Over the past few months, I have been investigating for Education International the strategies and practices of unions to improve the status of education support personnel (ESP) in their respective education systems.
I have come to understand that all of the workers within the education system are educators. Starting from the transportation personnel who picks up and drops off the student; the health and welfare personnel who ensures everyone is taken care of; the food and nutrition personnel who nourishes students; maintenance and skilled trades personnel who keep the buildings sanitary; security personnel who keep the buildings safe; tutors, teaching and learning assistants providing much needed support to ensure our students grow and learn; administration and clerical personnel who ensure the buildings are running smoothly; career guidance and counselling personnel that are there to support students to achieve their dreams; documentalists and librarians who provide students with resources that enhance their learning; technical, technological and communications personnel that ensure that our schools are connected; specialist professionals that provide additional services to support students. Through each role, students’ learning experience is enhanced. Without any of these roles, their educational experience would not be the same.
Day in and day out, ESP and teachers alike are educating and supporting every student to become the best student that they can be. Through this experience, I have learned that there is a lot of great work occurring to ensure that all educator voices are heard.
Towards more inclusive unions for the entire education workforce
Through my investigation, I have come across ways in which national affiliates of Education International have created a space of belonging for all their members.
Some of them changed their name from “Teacher Association” to “Educator Association”: a simple title can make people feel a sense of belonging to their association.
Including ESPs in the conversations of the association also makes a difference, by having all members participate in conversations on collective bargaining, school climate and culture, arbitration, and negotiations. It is essential to have the voices of all members included in the work of the union to ensure that all members are represented. An example is how during my conversation with TEWU, Ghana, I learned that they would never have known that their members needed propane gas stoves in their school kitchens, if they had not included food and nutrition personnel in their pre-negotiation meetings.
Letting the world know
Teacher unions around the world are doing great work and it needs to be made visible. It does not matter how small or big, members of the union and citizens of their respective countries should be aware of what the union is doing to benefit the common good. These positive stories and small triumphs can change people’s perspective on the association.
Behind all the work that is done to improve the quality of life of those within the education ecosystem, there is a story. Therefore, we must find ways to use data and narrative to share issues within our education system and create a sense of urgency to fix the issues that we need to improve.
A case is not complete without data and research. It is important to always have a solid foundation on how research can support unions’ claim. By doing so, unions can have a stronger argument towards those that may disagree with their perspective.
The future of public education lies on our hands. As I transition from my graduate degree program into the workforce, I am left assured that if we continue to be reflective and inclusive, our ability to support public education will flourish. To make this a reality, we have to continue highlighting the wins and progress we are making for more people to join the fight for an equitable public education system.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.