May 17, 2021

Let’s Talk ESP Blog: What Is Leadership

Let’s Talk ESP Blog: What Is Leadership Featured Image
Gail Kablau

By Gail Kablau

When you hear the word “leadership”, what do you think of? Who comes to mind? What attributes do they have? What does it take to be a leader? Do you see yourself in that role?

So often, leadership positions in Local unions (especially ESP) end up in someone’s lap accidentally, or because you volunteered once and now no one else will step up to the plate. I believe that this happens because people often don’t see themselves as a leader, or they see leadership as a “title” – something that applies to officers. They hear the word leader, and often think about the big picture and feel like it is just too daunting of a role to take on, so when asked they may cite not having enough time or don’t feel qualified.

Not feeling qualified has been a long-suffering problem with education support professionals.  How many times have we received a communication from our District referring to the “professional” staff as teachers and the “support” staff as those of us in ESP roles with no recognition that we are professionals at what we do? We need to believe that we are all educators, that we are equal to our colleagues no matter what role they fill, that each role is important in a child’s whole education, and that we are, in fact, professionals.

When we start believing in ourselves as professionals, then stepping into a leadership role in our Local union becomes a little less daunting. We should not want “someone else” to speak for us, to advocate for us, or to make decisions about us without us.

Whether your Union membership is large or small, there are easy ways to get involved and grow into leadership positions. Our power is in numbers – in the collective voice. If you don’t have enough people in your own local, look for other smaller locals in your area school districts and meet together to talk about ways to gain new membership or learn new strategies for working with your District. If you are in a larger Local, maybe it’s as simple as participating on a committee. Leadership isn’t just reserved for officer positions.

Leadership training is available for those who want to be more effective as officers or in other leadership roles. WEAC offers training for current and emerging leaders in a variety of ways. NEA also offers opportunities for ESP members.

  1. Your Region or urban office Uniserv Director can be contacted for help in leadership training in your Local.
  2. You can participate in available WEAC trainings – free of charge. Check out the WEAC website for opportunities, and sign up as an individual or together as a group. If you get the regular email publications from WEAC, there will be links for training opportunities there, as well.
  3. Contact WEAC (Contact Us) officers – they can work with your UniServ Director to get you the training that you need, or provide information about statewide opportunities.
  4. Check out the NEA ESP website for more opportunities.
  5. Feel free to contact me personally. I am more than happy to work with you to get the resources you need.

One of my favorite quotes is from President John F. Kennedy – “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” I encourage you to think about leadership more as what part you can play to help strengthen your Local union, rather than what your Union can do for you. You are the Union.

Each of us have the skills to do something. What is your strength? Find a way to use that to take part in your Local union. Start small, and learn more about what you Union is all about, and see where it takes you. Leadership is not a title, it is seeing a need and bringing others together to help fill that need. What leadership skills can you bring to the table? Let’s Talk!

Gail Kablau is the WEAC Education Support Professional (ESP)-at-Large Board RepresentativeContact her at: