NEA leadership training prepares educators for the real world

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By Kate Snyder

The NEA EdJustice team had the chance to catch up with Maurice Telesford as he returned from training STEM teachers in Liberia. He is an educator at Ferndale High School in Michigan, where he also serves as President of the local union, Ferndale Education Association.

In 2015, Maurice took part in the NEA Minority and Women’s Leadership Training, and in 2016 he joined our team as a trainer. We wanted to find out more about how these experiences shaped him as a professional and what he’s up to now.

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Tell us a little bit about your experience at the training. Was it what you expected?

When I went as a participant to San Antonio, TX, I didn’t know what to expect. The training simulations that I took part in were rich and gave me an insight into what it would be like to run for office. The experience is about more than just winning, there are nerve wracking moments – like delivering a speech to 300 peers – and opportunities to bond with and learn from your team. I left the training not only feeling like I had learned from my trainers, but also my peers, and now I have a network of new leaders. When I trained in San Francisco, CA in 2016, I wanted to create that same experience for those educators.

What did you take away from the conference?

Beyond the skills like strategic planning, research and public speaking, there are so many ideas to take in and amazing people you meet. It really built my confidence. There is also a young professionals network for emerging leaders that we’ve started and it was born out of the Minority and Women’s Leadership Conference, and that connection is invaluable.

What’s the focus of your work this year?

I am the President of my local union and the focus of our work this year is bargaining. A lot of what I learned about campaign planning can be applied. We’ve already laid a firm foundation by engaging teachers at all of the schools and working in the community so that they understand this bargaining isn’t about teacher pay. It is about small class sizes and students having all the resources they need to excel – including the ability to recruit and retain excellent teachers to make Ferndale a thriving community.

More broadly, what do you feel the focus of your work as a young union leader is?

I believe in what the union does and what it delivers to members and how we improve the community. We proactively engage with administration to solve problems and are a strategic thought partner in planning and implementing new ideas. Unions are not a relic of the past, they are as important now as they ever were, if not more so.

I am going to foster and train the next generation of union leaders so when I move on there will be a strong network of passionate union educators to carry this work forward.

What advice do you offer to others who are thinking about participating in the Minority and Women’s Leadership Conference?

I have four pieces of advice.

  1. Take risks. When an opportunity presents itself to you, say yes, even if you are unsure that you will be successful in that capacity. We grow when we put ourselves in new and challenging positions.
  2. Read the fine print. I firmly believe that one of the reasons I was selected as a nominee for the position of treasurer is that I wore a suit on the first day of the MLT/WLT training. In the materials that were sent out ahead of the conference, I noticed that it said to dress professionally if you are interested in participating in the simulation. As union leaders, I think it is imperative that we always read the fine print and understand the details of written communication/agreements.
  3. Build your network. I’m often shocked how when I go to national conferences and meetings that many people from my state spend most of their time together. I believe the reason that we are all here together is to build new relationships and learn from each other. Resist the temptation to be comfortable and just stick with people you know.
  4. Take something back to your local and implement it right away. Our union may not always have the ability to provide the same level of training to every union member. As a result, we have an obligation to take back what we learn here and share it with our local. By doing so, we enable our local members to participate in this training through us.

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