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The Importance of Building Strong Relationships for Administrators and Teachers Unions

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In many states where collective bargaining governs education, the role of an administrator takes on a new and added dimension. The principal and the union members have a joint responsibility to support the negotiated contract between the teachers union and the board of education. Administrators in particular have the responsibility to ensure that the terms of the agreement are being carried out in the day-to-day operations of the school. They should be knowledgeable about the contract’s details and be able to anticipate potential conflicts. These proactive measures can help everyone avoid violating the spirit of the agreement. More importantly, it builds a culture of trust between teacher unions and leadership, which can minimize work disruptions.  

[More on shared governance and collective bargaining.]

Sometimes contract violations or the appearance of a violation do occur and is to be expected. It’s how you, as a leader, manage these issues that make the biggest difference. You don’t want to have one grievance create multiple grievances. So, know the contract and know the law. Otherwise, a principal may create the perception of being ignorant of the mission of collective bargaining and this can create a divide. 

When addressing a contract issue, it’s imperative that a principal frequently and openly communicates with school union representatives. This is a key relationship and an opportunity to build trust with your staff and the union. An administrator should always strive to develop a culture of transparency. This will enhance perceptions that administrative decisions are not being made arbitrarily, or are not in the same vein as the original agreements.

School administrators can benefit from additional understanding of state education and employment laws. Most school districts retain a law firm for the purpose of interpreting potential violations of the contract or state laws. The most severe reaction to contract violations is the threat of a teacher strike. Therefore, administrators should consult the many resources available to them.

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I have personally experienced a particularly difficult teacher strike as a school administrator. It’s a tough situation to be placed in the middle of the teachers and union during this type of conflict. Through good preparation and leadership training courses you can plan for a course of action to handle different types of situations. Make sure your working knowledge of the union in your district is current and that you keep open the lines of communication with the representatives. An open dialogue will benefit the administrator, the teachers and their most important priority–the students.

By Dr. Charles Bindig
Faculty Member, American Public University

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