff, I'd like to think with colleagues about how we might schedule those days with greater sensitivity to family life, diversity, and health. For example, I'd like our system to give everyone the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off. Many families and educators in our school system have relatives that live in different places so this would give everyone an extra day for travel. I'd also like to see the December holiday extended to two weeks to give people more time for travel and celebration. Further, I'd like to see us consider Muslim and possibly other religious days as days off for all since we already have days off for Jewish and Christian holidays. To do this would possibly create a more inclusive culture that honors all religions. 
  • Working Families: It's really challenging to teach and raise a family due to the extensive day care costs, child care needs, and time-on-task with children. I wonder how we might add language to better support working families. Already we have some good language which supports family leave when children are ill or new babies are born. We also negotiated good language for personal days too which has helped families. 
  • Professional Learning: Dollars are set aside to support educators' professional learning needs. I wonder how we might make these dollars more accessible to educators who may not be able to pay out of pocket up front for this professional learning and development. That was a big problem for me early in my career and it slowed down my advancement at that time. An educator's will to professional advance should not be limited by his/her financial foundation. 
As I continue to think about our current contract and future possibly revision, I will continue to talk amongst colleagues and share ideas. We all see it a bit differently given our experiences, personal financial matters, families, goals, and more, and that's why it's important for all educators to get involved and think about what they need to do the job well.

I'm sure that the contract leadership team will work to bring all of our ideas together to forward promising language to create the best possible conditions for teaching and serving students, families, and the community with strength and care. The common theme for all in this negotiation is serving students, families, and the community well. Onward.