Increasing power and leadership skills among the membership

Building strong local associations with an organizing culture is key to our Union’s success.

A culture of organizing is one that promotes deep member engagement, leadership development, and collective action. At its core, organizing means facilitating collective action among a group and empowering others to take on leadership roles.

Effective organizing results in increased membership growth and more member engagement, expanding leadership, and real wins on the policies and practices that impact our members, our schools, our students, and our communities. That’s why MEA continues to train its members on these key issues, including at our recent Fall Conference where members shared and learned ideas from each other.

“Our local association showed our superintendent we had power very early on by showing him we were organized. We went to school board meetings, had #RedforEd events, and because we showed up and acted we have built relationships, and the district administration knows we have a system in place. We have been able to make sure our local is part of the decision-making process through labor management meetings,” said Beth French, teacher, local leader and Treasurer of the MEA.

Building that power in a local comes with a leadership structure that incorporates instead of alienates members. Instead of a top-down style, MEA trains members to use a “snowflake” approach where multiple members work together to take on an issue they collectively need to focus on rather than one person wielding all the control.

“It has to be the members that are driving what the issue is going to be and what the tactics are because then they will feel more connected. We want to build structures that are inclusive, provide space for everyone, and create a transition plan in leadership in the local,” said Krystyna Dzialo, MEA’s Deputy Executive Director.

What is Power?

“Power, properly understood, is the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political or economic changes. In this sense power is not only desirable but necessary in order to implement the demands of love and justice. One of the greatest problems of history is that the concept of love and power are usually contrasted as polar opposites.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Finding Members to Participate

In many locals the same few people do “all the things” -which is both unsustainable and ineffective. The highest functioning local associations have the most power and influence and they also have the most members engaged and involved. Being engaged and involved does not mean you have to give up all your time to the union—and finding people to help is easier than you may think. The best way to find people who are ready to step up is to simply ask. But who do you ask? Look around your buildings and talk to people. Ask some simple questions of your colleagues: Who do you trust and respect? When you need to know something, who do you go to, other than an existing building rep or local leader? Who takes the initiative? Is communication flowing? It is likely the same few names will percolate to the top, and now you’ve found people who would make good leaders in your “snowflake” model. They don’t need to hold official positions, because always remember leaders don’t need titles, they just need followers.

Increasing your engagement will increase your power. Increasing your power will increase your membership. Increasing your membership will increase your overall voice in decisions in your district and jobs. Engagement matters and is directly connected to your Union’s ability to have the greatest impact on your members’ lives.

For help on how to build a unique organizing plan for your local to help increase your power, contact your MEA Representative who can work with you to develop a unique organizing plan for your local.