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Building Our Community Through Organizing

By Paul Hambleton, MEA Deputy Executive Director

A lot of folks talk about “organizing,” but getting down to the business of organizing is a matter of doing it, not just talking about it – and that’s what is happening this year.  We’re doing it.  In order to be effective, organizing has to be practical and useful.  Organizing is much more than an idea, it’s an action.  Organizing means building effective public relationships to heal or create our community.

Organizing a woodworking workshop means you’ll find the tools you need more quickly, and the layout of a well-organized workshop allows for an efficient work process.  Organizing an office means you have what you need at your fingertips – files, information, and supplies.  A well-organized classroom means it is both a great place to teach and a great place to learn.  Organizing a community means the community works better.

How do we organize MEA so that members find value, voice, and community in our association?  How do we shape our organization so that we have a real voice in public education, in our workplaces, and in our profession?  How do we build relationships with friends and neighbors in the communities we serve?  This is the organizing challenge we face in 2012.  MEA staff, MEA Board of Directors, and many new leaders are stepping up to the task in 2012.  We don’t do it by only talking about it, we do it by deliberately and intentionally building relationships around the things that matter most in our community, and that involves talking and listening to people in a very practical and intentional way.

The changes we have experienced in recent years have had a tremendous influence on our communities, public education, and our profession.  The Internet, No Child Left Behind, 24 hour/500 channel cable TV, a severe recession, changes to health care, a fast moving political landscape:  all these and more have shifted the very ground educators walk upon.  New teachers coming into the profession have never known a classroom without cell phones, computers, and instant access to a Google search.  The very status of teachers in our society has come under increasing criticism: teachers often feel under attack.  At the same time, there has never been a greater need for dedicated, high quality educators in Maine’s public schools, because the children, families, and communities we serve are also fractured and under stress.

What practical things can we do to get organized?  We need to meet the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities of our profession.  The fact is that education is changing; we must take a hard look at those changes and find ways to adapt.  Many of our communities have become damaged by the pace of change, partisan politics, economic instability, and social upheaval.   This year, we must reach out and build public relationships in our local communities around the state, as we find other citizens with a common interest in rebuilding our communities to support children, families, quality education, and opportunities for all.  Most importantly, we need to build relationships within our own MEA locals around the state so we can assist and sustain one another through tough times and build a future Mainers deserve.
Organizing is practical, common sense work.  It’s not easy, and it takes courage and time.  Organizers build relationships with others in order to identify our common interests and values.  Organizers unite communities to influence decision-makers.  Organizers build community to give us all a voice to make positive change.  Teachers are natural organizers – you do it every day when you create community in your classroom.

We are getting our workshop in order so we can find our tools and work efficiently.  We are cleaning the clutter out of our offices.  We are organizing our classrooms for the future.  Like our colleagues around the nation, we live in exciting and challenging times for our profession.  We are all organizers this year.  MEA members have a chance to organize our association to adapt with the changing times, find value in our communities, and give voice to the profession of education.  Step up, take a risk, and do some organizing.  Start today by building new relationships in your local association.  Talk to your local President.  Talk to your UniServ Director.  Come to the MEA Fall Leadership Conference on October 19.  The conference theme is Building Community, and it’s all about organizing.  Our profession, our public schools, and our association cannot wait. 


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