Jackie Shelson and Taryn Loughlin have accomplished a couple of cool firsts in the Grosse Pointe Education Association they lead.
The pair became the first co-presidents of the GPEA in 2021, and they worked out a first-of-its-kind agreement with the district to include free professional development with the assistance of MEA UniServ Consultant Chad Williams and the Center for Leadership & Learning providing credit options for members seeking salary advancement or recertification.
“One of our big goals as co-presidents is to improve the culture and everyone’s overall work experience, and doing these small things to make a teacher’s job a little bit easier goes a long way,” said Shelson, a longtime math teacher in the district.
Members can now find MEA’s peer-led webinars in KALPA, the district’s management system for tracking PD hours that accumulate into credits for lane advancement on the salary schedule. The system allows those members who choose MEA courses to easily sign up and log hours.
“Quality professional development is a win-win for teachers and the district, and we’re looking for ways to partner on things that are good for everybody,” said Shelson, who had previously led in the union as a building rep, delegate to the Representative Assembly, and local vice president.
“Normally you need to get outside workshop hours approved by the Human Resources (HR) department. Now instead of that process, I’m getting them pre-approved and uploaded into KALPA, and members are able to get those hours for free instead of paying for courses and credits.”
In recent years MEA has ramped up its professional development offerings delivered by accomplished classroom practitioners, especially virtual and webinar options amid the pandemic. These high-quality courses are free to members in good standing.
“Doing a little bit of work up front with HR streamlines the process and makes it easier for the member to take advantage of those opportunities through MEA and have them count toward salary advancement,” said Loughlin, an English teacher who previously served as a building rep and vice president of negotiations in the local union.
In addition, the co-presidents were able to get MEA-delivered sessions included at the district’s annual November professional learning showcase – previously an in-house training day – expanding members’ access to information about core teaching practices, classroom management, and LGBTQ+ issues, the latter of which was facilitated by MEA UniServ Director Grat Dalton.
“We have been having a lot of conversations about the holes in our professional development, so including MEA in a cafeteria-style PD day is a way to address those gaps for those who are interested,” Loughlin added.
Other issues they have begun to explore as leaders include making sure teachers are adequately compensated for extra duties, including substituting during prep time, serving on committees, running extra-curricular clubs and coaching.
“Teacher burnout is real, and asking teachers to do more with less has been a common thread for at least 10 years,” Loughlin said.
Both busy moms of young children, the duo agreed the key to their success so far comes from listening closely to members and cultivating relationships with all levels of district administrators.
They each bring different strengths to the role of president, a full-time release position they now split. “She is my everything when it comes to managing the stress and the duties, because both of us put our heart and soul into making things better,” Shelson said.
Delivering great professional development more efficiently and affordably to members who need it – while giving them a means to increase their compensation – is what innovative leaders do, said MEA UniServ Director Freya Weberman.
“This is a great example of how MEA is elevating the profession by helping the professionals, the kids and the communities we serve,” she said.