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Joining professional associations empowers educators

K12 organizations offer benefits and resources for educators and districts.

The superintendent of the K12 school district where I first taught held a drive each September to encourage teachers to join state and national education associations beyond our local union. We knew that participation, at least in the NEA—which functioned as a professional association in some states and a labor union in others—was not really optional, especially because our enrollment level at 100 percent was announced each year as a matter of pride.

Although I remember joking that we were actually buying “job insurance,” I will always be grateful to that superintendent for promoting professional involvement beyond our district, and I remained active in education associations throughout my career.

In fact, joining professional memberships was the best decision to keep me up-to-date in curriculum content areas, and informed on developments affecting schools. Membership gave me access to association publications, news reports, position papers, and policy statements that strengthened my career competence.

It also offered opportunities to give back to the profession. Many of our staff members served on committees, led workshops, ran for office, applied for grants, competed for awards, wrote articles, and networked with colleagues throughout the country. I also eventually served on the board of one national organization, and as membership director for another.

But while active association membership benefits individuals and their careers substantially, it is also particularly important to their schools. For example, I remember feeling overwhelmed when our districtwide curriculum committee was charged with selecting and implementing a new science program across several schools. Then we discovered the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) offered step-by-step planning guidelines, and identified the major options we needed to consider. As a result, our curriculum committee did everything right.

Continuous PD

Through association membership, I also learned about funded professional development opportunities across the country, and participated in dozens of programs. These included a science leadership project at Columbia University directed by the late Mary Budd Rowe, who became my mentor; an education research program in Chicago; a high school curriculum program at the University of Colorado; a middle school program at Florida State University; and an elementary school science leadership program at the University of California at Berkeley. None of this would have happened had I not tapped into professional communities.

Membership also underscored the importance of participating in regional and national association conferences and conventions, and that, too, became a continuing career commitment. Annual conferences are compelling events for supporting educators as they network, are renewed and challenged to find solutions to common problems. (My 2013-2014 national conference calendar is on page 88 in this issue, and with the online version of this column at

Connecting your staff

Now, with powerful professional resources accessible through association websites, I seek multiple perspectives on whatever topic I am researching, which has recently included Common Core standards, at-risk students, and staff evaluation.

The sites also provide forums for our voices to be heard individually and collectively, to influence state and national education policy. And, because most online association materials are free to anyone, it makes sense for every educator to be familiar with multiple sites.

Make sure your staff knows about the professional resources at the main K12 association sites. They include content-area curriculum sites in math, language arts, science, social studies, and the arts; organizations such as AASA, ASBO, NAESP, NASSP, and Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents; technology experts from CoSN, ISTE and TCEA; and union matters from AFT and NEA.

I created a list of site recommendations, which can be found online. Add it to your district website and take advantage of extensive professional resources available through DA’s community.

Odvard Egil Dyrli is DA columnist and editor.