Union-District Teams Agree Collaboration is Key to Student Success

Collaboration between teachers and school administrators, as well as the surrounding community, is essential in insuring the best education possible for students. That’s why on October 24th and 25th, the NEA Foundation welcomed 19 union-district leadership teams comprised of over 200 eager educators for a two-day conference at the NEA headquarters in Washington, DC.

The annual meeting, now in its 7th year, brought together union-district leadership teams from the NEA Foundation’s Closing the Achievement Gaps Initiative and the Institute for Innovation in Teaching and Learning to develop successful school-wide approaches to improving student success, learning conditions, and teacher-district collaboration.

“It’s exciting to me that, at this time in our history, these kinds of things are happening through collaboration,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said during his opening remarks at the 2013 union-district convening. “I just absolutely believe that when administrators and school board members and unions come together and are able to reach out to parents and the community, it’s the only way to build really sustainable change. That’s the power of collaboration, of bringing minds together for the common goal of focusing on the student and saying, ‘how do we collectively remove the obstacles that keep this child or any child from succeeding?’”

Union-district teams had the opportunity to meet with other teams from across the country and discuss best-practice approaches to handling school and district-wide issues. The participating educators also had the opportunity to discuss a broad range of issues affecting schools across the country, including race, equity, Common Core, and the notion of what constitutes a 21st century education—as well as ways that the schools could work towards giving students the necessary tools to become well-rounded national and global citizens.

“This is really about figuring out what happens when passionate people, talented people, and committed people put all their energy in the same direction,” says Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation.

As part of the convening, educators were treated to speeches, panels and Q&A’s with some of the leading educational experts from around the country, including:

  • Opening remarks from NEA Foundation President Harriet Sanford and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.
  • A keynote from Richard Riley, former US Secretary of Education and South Carolina Governor, on 21st Century learning.
  • A panel discussion on the Common Core State Standards and the importance of global learning that featured Anthony Jackson, Vice President for Education, Asia Society; Pedro Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education, New York University; and Fernando Reimers, Ford Foundation Professor of International Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
  • A panel discussion on race, reform, and rights in schools that featured Gloria Ladson-Billings, Kellner Family Professor of Urban Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Michael Lomax, President and CEO, United Negro College Fund; and Gary Orfield, Professor of Education, Law, Political Science and Urban Planning, UCLA.
  • A closing keynote address from John Jackson, President and CEO, The Schott Foundation for Public Education.

The union-district teams that came together represented a cross-section of the country, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Springfield, Illinois to St. John the Baptist, Louisiana. But the ability to formulate positive district-wide changes through collaborative relationships unites all of them in the same end-goal—the ability to forge meaningful solutions for the betterment of their schools, students, and teachers.

“Our entry point is the unions,” Sanford says. “So, our intent is to empower them to co-construct a set of reforms that they collectively believe, and their community believes, will improve student performance. It’s that empowerment that we are particularly interested in, because what we don’t want is work to be driven without educator voice.”

Founded in 1969 and supported by educators’ dues, corporate sponsors, and others, the NEA Foundation works towards building partnerships and academic success in schools across the country. The union-district leadership teams are a multi-year effort aimed at creating sustainable models of collaboration across the country that can allow all players in the school community to work together.

Over the past 9 years, the NEA Foundation has worked to increase its support of union-district leadership teams through grants and the ability to foster a top-to-bottom commitment in the schools and districts towards creating positive school climates. In 2013, the Foundation is now able to reach almost three-quarters of a million students through its efforts.

“Any difficult challenge worth tackling can only be tackled by teams,” Professor Fernando Reimers said. “And I think that this idea of bringing teams together to work on issues that are complicated—how do we address the challenges of our most needed schools?—is exactly the right way to go.”

For more information and resources on how to support and cultivate successful union-district collaborations, please visit: http://www.neafoundation.org/pages/unions-districts-resources