TEACHing members to become activists

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In a brand-new component of TEACH, many members arrived a day early to take part in “mini-institutes,” where the AFT’s Human Rights and Community Relations Department coached participants in organizing strategies to help mobilize union members, parents and the community to fight for full funding of public education.

TEACH mini-institutes

The first step in mobilization is a one-on-one conversation. Questions and comments might include: Why did you become a teacher? What prompted you to take that career path? What motivates you? Practice telling why you became an educator and why it matters, and include any challenges you had to overcome. But remember this: To win over co-workers, you need to strive for 70 percent listening and 30 percent talking.

The group discussed how to delegate power and responsibility within the local affiliate and even at the building level, with the ideal ratio of one activist for every 10 members. Each activist should engage in regular conversations with these members, leading them into action.

This strategy of one-on-one conversations, non-centralized leadership and promoting activism is all a part of solution-driven unionism—an approach that can help solve problems on the job, make conditions better for teaching and learning, retain members and build power in the community.

TEACH mini-institutes

First friend, best friend

The easiest way to retain members, of course, is by engaging them in the union from their first days on the job. In a workshop on recruiting new members, participants learned about a new digital guide for work-site activists and local leaders taking the “next step” in member engagement. The guide, coming out soon, will include surveys, social media shareables and professional development tools laid out in an easy-to-read format.

The AFT Educational Issues Department is soliciting ideas from members, noting that new employees need to be drawn into union work one step at a time.

Most of the time, AFT members become engaged one tiny step at a time. “I figured when I started as a teacher that I would retire as a teacher,” said Susan Solomon, president of the United Educators of San Francisco. But she, too, was inspired by and drawn into the union by incremental requests, like: “Can you do this one thing?”

TEACH mini-institutes

Besides learning strategies for mobilizing members and the community, TEACH participants joined AFT partner Peace First to see examples of how educators support their students in leading social change. These include students who walked out in solidarity with their teachers in West Virginia, students who are marching for climate change around the world, and the inspiring students from Parkland, Fla., who led a massive rally for gun safety last year in Washington, D.C. At the TEACH conference itself, members plan to hold a July 12 rally and vigil against child detention centers.

[Annette Licitra/Miisha Nash photos]