Leading your Workplace Committee

When a Fed Rep’s first act is to call in the union Organiser to address an everyday issue in their workplace, it’s very likely vital steps have been missed along with the opportunity to develop the capacity of the Workplace Committee.

A new Trade Union Training course aims to equip Federation Representatives with a set of leadership skills and practices that help build the capacity of their Workplace Committees to contribute to a positive school culture and deal with issues before they escalate.

Acting Trade Union Training Officer Michael de Wall said the course challenges Fed Reps to rethink what they know about power in the workplace and lead the process of proactively engaging with problematic aspects of school culture; or “the way we do things around here”. “It’s about building power with others to deliver on the promise of public education,” he said.

“Union power in a school is defined by effective, local union leadership — that’s your elected Workplace Committee and a supportive principal member — high membership density, and the capacity to take meaningful action on things that matter to teachers.

“It’s no secret that teacher agency and strong collegial relationships are central to the development of positive school cultures and the provision of high-quality teaching and learning.”

The Leading your Workplace Committee course draws upon the organising and public narrative work of American organiser and educator Marshall Ganz, and applies the “spiral approach” commonly used in Trade Union Training, social movement learning and other adult education settings. “The approach very much puts the learning of members at the frontand- centre of our Workplace Committees,” Mr de Wall said.

Feedback from participating Fed Reps has been overwhelmingly positive, with people making particular mention of the power of “story” to connect with colleagues, the usefulness of reflecting on and mapping relations of power in a school, and the value of the spiral approach as a strategy for organising around local issues.

Fed Rep at Freshwater Senior Campus Catherine Moran said the role was a challenging and important leadership position that could sometimes feel isolating. “It’s one of the only positions in the school where your peers elect you,” she said. “You feel this great responsibility for the people at your school who ask for your support, for your advice, and you are really in a privileged position.

“Coming to courses such as this provides an important way to ‘check in’ with people who are doing the same job and to share examples of the strategies they’ve put in place. Just the feeling you’re coming together as a collegial group gives you lots of opportunity to share stories and work on your own practices and ultimately get better.”

Mandy Wells, Fairfield TA President and Fed Rep at Fairfield Public School, said the course provided a framework of best practice for the leadership of Workplace Committees, and it empowered committees to proactively prevent some issues from emerging while reacting effectively to others. “We’ve been presented with the research and evidence behind what’s considered to be best practice, looking at consultation, communication and negotiation,” Ms Wells said. “But more importantly, we’re learning how good leaders connect and build relationships.”

For Blackwell Public School Fed Rep Rob Samuels, a highlight of the course was connecting with people from a wide range of workplaces and exploring the commonalities and differences. Again networks was a priority. “I like the idea that I can go back to my school with the people here as a resource, as a point of contact for advice, or maybe even just for reality checks,” said Mr Samuels, who is also St Marys-Mount Druitt TA President.

“The very fact that there are a range of people here all in similar positions — and I only knew two other people before — I think that’s just really helpful.” Fed Reps identified a goal and strategy to take back to their workplaces and mapped out a plan of action. “The most significant learning often unfolds when Fed Reps get back into their workplaces and start to use new skills and put ideas into action,” Mr de Wall said. “As part of this program, we are also trying to give participants direct follow-up and support on the ground through their Organisers so that they can work towards their goal and build union capacity in their schools.”

— Scott Coomber