Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Leaders and the Led – Final Installment

For the last three posts, I have tried to demonstrate what I feel is the gulf that exists between the executive of organizations such as OSSTF and the general membership. Today I would like to discuss ways of narrowing that gap.

First, I think the most difficult thing for the executive to do is to acknowledge that this chasm exists.

Second, I think they need to work toward conquering the fear they seem to have of somehow losing control of the organization if ‘the great unwashed’ become more involved. Now critics of my thesis might claim that there is ample opportunity for involvement if people care to sit on district committees, etc. While this is true, I think we have to acknowledge the fact that people lead very busy lives today and while they might not have the time to commit to regular meetings and other obligations that attend committee work, they may still have something worthwhile to contribute to the organization. For example, a former colleague of mine, from whom I learned a great deal, is especially skilled at dealing with unreasonable parents. I know he would be willing to give a workshop on his techniques, but, not being part of the 'power structure,' I'm not sure his input would be welcomed by the executive.

Next, each local should do a needs survey of its membership. The one I discussed in the previous post was essentially designed to determine both the strengths and the weaknesses in the local unit, as well as solicit suggestions for constructive change that might lead people to want to become more involved. An addition might be asking people to list the email address that they use regularly, in order to keep in touch with the membership on a regular basis, asking their opinion on issues, etc.

Another suggestion is to divide the district into quadrants; each executive member with release time would be assigned a portion, his/her responsibility being to contact each new member, introduce her/himself, and personally extend an invitation to the annual new members’ night. This night could feature a light meal or wine and cheese, or beer and pretzels and something new: the provision of the historical context within which OSSTF operates. In other words, it would educate them about battles fought in the past that have been instrumental in achieving the benefits that teachers today enjoy. Some appropriately chosen video would help to provide this context. It would also be a good idea to have some retired teachers on hand to tell a few ‘battle stories.’ New teachers must be given the opportunity to understand that ‘management rights’ and ‘teachers’ rights’ need not be bases for conflict, but when conflict does occur, it is right and proper to turn to the federation for help and not simply try to placate ‘the boss.’

Well, those are a few of my observations and suggestions, and thus ends this series. I would love to hear what others have to say about this or any other issue related to education.

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