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!