Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Once a Fellow Always a Fellow

The United States Department of Education has opened the application process for Teaching Ambassador Fellows (TAFs) for 2012-2013.  In 2010, I was a Classroom Fellow for the Department.  I urge any teacher with an interest in education policy to consider the Fellowship.
The path of every Fellow is unique.  We are urged to pursue our policy passions, which in my case was labor-management collaboration.  I had applied for the Fellowship in part on the basis of my work as an NEA leader on the local level. As a veteran of several negotiation cycles, I was frustrated by the disparity between processes I saw in my two districts. 
Through the Fellowship, I was introduced to Getting to Yes and the work of the Harvard Negotiation Project.  Astoundingly, given all the negotiations training and experience I had with VT-NEA I had never heard of this work.  The Fellowship also introduced me to the Teacher Union Reform Network and got me on the team that performed the qualitative research for the Denver Labor Management Conference.  It was in Denver that I had extensive conversations with folks from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), an incredible outfit which has got to be one of the best kept secrets of the Federal government.
As a Classroom Fellow, I was able to bring this knowledge and these resources right back to Vermont.  In the Washington Central Supervisory Union, FMCS mediators are guiding us in an Interest Based Bargaining process which is proving a revelation to participants from both sides of the table - in fact there is not a table and no sides. 
The Fellowship program looks for teachers with a record of leadership and existing networks to help facilitate conversations with practitioners.  What I did not dream of was that participation in the Fellowship would lead to the exponential growth of my own networks.
  • I joined the Teacher Leaders Network Forum at the Center for Teaching Quality.  This organization functions both as a virtual policy think tank for teacher leaders and as an action tank in promoting education change.
  • I became active in the Teacher Union Reform Network (TURN), where I get to meet like-minded union leaders striving to bring the union voice to great education policy.
  • I joined the Board of Directors of my state NEA affiliate, VT-NEA, attended RA, spoke in front of 9000 delegates, and helped organize a TURN caucus that supported the NEA leadership on  the policy statement on teacher evaluation.
  • I attended the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards conference in Washington and learned how to do effective Congressional lobbying.
  • Finally, all this work led me to create a resource for other teachers interested in Labor Management Collaboration – Education Worker.
As the TAF Director Gillian Cohen-Boyer is fond of saying, “Once a Fellow, always a Fellow.”  In fact, on the website it says that “For Fellows, the program adds greater knowledge of educational policy and leadership to their toolkits to contribute to solutions at all levels for long intractable challenges in education.”  I hope I was of service to the department during my official Fellowship year, but I know they trained and prepared me to be far more effective than I ever dreamed going forward in what Mark Simon calls “advocating in the public interest from a teacher’s perspective.”   
Every Teaching Ambassador Fellow’s journey is unique. The diversity of the group and the diversity of the leadership work of past and present TAFs is astonishing … but it’s also only a beginning.   

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