Having a say in what education should be
From time to time when I’m visiting a school I’ll hear the question “what has the union ever done for me?”
When I first got elected I’d rattle off a list including guaranteed non-contact time, meal breaks, parental leave, pay increases, management units, legal representation and all the other benefits of a collective agreement.
That’s all true but three years into the job I’ve come to see there’s much more. What I have seen first-hand is that being in the union gives, as much as any of those other important things, the opportunity to have a say in what education should be.
Institutional history, local expertise and international connections
Our record shows that unions have the knowledge and processes to develop solid policy advice. From the NZ curriculum to the NCEA to the creation of specialist roles to on-going professional learning, unions have been able to influence and improve the educational offerings available to ākonga in New Zealand because they have created the space for teachers and principals to design and implement good policy.
In the same way, we’ve been able to draw upon the expertise of teachers and leaders to fend off bulk funding, charter schools and performance pay. Our institutional history, local expertise and international connections mean we remember where things have come from and why. Not from reading overseas governments’ policy documents or because we’ve been dazzled by international gurus but from talking to our overseas colleagues and interrogating the international evidence. We have listened and learned from the rich diversity of perspectives across the sector and truly understand the implications of ‘off-the-shelf’ policy proposals for children, communities, schools and teachers.
As a consequence, we know that it is sincere and open engagement with the profession that is the key when government wants to make our educational offerings better.
Union-led professional development
That’s why the union led Professional Learning and Development for 2020 and beyond is so important. It is an opportunity for experts in the field to shape what we need as a profession – from NCEA changes to induction and mentoring to Health and Safety and wellbeing.
As well as funding attendance at subject association conferences from next year, we will also be inviting requests for proposals from teachers to present at our professional conferences and looking to share the work of our high flying members by funding publications and an online resource hub. Having ways for all teachers and principals who are part of our union to contribute to a better future is an opportunity we must seize with both hands.
Trusting us to know what’s important
The current government seems to understand this key part of belonging to a union too. Our tripartite accord with the Ministry of Education and NZEI shows that the government trusts unions to know what’s important. They trust us to engage with them and clearly set out issues, implications and solutions.
When we work together right from the start, the chance of us heading down the wrong path becomes much less likely.