Schools Culture of consultation and collaboration creates “a happy place to work”

The Grange P-12 College leadership and sub-branch executive (L to R): Iqbal Hossain (sub-branch treasurer), Tim Bailey (primary campus assistant principal), Anna Skeljo (sub-branch president), Tracey Hart (sub-branch WOW officer), Michael Spataro (sub-branch secretary), Meredith Clencie (primary campus principal), David Smillie (P-12 College principal).

A culture of consultation and collaboration has been central to building a thriving AEU sub-branch at The Grange P–12 College.

“I read about other schools doing wonderful things to embrace the union movement, but I think now is our moment to shine!” sub-branch rep Anna Skeljo wrote in a message to AEU News. And she has every good reason to feel that way.

Anna and her fellow AEU members at Grange P–12 College have built a flourishing sub-branch that works “collaboratively and co-operatively” with the school’s leadership team. “The principal recognises the potential for the AEU to improve communication and staff agency across the school,” she says.

“The sub-branch has a feature channel on Microsoft Teams where notices and communication are shared, and we provide a union report during staff meetings. Sub-branch meetings are also included as a voluntary option on our meeting schedule.”

Anna is especially proud of the robust consultative committee. “With that union lens, we wanted to improve communication and sense of collective efficacy. I think the principal has seen it’s a win-win if we are in collaboration, working together to improve student outcomes.”

There are several members of the AEU sub-branch executive currently on the committee, including Anna; the treasurer; the ES rep; and the WOW officer. “We even have a Permission to Teach member on there!” she adds. “When staff arrive from other schools, they are always surprised the presence and platform we have.”

Workforce planning starts in mid-Term 2, and the consultative committee maintains its makeup until elections in February. There is always an adherence to the agreement, with “staff allotments at the forefront of thinking and planning,” Anna says. Through consultation, members have negotiated additional benefits such as compensation for those taking on classes above the maximum.

“You can’t run a really good school without a functional union sub-branch.”

David Smillie

The Grange leadership team and AEU sub-branch, including Anna Skeljo (centre right, with lanyard) and principal David Smillie (centre, in tie). Photo: supplied

When David Smillie became a principal at The Grange P–12 College ten years ago, he inherited a school with a history of conflict and mistrust. He says developing a functional consultative committee has been central to turning that around.

“Communication is so important. We’re a large school, and I can’t be everywhere at once. Sometimes staff are dealing with challenging students, and this [consultative committee] is where I get the real story.”

David promotes the importance of staff understanding their industrial employment conditions – and, for leadership, it helps to know the parameters, he says. However, the consultative committee looks at all the issues across the school, not just those in the VGSA.

“There are more people on the committee than required in the agreement, but that provides a good voice, and we can look at the nitty-gritty and not just the technical implementation. Everyone is urged to put their ideas on the table. Our meetings are reasonably informal, and we seek consensus on issues; we rarely need to take things to a vote.”

“One of our mottos is that as the sub-branch ‘we’re the voice for the people’; we are truly representative of what the staff think, and they have our trust.”

Anna Skeljo

David, who was doing yard duty on the day we spoke so that the female staff could attend an International Women’s Day lunch, says leadership must lead the way in forming the school’s values. “The school has to be culturally safe, and we don’t tolerate any prejudice or bigotry. And if there are any issues, staff need to feel confident to talk to me or a trusted colleague or the AEU rep.”

He firmly believes that you can’t run a good school without a functional union sub-branch. “We have a full membership, and 16 members on consultative committee, which helps me in my leadership role. I like the AEU as a barometer; I like the checks and balances. Without that, you can be in a policy-free zone, and at risk of not meeting your obligations as a principal. I would not feel safe in a school without a workable AEU sub-branch.”

Anna says that the school’s processes have greatly improved thanks to that “symbiotic, two-way” relationship between leadership and the sub-branch. “Overall, the presence of the AEU at The Grange has gained momentum and is thriving. It has taken work to reach this state, but the collaborative relationship we have with the leadership team has been pivotal to our strength,” she says.

“One of our mottos is that as the sub-branch ‘we’re the voice for the people’; we are truly representative of what the staff think, and they have our trust. When we achieve better outcomes for everyone, it feeds into every aspect; the whole school runs much more smoothly, there’s more harmony, and it’s a happy place to work.”

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