Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What to expect when you're settling

Teacher Team

We met all day with the district team and spent all of our time trying to wrap up how we address the reality of our workload with contract language, specifically:
  • Planning periods
  • Monthly meetings
  • Evening obligations
It is uncanny how you can spend 3 times the length of a planning period discussing a planning period. How could 50 little minutes cause so much consternation? What are planning periods used for? Why were they negotiated in the first place? Are you going to find out what kind of planning period you are having? What will you name your planning period? Should you automatically see the school nurse if you miss your planning period?

Monthly meetings and evening obligations had many of the same sort of questions, but of course not as many pictures in the family album as the first discussion.

Our discussion was thoughtful, the ideas plentiful, and the consensus is within reach, which leads to me the protocol we will follow when we do settle this contract.
  • After our team has reached a tentative agreement with the school district we will call an emergency meeting of the SPFT Executive Board to gain their support of the agreement.
  • Once we have secured their support a series of informational meetings will take place in order to let stewards learn of the tentative agreement.
  • Stewards will then bring the agreement back to their buildings and programs to share with SPFT members and non-members.
  • Finally, a district-wide vote will take place at each site and the results will be shared with the membership.
The agreement will become final when the St. Paul School Board votes in favor of it after the teachers. Cigars all around! (Shh, don't share it on your Health Partners survey though!)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A few of my favorite things

Teacher Team

After some time off for conferences, conflicts and cranberry dressing tomorrow we are back at it. At last night's membership meeting some insightful questions were raised as well as some encouraging and provoking comments. It was great to see a membership room packed with SPFT members who care, even as they worry about the lack of tangible progress and express fear at potential disappointment. One great suggestion amidst our discussion of workload was for me to post the list of typical duties we have given the district in our workload discussions. Please feel free to add to it because I am going to go off the top of my head, and perhaps when we're finished we can get Julie Andrews or Barbara Streisand to set it to music for us. Here's to a contract settlement with blue satin sashes, folks, and the vigilance that assures we can afford to wrap our packages in more than brown paper and string.

Current typical planning period work to do:

  • choose books for author study
  • re-shelve books in classroom library
  • copy work for absent students
  • copy work for next lessons
  • post current standards in the classroom
  • post student work with applicable student-generated rubric, highlighting work to standard
  • run random sweatshirt, purse, mitten to the lost and found
  • check in with school nurse about medication, observation, student sick last period, or vaccinations
  • secure bus, chaperones, permission slips for field trip
  • count out field trip, book order, school photo order, school fundraising order money
  • check off field trip permission, homework completion note home
  • return phone calls
  • read, send, manage email
  • update Parent Portal, Campus grades, attendance, IEP records
  • get volunteer for career day, assembly, community organization, tutoring program
  • meet with grade level/subject area team, parent, special education teacher, ELL teacher, principal
  • wash off desks, empty pencil sharpener, dust room, vacuum carpet (if you have it) and wash black board/dry erase board
  • sign up for library or computer lab time
  • analyze student data from most recent standardized test
  • go to the bathroom

I know Denise Rodriguez did a great job adding to this list during the negotiations meeting so please add to what I missed, although you obviously won't have time during your planning period.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Our teacher team met tonight for a few hours just to recalibrate our commitment to proposals we have already made, interests still on the back burner, and to clarify not only where we stand on issues important to us, but why we are standing there as well. I am never disappointed by this team. While we have frequent reality checks concerning the 'world enough and time' we have to accomplish everything we want to accomplish, most often the discussion revolves around why our requests are more urgent than usual. We have a tremendous window of opportunity to make our contract a powerful tool to attract and retain a very high quality and sought after work force. In this economy, and with our typical level of education, SPPS is no longer competing with other school districts for employees. While that is still the case, that is only part of the story. We are now competing with other occupations for employees. Being mindful of that has lead to some interesting new contract language opportunities, as well as revisiting past contract language suggestions that are just as relevant now as they were when past bargaining teams first proposed them.

If we can be ambitious at the same time we address a healthy workload, we could be well on our way to leaving this career a little better than the way we found it for those teachers who will spend their entire careers in the 21st century. Having a conversation around a professional workday and the professional pay that goes with it is another opportunity to leave a legacy of respect and opportunity for our next generation of teachers. Opportunities like this remind me that in our union's history there were good men and women who believed I deserved to keep my job even if I got married, or believed I could keep teaching even though I was having a baby even in the middle of being denied those rights themselves. They thought beyond themselves, and now I am a beneficiary of their selflessness. That thinking is a perfect embodiment of what it means to work for the collective good in a union. I am profoundly grateful for those rights as well as others, and humbled by the opportunity I have, indeed our whole bargaining team has, to bring about rights for others in the same spirit.

An Educational Assistants update, too!

EA Team November 8, 2007

This EA team of experienced negotiators not only has a breadth of experience in all facets of the contract (they have been laid off, moved, seen programs end, experience virtually all grade levels of collaboration with teachers and students) but they also have a clear picture of where the profession should go for educational assistants as well as a solid understanding of the role they play in the success of a program, building, or teacher in meeting the needs of our students. That is one of the reasons they have spent so much time articulating the professional development needs of EAs in a district as complex and ambitious as ours. My learning curve about the day-in-the-life of an EA is fairly steep, having simply appreciated the work of educational assistants in my building before being elected and getting to know EAs professionally through union volunteering and now work, but I am grateful for the opportunity to negotiate with such an experienced, dedicated, and tenacious team of Terri Furman, Rosemary O’Brien, Katie Wold and Terri Ellisen, SPFT Business Agent. We have work to do, but considering the team was still going strong almost 5 hours into our meeting time, this team plans to keep pressing on.

A momentous day! Well, almost.

Teacher team November 7, 2007

Today we had the opportunity to take our interests around workload, look to the solutions we brainstormed, and offer some concrete “what if” sort of ideas for possible agreement. Earlier we had agreed that our agenda would have just 2 items since this was just a 3 hour meeting: Our reaction to “what if” ideas from last time and ironing out the workload issues that would cost little or no money. Our team had a lively and optimistic pre-meeting where we hammered out language around a number of workload issues that we were very excited about. Once our joint meeting got started we began with questions and discussion around some of the most promising “what if” ideas from last time. It was honest and pragmatic. There was a lot more agreement in the room than disagreement. Many of the “what ifs” proposed last time met the criteria for a number of our interests, but because there was a price tag attached, we had to put it aside in order to spend some time on agenda item number 2.

So what workload issues don’t actually cost money? A fair question. I suppose, like Kevin Bacon, everything can be traced back to some line item in some budget in 6 steps or fewer. However, all notions of a different school day, school year, school ratio aside, many of the most comforting workload ideas center around clarity of expectations, especially around evening/weekend/margins of your life student contact and professional development. This is what the SPFT team got so excited about as we met. This is what we will continue to bring up. This is what we intend to find some common ground around because our team has got some serious momentum. While we walked away after 3 ½ hours without any tentative or concrete agreements, (uff da!) we found our team even more fired up to press on.

The “It takes a village” discussion

Teacher team October 24, 2007

In another all-day session with the district we managed to cover almost every surface of the membership room with butcher paper I think I recognized as a small forest I pass on my way to visit my folks on the Iron Range. Nonetheless, what we lost in trees we gained in identifying ways we can solve the workload issues we have been bringing up. Our discussion of how professional development has been implemented and how we want professional development implemented sparked a great deal of discussion and creativity, too.

Some magnificent ideas were brainstormed but we had no opportunity to determine what it would take to implement some, or what the feasibility would be of implementing others. This must become our priority if we are ever to come to some resolution about our workload, especially as it is affected by the district’s ambitious professional development goals. I must be confident that it will be a priority in November so we can bring some closure to workload and address some other topics important to the interests of teachers and SPPS as we work to meet the needs of St. Paul students.

We also spent a great deal of time recognizing the powerful role the community plays in our schools and the powerful role the community can have in our schools. In this case “the community” was not merely code language for ‘parental responsibility’ but a serious and creative discussion on how the city, parks, businesses, affinity groups, parents, and other public servants could be tapped for learning opportunities that would make St. Paul even more resourceful. While a great deal of this discussion fell outside of the opportunity to negotiate in our contract language, it was worthy to bring up in order to determine how and where we start to have conversations once our contract is settled and we get back to exclusively doing the work of delivering a world class education to every child.

Workload issues

Teacher team October 17, 2007

“Keep the implementation real but let our expectations be creative.” After listening to much pragmatic discussion this phrase came to mind. We met with the district again and spent much of the time on setting some ground rules for how we would work together to evaluate the options we have around addressing the real need for our teachers to have some clarity and balance around workload issues, especially if we are to find balance in the rest of our lives. We have got to find the sort of solutions that feel like progress and actually help to support the critical academic work we are hired to do. Our time in the classroom is vital, and so is preparing for that time. Whatever encroaches on that time (chaperoning school dances, setting up/advertising/promoting/attending the school science fair/concert /play/literacy night/honors night/harvest festival) needs to have direct and explicit value to student learning. Our team is together on this and we are relentless.