Generals know battles are fought and won on good staff work as much as good leadership. Fed Rep Margaret Gordon understands this too, with a campaign to get decent classrooms built at Old Bar PS in place of the rapidly multiplying demountable buildings brought in for a burgeoning student population. (One of the temporary constructions is in the background to Margaret in the photo above, made as attractive as a demountable can get.)
The decision by Federation activists at Old Bar PS to join up with the P&C to lobby the government about the poor teaching and learning environment created by — at last count — five demountable buildings paid off because local state MP Stephen Bromhead (National Party) was faced with a solid, determined bloc.
The staff work started even before that. Margaret and the executive committee realised they needed a compelling argument for the P&C to be brought on board for a public campaign.
They collected their stats, they constructed an argument, they took care to build an alliance with the P&C — and they all took their case to the government.
Local teachers used public statistics from the MySchool website to show the parents of children at the overcrowded school that the poor levels of funding they saw at Old Bar PS reflected systemic inequity in school funding.
The P&C was galvanised into action when they heard that capital works funding for public schools is only half that of Catholic schools and only a third of that spent on independent schools. “When we said we wanted to write to the local State MP they were totally on board,” Margaret said.
Within a week of receiving the letter earlier this year, Mr Bromhead wrote to the Workplace Committee that he had contacted Education Minister Adrian Piccoli. He sent them a copy of the letter he had written to Mr Piccoli.
This has given everyone confidence to continue the campaign.
In his just-published Eric Pearson Report, Organising Teachers to Learn, Federation Organiser Michael de Wall stresses the importance of teacher-activists building relationships in their communities to achieve change; he quotes American teachers’ union officials saying teachers need to build reciprocal relationships by listening deeply and interacting in partnership (p. 44).
As Fed Rep, Margaret believes that it is important to empower members and raise the profile of teachers as professionals.
She became Fed Rep at the beginning of the year and says, “This is my first appointment since finishing uni last year so I’ve really hit the ground running. I strongly believe in public education and feel that being part of the union is the best way to get involved and make a difference.”
The staff was keen to have someone fresh and enthusiastic take on the role. “They’ve also been really supportive as I fumble my way through, especially my wonderful principal, Deborah Scanes,” Margaret said, “and our committee is a great collaborative unit.”
She encourages members to “give it a go” and become Fed Reps: “The opportunities for both personal and professional development far outweigh the challenges.”
The grassroots role of Fed Reps gives great comfort to others, Margaret said. “It’s really important that staff feel they have someone to speak to on the ground. Although Federation offers a plethora of support services for its members it can be daunting trying to contact the right person in a huge organisation. It’s also good to have someone with whom to talk things over and figure out what to do next — sometimes a chat is all it takes.”
What is her dearest wish? “To shake things up. In the words of Einstein, ‘If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got’. Less talk, more action!”