April 19, 2017
In my conversations with educational leaders, I am often asked how I view my role as a negotiator working on the employer’s side of the table in the k-12 space. In response, I usually quip, “I deliver the mail.” Not in the sense that I liken the work of an educational negotiator to a postal-carrier (although there are some similarities), but because the letters m-a-i-l are an appropriate acronym to stand for the primary goal I try to achieve each time I sit at the bargaining table – I Make Agreements to Increase Learning. Not just student learning, but adult learning as well.
Since learning is the single-most important interest shared by both teachers’ unions and school boards, using collective bargaining as means to create opportunities for increased learning is a win-win for both parties. In framing discussions with teachers’ unions around wages, hours and other conditions of employment, it is important for negotiators on both sides of the table to ask a fundamental question, “If we reach agreement on this proposal, will the result increase learning for students and/or adults?” If the answer is “no,” then the parties should explore whether there is another equally compelling reason for continuing the conversation, or whether or not there are other higher priorities to address.
With many years of experience negotiating from both sides of the bargaining table, I believe that the education profession is best served when both labor and management are equally enlightened about the power of learning-centered negotiations.
Robert J. Harris (@edudexterous) is an Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources.