by Angie Scioli, Wake County Teacher, Founder of Red4EdNC
I went on a “listening tour” this week and talked to some NC teachers. I sensed some ambivalence from a few about whether they should participate in this year’s May 1 education march, though they had enthusiastically attended last year. A version of “we did that last year, what good did it do?” was a common refrain.
Let me answer that honestly. It did a HELL OF A LOT OF GOOD, and that’s why this year is very different than last year. What good did it do?
But here’s the truth about power – you build it, and use it, or you lose it. That is why this year’s march is very different and twice as important:
If you hear your education friends talking about how “we did this last year”, please share this article. This year is nothing like last year, except for the fact we are asking you to gather, in May, wearing red. And if we play our cards right, every year after this one will be different, and better, because through collective action and building our capacity for leveraging real power, we will demand and create better learning and working conditions for all NC students and school workers. In this together. All out.
In my last post, I documented how one-on-one meetings were key to building a “coalition of the willing” - teachers in my building who want to stay in teaching but want to see working and learning conditions improve.
The article was written after my 10th on-on-one meeting. After that, I recruited a veteran colleague to join me in arranging and doing these meetings; I decided when we were 20 strong, it would be time to hold a meeting.
The hardest part about getting the coalition together is that they are REALLY busy. Some have kids to pick up after school, others lead meetings every day after school, and others have second jobs. I decided the best time to meet was for a potluck lunch during a teacher workday. Luckily, bad weather hasn’t hit us quite as hard as past years, and we still had one in February.
Since I now have emails and cell phone numbers of everyone in the coalition, communication is fairly easy. I emailed them about the details for the potluck and everyone coming declared what they would bring. I thought a lot about the agenda. I wanted it to be inclusive, informative, and set us up for next level action. Here’s the notes from the meeting:
On large poster paper, we each recorded a problem / solution we have identified and innovated since 1/1/2019, either in our work or home life. While some did that, others filled their plates and vice-versa.
We started the formal meeting by processing the stuff on the poster board. Things we noticed: our job takes over our.lives, it can keep us from basic self care, we solve problems all the time, etc.
Then I made some comments:
We will be tracking which events get the best attendance and building our organization from there.
Our first “capacity building” action was our first Red4Ed picture the Wednesday after the meeting. The four planning period captains texted their teachers that day and told them the time and location of the picture. They took the pics, sent them to me, and I made the digital collage for posting / sharing. It went well! During my planning period, I pulled two people into the pic, quickly brought them up to date, and one joined the coalition right there and then!
The next event was “happy hour” at a nearby pub on a Friday after payday. Eight people attended in the driving rain, and we had a great time. I decided not to have an agenda / formal meeting at that event, but we did talk about organizing in general and opportunities for collective action in the future.
Our next event will be an after school meeting. I’m going to “take back” the teacher’s lounge - it’s a space we used to use all the time but have neglected as the pace of our days have become more and more frenetic. And then, the Zoom call will hopefully allow people to engage who just can’t make the after school / workday events, largely because of childcare issues.
My current takeaway: so far, so good! I feel like we are building “people power” in my building, slowly but surely. There will be lots of opportunities this spring to flex the capacity we are building and I’m looking forward to it!
By: Angie Scioli
(This is a post from February 2019)
My path to doing grassroots organizing was documented in this article and this one. I’m a month into the work (10 one-on-one meetings) and I’ve been encouraged to write about the journey thus far.
The big picture: I want to build teacher unity and power in my building so we can act collectively to improve learning and working conditions for students and teachers. I want us to build relational trust and shared appreciation for what gifts we can each bring to that work. My goals are to find: 1) teachers who love teaching and 2) are not satisfied with the current conditions and 3) would likely keep teaching if those conditions improved. I want to form them into a group called “The Coalition of the Willing” (I made that up) and then I want us to figure out what we are going to do together.
When master organizers told me that one-one-one meetings were important, I thought there was no way I had time to do this work. The truth of the matter is, I was “playing” on my phone for about thirty minutes after school right after the kids left for the day. Now, about 2-3 times a week, I’m heading straight to meet with a colleague. Since this work is aligned with my personality / disposition, I really look forward to the meetings and interaction. I don’t miss playing on my phone.
Before I started this process, I met with my Wake NCAE President, Kristin Beller. She helped me see that my school might need to be “formally” organized, but that could more easily be achieved if I tapped into how it was informally organized. There are already natural leaders in the school who lead groups of people. They might be work related groups or social groups. But you can more quickly organize your building if you start meeting with the leaders who are likely to be like-minded.
I teach in a trailer in the school bus parking lot, isolated from the main building, and there has been some teacher turnover at my school, so I’ve lost track of “who hangs with who” in the building. So, my first meetings were with more veteran teachers who have taught in lots of different classrooms in the building and gotten to know lots of people. They also are strong mentors and know the younger teachers better than most. They provided lots of great insights and I value their opinions. They thought my organizing strategy was worth a shot and they suggested who I should meet with. And so, I started reaching out. The first people I met with were younger teachers I did not know that well. I emailed them something like this:
“Hello! Hope you are well!
I am doing some soul searching about how to be a better teacher advocate and I could use your insights and advice. I'm in need of diverse perspectives and you immediately came to mind! Would you be willing to meet for a half hour next week? I can do second period, B lunch any day but Tuesday and I'm here every day after school until 5pm.
If we can find a time, I'll send you an article I've drafted to provide some background. If you have time to read it, great, if not I can bring you up to speed when we meet.
Thanks for considering!!
They were surprisingly enthusiastic to be contacted, which was nice!
The meetings have taken on a certain “flow”. Here’s the sequence that seems to be working best right now and the directions I would give a colleague wanting to help conduct these meetings:
6. I ask them who they think I should meet with next and why. I write those ideas down for later consideration. I’m finding they are usually on point!
7. I thank them for their time and tell them I will follow up with an email.
8. I go to a spreadsheet I have created. I record their name, phone number, private email, what challenges they mentioned in the meeting, their strengths / gifts and if they are a member of a professional organization.
9. I send them a thank you text and an email to the Coalition introducing our newest member and reiterating when the upcoming events are.
I’m only ten meetings in, so it’s early to declare any kind of victory. But in the words of Oprah Winfrey, here’s “what I know for sure.” I am enjoying this work. I feel like hope is growing in the building.
And that, for now, is enough. See ya down the road : ) Thanks for reading!