Building Community - The Fall Conference
The 2012 Fall Conference, Building Community, was a huge success. For the more than 200 members who participated in the weekend event, there were lessons learned and relationships built. The conference brought together educators and former educators from all parts of the state with different backgrounds. It was that diversity and desire to grow as leaders that inspired people like Kindergarten teacher Jessica Gurney, the V.P. of the Maranacook Area Schools Association. Gurney is 29-years-old and one of the younger members who says, “I hope to motivate people to become involved, to take a stand for our profession and as a union become more united. I think being a younger teacher, we need to stand up and become involved because eventually we are going to be the ones that need to lead our district.”
“STP”—How to break the mold
As a union, the large group broke into smaller work sessions to figure out how to engage those who are not members and those members who are not as active. One of the major issues discussed in one of the smaller work sessions was how to get more people to be active so that, as one member put it, the “STP”—Same Ten People— were not doing everything. This is a challenge those that attended the conference tried to solve.
Part of the answer came from the speakers brought in from the Industrial Areas Foundation or IAF. Leaders of the IAF build organizations whose primary purpose is power—the ability to act—and whose chief product is social change. The keynote speaker at the conference, Michael Gecan author of “Going Public,” told the room full of educators that “the most radical thing we do—we still believe all great organizing starts in a relationship and moves on from there.”
One-On-One Relational Meetings
With that message, MEA members worked to learn how to better build those relationships in order to create a stronger union. The members practiced having one-on-one relational meetings, half-hour chats with other educators about things that interest them as people. One of the suggestions from the IAF was to focus on what motivates them. Why do they teach? Why do they care about the union, if at all? The purpose, says Matt McDermott with the IAF who trained a group at the conference, is to work to take advantage of the “pipeline of potential leaders coming in to your office everyday…and to build those relationships before you need them.” McDermott suggests making a simple phone call to a potential new member to get the ball rolling, saying it is important to first be friendly and not ask for anything up front. Instead, he recommends getting to know the people you work with first in order to create long-lasting bonds later.
Don’t Be Forced into Driving the Car and Fixing the Engine at the Same Time
Vice President of RSU 4 EA, Jackie Pearson, perhaps summarized the conference best over dinner when she said:
“Teachers need a voice and we need the representation of the MEA to help in the political arena…there is a lot coming at us.” Members survived a series of storms that continue to hit educators in the classroom as a result of an anti-education agenda from some legislators.
“We have to reach out so we can help one another to weather those storms,” said Jeff Berry with York TA.
Part of reaching out, said MEA Executive Director Rob Walker, comes with reminding yourselves and potential members of the MEA message: advancing economic interest of our members, civil rights and advancing the cause of public education. “We have the right message we just aren’t saying it,” said Walker.
Student Education Association of Maine (SEAM)
The Student Education Association of Maine sent 24 students to the conference. This was the highest turnout of SEAM members at an MEA Conference in years! SEAM members from across the state kicked off the trainings on Saturday by discussing why education is a human right and how that correlates to us as an organization.
As a result of this Fall Conference and the relationships made with MEA members, SEAM members are prepared to grow their chapters on campus and become a greater part of their communities for public education. We hope to keep the excitement and participation going!
Conference attendees say they are now working on how to inspire people to be part of the MEA and working to inspire more parents to be active in their child’s life at school as they focus on a way to build power within the organization. Thank you to all those who came to the Fall Conference! Please share what you learned with the members who couldn’t attend.