Leading by Example

Tekamah-Herman Leaders Utilizing edCommunities to Talk to Members

When the Executive Committee of the Tekamah-Herman Education Association sat down this past summer to discuss the year ahead, the idea was to map out what the team hoped to accomplish in 2018-19.

Meeting in a room at the Tekamah City Library, their planning session began with each committee member signing up for NEA edCommunities, a new virtual community that provides collaboration, connection and curriculum for educators.

By the end of September, that planning session had led to a singular accomplishment: all but a couple of the THEA’s 51 members had joined the Association’s private edCommunities group. The THEA is far, far ahead of most other local Associations in Nebraska in that regard, said NSEA President Jenni Benson. 

“The Association leaders at Tekamah-Herman are setting the example,” said Benson.

“They understand that edCommunities can be a great tool for Association work and can be a great tool for members looking to improve their teaching skills and knowledge, all to the benefit of students.”

A Separate System

THEA leaders Jane Walford and Tracy Heffelfinger were already signed on with edCommunities when other members of the executive committee arrived at that summer library meeting. In no time at all, the entire committee had joined.

“Everybody else just signed up while we were there,” said Walford. “It was so easy.”

Easy – and beneficial in so many ways. Walford said the Association had used Google docs to communicate Association news and messages to members in the past. That program, however, was tied to the school district network. That tie-in potentially allowed school district officials to view sensitive Association documents and records.

“edCommunities gives us a completely separate system,” said Walford. “It allows us to send emails to all of our members at their personal email account.”

Removing personal email addresses from the school server in the Association’s communication equation avoids all sorts of complications.

“It’s a good idea for members to disassociate their association communications from their school email accounts,” said NSEA Director of Member Rights Trish Guinan. “Email accounts are one of the first things school districts and school district legal firms check if there is any sign of an employment issue.”

That leads to another advantage: members maintain and update their personal email addresses at edCommunities, relieving THEA leaders from collecting and maintaining that email list.

“For years we have been trying to collect and maintain a personal email list for our members,” said Walford. “We even have several who have never had an email address outside of their school email. Now, with edCommunities, we’re getting there.”

There is one caution: while the THEA is utilizing a private group on edCommunities, some of the subject matter groups on edCommunities are open to the public. Non-members and non-educators could be participating.

Wanted, Needed

Collection of most of those emails was spurred by a simple request from THEA leaders: they asked members to complete a pre-negotiations survey. The survey was posted on edCommunities, and THEA members had to sign up for an edCommunities account in order to participate in the survey.

“We had to put something out there that our members wanted and needed,” said Manni Belfrage, THEA’s chief negotiator. “Everyone wanted to fill out the survey.”

As Heffelfinger said, “If members wanted their voice heard on the survey, they had to sign up.”

By mid-September, fewer than 10 members had yet to join edCommunities. Walford sent out individual reminders to those members, and another six or seven signed up in short order. Going forward, Walford said communication with members will be easier. When she posts a new message on edCommunities, members of the private THEA group will receive an email alert.

“I feel like this might be a little bit better, because the message is a post to edCommunities, and not another email message from me,” she said.

Important Documents

Walford said communication with Association members is vital.

“At every leadership training we’ve been to – and between the three of us we’ve been to quite a few – they tell us the most important thing we can do is communicate with our members,” said Walford.

Belfrage said providing a plentiful information stream allows members to reach out to leadership with questions. Members will get alerts when the Association’s contract is posted to the site, along with district teacher guidelines and other important documents. All members will have access to the same documents at the same time.

“And,” Walford said, “when I leave the presidency, I can place all the files from the president’s office onto a file on the site, so the next president will have easy access.”

Belfrage noted that NSEA’s statewide membership materials for local association leaders will be posted to an edCommunities group in coming years.

Bargaining Contacts

Walford said a private edCommunities group can be used by multiple local Associations for a bargaining edge. To spur coordinated bargaining conversations among local associations, THEA belongs to a private edCommunities group with other locals in Tekamah-Herman’s bargaining array.

On a smaller note, Walford said her team is using edCommunities as a signup sheet for those THEA members bringing cookies and soup for a community-wide school board candidate forum hosted by the Association.

She has also researched the parameters of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed by Congress.

“It was a really good source of information for that issue,” said Walford.

“edCommunities really is one-stop shopping for all Association work,” she said.