Teachers and school district leaders share two common perspectives that make such collaboration possible, conference presenters noted: (1) They both got into the education field because, at their core, they want what is best for students; and (2) Both sides are under heavy pressure from the public to produce better results.
“Everyone in this room was drawn to education for similar reasons. You wanted to make a difference in the lives of children,” Duncan said. “It makes sense that if we began with these shared goals and aspirations, a shared agenda for achieving them would naturally follow.”
Still, this kind of collaboration between labor and management isn’t easy, participants acknowledged—especially if each side blames the other for the problems facing U.S. education.
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Laura Rico, union president for the ABC Unified School District in southern California and national vice president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), said fostering a good working relationship between labor and management is “hard work”—but “I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” she added.
Rico meets with her superintendent, Gary Smuts (a winner of the 2010 Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards from eSchool News), once a week for about two hours each session. During these meetings, they discuss any problems and issues that might have arisen, with an eye toward how they can solve those problems together.
The goal should be to “quit trying to win arguments, and instead seek solutions,” Rico said.
ABC Unified has articulated a set of guiding principles for successful labor-management relations. These include the ideas that the district will not accept any excuses, and labor and management will work together to promote student achievement; labor and management will work hard to understand each other’s jobs, respect each other, and be honest with each other; and—perhaps most importantly—“we won’t let each other fail,” Smuts says.
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