Spotlight on Locals: Green Bay Education Association

Members of the Green Bay Education Association stand with Justin Delfosse, GBEA President (center), as he holds the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate certificate presented by WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

When I asked Green Bay Education Association President Justin Delfosse what he believed to be the greatest strength of the GBEA, he said, “Our Emerging Voices Program is definitely our greatest strength because it helps us to recruit young leaders into our local association.” Justin mentioned how so many leaders join in all areas of association work in Green Bay after attending Emerging Voices, which is a two-day retreat/training which has a “grow your own” philosophy of leadership development.

Jessica Galarneau is one of those leaders who became engaged in the GBEA after attending Emerging Voices and now serves as a trainer for the program. Jessica told me, “I was so honored to be nominated by a colleague who saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. I grew up in a non-union household and prior to teaching in Green Bay, I taught in a private school. I had no idea what the union was or how I could contribute until I attended Emerging Voices. In the training, I learned about who the Green Bay Education Association is and about what they do, along with learning about WEAC and NEA.” Jessica’s advice to local leaders out there: “People need to be asked to join us. I didn’t think that I had the skills for this work until I was asked. Now, I’m loving this work.”

Green Bay Education Association Treasurer Dan Gage told me, “The greatest strength of the GBEA is that our members understand the value of unions — locally, statewide, and nationwide.” Dan echoed others’ sentiments about Green Bay’s robust leadership development program in Emerging Voices. He also said, “The strength of your local union starts at the building level — when you train people and help them to succeed, your building becomes stronger. Our building representatives continually identify people who have the potential to lead, and we engage them in our work.”

Other investments being made by the Green Bay Education Association include a new program called the Early Career Learning Labs. Rachael Poppe, GBEA coordinator for the project, told me, “We connected 10 new educators who were willing to participate in the nine-week program with virtual coaches. The group met face to face twice, once at the beginning and again at the end. Primarily, their meeting space was via the online meeting platform Zoom, where they met once a week on topics ranging from classroom management to planning and preparation. It was a safe space for sharing ideas and resources with their coach, especially since the coach wasn’t a teacher in the Green Bay School District. They could offer advice and an outside perspective. Participants were asked to implement new ideas into practice and then report out on their findings to the group the following week.”

It was clear from Rachael that the project was a success. “Our participants felt that they were part of something bigger,” she said. “They really enjoyed the professional learning opportunities offered to them by the union to be better classroom practitioners for their students.”

The Green Bay Education Association is also offering supports to their new hires through the Early Career Leadership Fellowship. I spoke with Ellie Hinz-Radue, the GBEA Coordinator, a teacher for 28 years who is leading a cohort of six early career educators on making the profession better for those in their first years. Ellie told me, “The Green Bay Early Career Leadership Fellows are working to create the ideal conditions for their colleagues as they enter the profession. That means that they are confronting a reality that better mentorship possibilities need to exist.”

Ellie’s cohort has spent the year working together and reaching actionable conclusions. Ellie said, “The profession isn’t as welcoming as they’d like it to be. They are working on understanding district policy, because they seek to operate within the system to change it for the better. My group worked to create an ideal of how teachers can help other teachers be better without administrative boundaries.”

Finally, the Green Bay Education Association in partnership with WEAC and Region 3, is making a commitment to support candidates seeking National Board Certification. Ellie is one of those candidates and spoke of her personal journey and her gratitude for the support. “This is a difficult process, and I am grateful for the organized work days and the patient support. I’ve spent many years in the classroom, but working through this process has given me both knowledge and skill regarding the teaching standards. For the first time ever, instead of just believing this idea, I can prove that every student can learn.”

Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.