Neelica Raffel: Villawood East PS

Public education advocates Kathy Deacon (then principal of Villawood East PS and now Federation’s Director of the Centre for Professional Learning) and Meryl Child (Villawood East) encouraged Neelica Raffel into Fed Rep ranks. She talks about keeping trust — and keeping the balance.

I’ve certainly had to learn a lot since starting in the role three years ago:

… learning how to have difficult conversations after making a blunder or two;

… understanding that resolution should always be the aim of any issue raised, that it’s not about taking sides or going to war but ensuring that processes and policies are being followed;

… that when issues are raised, both or all parties could be union members and equally entitled to their own representation and that the union is a mechanism for achieving resolution;

… that it’s about trying to help members to be given their rights but to also understand that sometimes school culture and “custom and practice” can’t be changed without healthy professional discussion.

I think sometimes the Fed Rep is seen more as a counsellor or a person to go to for ammunition in someone’s private “war” against another. This is so much not the case. Resolution over escalation is becoming a mantra of mine.

I would recommend that every teacher, at some point, take on the role — not to tick a box in the departmental skills list but to understand that the union’s strength comes only from its members and grasp the important work constantly being done in the name of education.

I chat to my colleagues informally about the interesting things happening in the media and the union. The list of 18 reasons to join the union is posted up on the Federation noticeboard and is always a good go-to. I keep the noticeboard as up to date as possible. Talking to colleagues about their own professional aspirations means I can steer them to relevant courses — and access to Teachers Health and Teachers Mutual Bank doesn’t hurt either!

In a perfect world the Fed Rep would be a permanent member of staff (I’m on a temporary appointment). There’d also be a strong workplace committee but I still have some work to do to realise this goal. I’m hopeful this year will bring growth and shared responsibility and knowledge.

One of my proudest achievements was creating a slide presentation and speech for the principal to deliver at our Friday assembly during National Gonski Week. A great many parents attended and so did our local MP, who spoke out about the benefits of Gonski funding — and most of the teachers remembered to wear green!

I feel really proud when people seek out the Fed Rep about day-to-day things or when I sign up a new member. If you’re positive and passionate about something it’s easier to get others excited.

Neelica Raffel is also joint Vice President of the Canterbury-Bankstown TA, is a Councillor and was elected a Relief Officer for 2016. Off-duty, she hopes to return to her old passion for crewing historic 18-foot skiffs and reinvigorate her Tai Chi and meditation interests but finds much of her spare time taken up with repairing her house on Scotland Island, which was badly damaged by storms. After her long commutes to work she likes to do “homey things” like cooking, and adds, “the company of people you love and enjoy can’t be beat”.