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Paul Reville



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Audio: Creating "win-win" labor-management collaboration
HGSE Professor Paul Reville

Q1. Why is it important to consider labor management issues when thinking about school improvement and increasing student achievement?

"It's important to consider labor-management issues when thinking about school improvement and increasing student achievement. Because the level of cooperation that exists between faculty and administration is going to be a key determinant in the effectiveness of any reform strategies.

And the purpose of our book is to underline the importance of collaboration in the face of massive new accountability demands being made on schools, in the face of increasing competition from outside schools, charter schools, private schools, and other kinds of educational competition, in the face of increasing demands from new teachers for more gratifying, more supported, more rewarding jobs. It becomes imperative on school leaders, both at the district level and at the individual school level, to create new, more flexible ways for professionals to work together in schools, to craft strategies for improving student achievement, which is the coin of the realm in terms of the way in which schools and school performance is going to be judged in the future.

So if professionals in schools have hopes of really improving student learning, it becomes imperative that they think about the ways in which they work together. And that invariably involves thinking about the nature of labor management relations, which, heretofore in our history, have been shaped by a largely adversarial paradigm, an old industrial paradigm which is presumed that the interests of labor and the interests of administration in schools are contrary interests, and that they're engaged in a kind of zero sum game negotiation that's really all about adults.

The purpose for our work is to say, it's not really all about adults. That this sector will depend on its capacity to show that it can improve student learning. The only way to improve student learning is for professional educators in school buildings to work more flexibly and responsively to advance student learning."

Q2. How can the book Win-Win Labor Management Collaboration in Education: Breakthrough Practices to Benefit Students, Teachers, and Administrators help education professionals reform the collective bargaining process for the benefit of students?

"The book, Win-Win Labor Management Practices in Education: Breakthrough Practices To Benefit Students, Teachers, and Administrators can help educational professionals reform the collective bargaining process for the benefit of students by first and foremost I think being kind of a handy desk reference that provides concrete evidence of educators and educational policymakers and administrators all across the country who found ways to break out of the old, confining paradigm of adversarial relationships between labor and management, and break through into new practices that tend to place student achievement at the center of the relationship between adults and schools, and begin to do business in new, innovative ways that yield benefits for educators as well as students.

So the book, on the one hand, provides concrete evidence that this can be done. It provides, I think, inspiration to people in the field, to suggest that if you're interested in this, and maybe a bit overwhelmed by the history and context in which you find yourself, if you look beyond that context, you can find reasons for hope. And thirdly, it provides you with an immediate reference to some people and places that have experimented with things in which you may have an interest."

Q3. What is an example of an innovative practice discussed in the book and how can it help other school districts?

"An example of innovative practice discussed in the book in the way in which it could help school districts -- Let me cite two examples if I may here. One is, there's an example in the book in the city of Rochester currently experimenting with this. The city of Boston has already experimented with it, where administrators and union leaders at the district level agree to create various forms of autonomy for individual schools so that the schools have a fair amount discretion working together within the school, principals and faculties, on matters like curriculum, budget, and personnel.

And they're able to shape an approach that they think best serves their students in the cause of advancing student achievement to meet the overall district goals. Boston has had a good deal of success with this. The pilot schools are an example of that. And Rochester's just beginning to work on it.

Another example of a practice is in Toledo. In the book there's an example of a peer review process where 20, 25 years ago, the union and administration in Toledo decided that it didn't make sense to have all the evaluation of teachers conducted solely by administrators, many of whom hadn't been in the classroom for some years. The union stood up and said, "You know, if our members are strongly influenced and impacted by the quality of evaluation of their work that is done, why would we want to turn that over to somebody else to do that work?"

And so they sat down with administrators and negotiated a set of agreements in which union members and teachers would play a very active role in a domain that under the old model had been ceded totally to administrators. And that is, how do we evaluate the work of teachers?

So you had teachers getting in firsthand and commenting on and helping other teachers to improve their performance in classroom. And this has made a big difference in terms of the capacity of educators in that district to be responsive to student needs."

Q4. What would you say is one of the most important things to keep in mind about creating win-win collaborative action in schools? What is a key piece of information school leaders should have?

"One key idea that school leaders at all levels might keep in mind about creating win-win collaboration in school districts in individual schools is the importance of communication – regular, transparent, no-surprises kind of communication between teachers and administrators, regular meetings, exhaustive conversations about changes that are contemplated, relying on outside help when necessary, using mediation or facilitation services when deemed appropriate, keeping all the issues on the table and keeping the conversation going, evaluating progress from time to time. All those elements of communication are critically important.

What we find time and again in districts where attempts at reform have been stymied or fallen off the table is that communication problems have come up. People are busy. They move off in different directions. They make assumptions. They get out of touch. Resentments develop and in the absence of communication, they tend to fester. Situation gets worse and progress is stymied.

So one of the key ingredients is this kind of regular ongoing communication. We see this at the macro level. The most effective districts in terms of doing this kind of win-win collaboration work are districts where there isn't just a single negotiation period every three or four years, but the top administrators and the top union leaders are constantly in conversation about aspects of their work together.

In effect what you have is a year-round, year in and year out negotiation process that's, in effect, always going on. And that level of communication I think is critically important for setting the stage for both administrators and union leaders to take the substantial risks they will need to take if we're to advance student achievement at the levels that the new accountability demands are making on schools and school systems."

5. Summary Comments

"I guess my summary comment on all of this would be that, you know, the area of reforming relationships between union leaders and administrators in schools is one that has too often been avoided by reformers. It's a very sensitive area. It's politically very sensitive area. Mistakes are costly. Labor peace is something that's very much valued in most places.

But these contracts that govern the relationships between adults in most of our districts form serious constraints upon our capacity to move forward and meet the learning needs of all children. And until such time as we're willing to step back from those agreements which are almost exclusively about adults and about adult relationships to one another, and think about the primary focus and emphasis of this sector being on students and student achievement, that is the product by which public education is going to be judged.

Educators, administrators, everybody has a very significant stake in advancing student achievement, in finding new, more flexible ways of working together, that is, reframing the relationship between professionals in schools becomes of vital importance to reformers and to educators in the field."

Copyright © 2009 The President and Fellows of Harvard College