Highlighting Effective Labor-Management Partnerships

About 160 educators, administrators, union leaders and school board representatives from school systems in seven states attended the 2015 institute from January 22 through 25, where the emphasis was on broadening the benefits of well-designed labor-management partnerships. Held at the Manhattan headquarters of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), this was the 17th annual institute, which is jointly sponsored by the AFT and the UFT's Teacher Center. 
 
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"We've shown it works, and now our job is to sustain and scale up these successes," said AFT President Randi Weingarten. Although she was leading an AFT delegation abroad while the institute was in session, Weingarten offered encouragement to CSI participants by video because the work is vital to ensure "that collaboration, not top-down dictates, becomes the norm and not the exception."
 


AFT Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker, who led and participated in several sessions, said that fostering effective labor-management partnerships is "a national imperative" and work that reinforces what our insights already tell us: "the people closest to the problems should be the people with the biggest say" on how to address them. 
 
Now, Ricker added, there is a great opportunity to put school collaboration on the national radar and move it to scale in a big way: the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA), referred to in its current version as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). By moving away from high-stakes testing "to something that has more to do with the whole child," Ricker said, "we have the opportunity through ESEA reauthorization to accelerate this work" done at the institute.
 
Several general sessions of the institute highlighted opportunities for building strong labor-management partnerships in schools.
 
Union, administration and education leaders from Lawrence, MA, detailed how a beleaguered district was using the tools and skills developed at CSI to forge a common vision and a true working partnership. The work continues at schools across Lawrence as labor-management teams work to address student mobility, parent engagement, dual-language households, educating special needs students and other areas.
 
 
Panelists from St. Paul, MI, described how the union and administration were fostering one of the district's most exciting and fastest growing initiatives -- the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project. Based on twice-yearly school staff visits to students' homes, the project has helped forge a tighter home-school connection, break down stereotypes, and enable teachers to create engaging lessons that reflect the hopes and goals of children and their families.
 
Click here to learn more about the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project.
 
In Toledo, OH, the union and management are embarking on a transformational partnership in four district schools around learning opportunities that the AFT has developed and tailored. The emphasis is on building capacity for implementing learned instructional strategies and approaches, and it rests on buy-in at the building level -- more than 80 percent of staff at each school voted in favor of participating in the initiative.
 
Efforts such as these illustrate some of the roles that labor-management partnerships can play as a necessary departure from the old assembly-line models that far too many schools still employ, Saul A. Rubinstein (pictured above), a professor in the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University and director of its Program on Collaborative School Reform, told the audience. Rubinstein detailed research showing that old "management thinks, labor does" models are inadequate for education today. Instead, unions and administrators both must recognize that "there is a strong statistical correlation between the quality of partnership and student achievement, even holding poverty constant," he said, and these gains are amplified when steps are taken to reduce poverty.
 
Click here for Rubinstein's article on labor-management partnerships from the Winter 2013 edition of AFT's American Educator.
 
The 2015 institute included teams from the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, in addition to Alachua, FL, Lawrence MA, Toledo, OH, Pottstown, PA, Clay and McDowell Counties, WV, as well as Baldwinsville, Dunkirk, Newburgh, Rome, Solvay and Wyandanch, NY.
 
Training was focused on team building, professional development, data-informed decision-making, and communication. Generous time was set aside for teams to meet and confer on strategies they planned to put to work back home.
 
"The payoff at the end of this process is that collaboration enables risk-taking," UFT President and AFT Vice President Michael Mulgrew told participants.
 
Click here for a brochure on the SCI to print and share.
 
Click here to watch video highlights of the 2010 CSI Leadership Institute.