When you hear the term “coalition,” you often see it referring to organizing or campaigning for public office. In education, we often hark on the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” But do we really cultivate “villages” to raise our schools? At its core, a coalition is a group of people who’ve come together to share resources to support a common cause. A coalition in a school might look like PTA members organizing a food bank or a group of teachers who’ve come together to support the use of antiracist curriculum. In other words, coalitions are essential to ensuring that students are supported and educators can truly make an impact.
Here are six situations in which coalitions are extremely effective for educators and administrators. Coalitions can:
1) Combat individualism
Teachers function on a myth of meritocracy, as reflected by teacher evaluations and rewards systems. Basically, if you work hard and outshine the rest, you will be rewarded. This can negatively impact how educators view themselves, their students, and their own sense of value because if one is overly focused on individual merit, it becomes difficult to step back and see the value of collaborative work. Refocusing energy on supporting, rather than outshining colleagues, can foster strong relationships and build trusting support networks.
2) Provide safety
A great example of this is the NYC Men Teach Asian American Teacher Empowerment, Networking & Development initiative (AATEND). AATEND is a group of Asian American male educators that came together in 2021 after a rise in anti-Asian racism and hate crimes nationally to hold space for their own collective trauma. (According to a national report put out by Stop AAPI Hate, a group that tracks hate crimes and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States, there have been 9,081 anti-Asian hate incidents since the start of COVID.) When you’re an Asian American male in education, you’re usually the only one in the school building, and it can be isolating. Having a community that shares lived experiences and concerns can help transform pain into purpose.
3) Spur innovation
We know innovation stems from collaboration. At Teach For America Miami-Dade, I had the unique opportunity to lead something called the Strengthening Schools Cohort, now called the Strengthening Schools Pathway, where second-year teachers collaborate to think of an initiative or idea that targets the root causes of inequities that our communities, students, and families face. One participant, Joseph Borrell, in partnership with a nonprofit called Health in the Hood, taught his high school students how to combat food insecurity through a community garden. Another participant, third-grade teacher Paulina Hernandez, exposed her students to the world of coding and to BIPOC leaders in the tech field. In both of these cases, collaborative workshops helped push each other’s ideas forward and allowed teachers take a more a holistic approach to the opportunity gap in education.
4) Sustain — retain — teachers
According to a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, 24% of educators of color leave the teaching profession due to burnout. Before educators of color can thrive, we need to heal from our past racial traumas. Coalitions can be spaces that allow educators to do just that. One great example of this is the Cambridge Education Association Educators of Color Coalition, which supports and empowers educators of color through “healing, harm reduction, and building an anti-racist community.”
5) Push policy forward
A classic example of the power and impact of a coalition is none other than the teacher’s union. Teachers in multiple districts across the country have protested as union members for collective bargaining rights, how to improve teacher evaluation, assess and attend to teacher grievances, and demand higher living wages. Coalitions enable accountability from the top. If administrators misuse their power, then educators have the ability to manage up and engage in generative conflict to resolve this issue.
6) Help teachers grow
Coalitions can help educators build skills and hone their talents and interests because there is an opportunity to specialize in a role and grow. Increasing one’s own capacity, whether in a formal promotion or taking on more responsibilities, helps educators feel valued. As studies have shown, when teachers have the change to grow and when they feel appreciated, they are less likely to leave the profession.
Beyond shaping the culture for educators, all of these examples of coalition building impact our students. Kids will inherently pick up on how we operate, and eventually many of them will mirror that. If we operate and show more value in coalitional work, our kids will do the same. This is a 21st-century skill that needs to be developed, as we see working across lines of difference and sustainability being topics of training for educators and administrators today.