The Union has a proud history of international solidarity work going back many decades. This work is largely based on links with other teachers’ unions across the world, as well as supporting Civil Society and solidarity campaigns and working with members to promote human rights and education for all. International solidarity is fundamental to the work of the Union and is inspired by its members and by its commitment to global justice. Through its international work, the Union aims to oppose oppression, fight for trade union and human rights, challenge austerity, champion public services, and campaign for equal opportunities.

International Solidarity Officers (ISOs) are a key part of the Union’s international solidarity work. They are the Union’s ambassadors at the local level, championing key campaigns and extending the breadth of our work by including it in their existing advocacy work. They are committed individuals who capitalise on their passion for change and make it a reality.

Being an International Solidarity Officer is a rewarding opportunity to capitalise on your skills, experience, knowledge and passion to make change in your local, national and global community. 

What is International Solidarity and why does it matter?

International solidarity, as defined by the Union, is the practice of promoting the human rights and dignity of individuals through a belief in a common humanity. The Union’s international solidarity work is defined by four pillars:

  • to defend teachers’, union and human rights through solidarity and campaigning;
  • to support universal high quality public education for all;
  • to support members and member activity and engagement within the context of a globalised economy and a diverse society; and
  • to develop and strengthen our Union by learning from the experience of colleagues worldwide.

International solidarity matters because it is what connects us to unions, teachers, colleagues and friends the world over. We share a common humanity, and a common profession, and it is important to protect and support each other as we work to deliver quality education for all. It is morally and instrumentally the right thing to do. Our colleagues’ issues are, or will soon be, our issues. Their fight is, or soon will be, our fight. In a globalised world with an ever-increasing interconnectedness and an international education market, no system works in silos. International solidarity will allow us to have one powerful united force to advocate for the protection of human rights for all people. Never before has the adage ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’ been truer.

Getting Started

The issues faced by teachers and students across the globe every day are extensive and complex. As such, it can seem daunting to think about how to get started as an ISO. Here are a few tips for getting started:

  • Think about what motivates you and what you are passionate about
  • Talk to your branch/district about members’ interests
  • Find out who else is working on the issues you care about – use the mapping exercise in the pack of this toolkit to help you
  • Talk to an existing ISO and learn from their experiences
  • Talk to your OF representative to find out what’s going on in your region
  • Sign up for a training course or the ISO Conference to learn and connect with other members
  • Use the campaign template in the back of this pack to get your ideas flowing

And, of course, read through this toolkit to find out more information, tips and tricks to making the most of your experience as an ISO.

Organising around international solidarity

ISOs are the voice of the Union’s international work on the ground, championing our key campaigns and issues in local districts and branches. Part of this requires organising members around international solidarity. Some ideas for organising include:

  • Arrange a session in your workplace, branch or district to inform members about your role and activities
  • Deliver an assembly to talk to students about your work or a specific campaign
  • Utilise and build on links made on delegations (if you have taken part in one)
  • Speak to your Organising Forum (OF) representative
  • Consider twinning your district or branch with another education union internationally
  • Encourage members in your workplace who are interested in international solidarity to sign-up and contribute to the Monday Morning Mail-Out
  • Speak to colleagues on CPD and other training days
  • Talk to other schools across your local area

There are lots of other ideas for sharing this work more broadly. Contact the office (international@neu.org.uk) for more ideas, and feel free to share any suggestions you have for organising around international solidarity.

Training

The NEU organises the International Solidarity Learning and Development Course every year. This two-day residential course trains participants on the basics of international solidarity and global learning.

The International and Organising teams also organise, on occasion, one-day International Solidarity Officer workshops. These courses are introductions to international solidarity in the Union context and build participants’ skills and knowledge of international solidarity in order to empower them to take action on issues about which they are passionate.

For more information, including upcoming course dates, visit learning and events.

Networking

An important part of being an ISO is meeting and discussing international issues with like- minded individuals. Part of this is establishing ISO networks across the NEU regions.

Networks are an opportunity to meet with other ISOs; share experiences, tools and resources (why reinvent the wheel?); work together on key campaigns and projects; and help build a regional presence for international solidarity.

Currently, there is a firmly established network in London and the North West, with more groups developing. We encourage you to contact international@neu.org.uk to find out if your region has a network and, if so, when the next meeting will be taking place.

If there isn’t already a network in your region, here is a roadmap to getting started:

  1. Start by contacting your Organising Forum Representative to enquire about any existing contacts in the area and express your interest in organising a network. Not sure who that is? Email international@neu.org.uk.
  2. Contact other ISOs across the country to find out about their networks. What works? What doesn’t?
  3. Plan an initial meeting open to all members in your region, making sure you have specifically reached out to any key activists who would want to be involved.
  4. Use this meeting to identify key areas to focus on based on the interests of members in the region, using the four pillars of International Solidarity as a framework. Check key international solidarity communications such as the Monday Morning Mail-Out for ideas, if you’re not sure what to work on.
  5. Split activists into groups based on their key interest area. Each group can then use the campaign planning sheet at the back of this toolkit to get started.
  6. Report back to the wider group and set some goals to accomplish before the next meeting – and set the date of this meeting. Keep the momentum going!

When organising your regional network meetings or events, here are a few top tips to consider:

  1. Always seek approval from your district and/or branch for any events which will require financial support. Make sure key people are aware of the event or meeting, such as District Secretaries, Executive Members, regional staff, and the international team at NEU HQ. Being built into formal Union structures will also make spreading the word much easier.
  2. Arrange meetings and events well in advance so members can save the date. Plan ahead to ensure time for marketing and try to use a range of different mediums to raise awareness.
  3. Try to move the meetings around in terms of different days, times, and locations so you split the burden of travel among members.
  4. Consider reaching out to other networks that might be interested, such as Black Teachers, LGBT+, etc.
  5. Consider inviting a speaker to a meeting as a ‘hook’ for members to attend.
  6. Always make sure that venues are accessible to all members, taking into account physical, religious and other needs.
  7. Use the international section of the website to print off communications materials, policy guidance, reports and other information.
  8. Don’t hesitate to use the list of contacts should you require additional support.

Linking with your local Union structures

Unions are built on solidarity between people, be that nationally or internationally, and we encourage you to use this idea to support your campaigning work. Maximising your impact as an ISO means linking in with formal and informal structures, embedding your work within your district or branch. Make sure you report back to your district or branch after any delegations, events, or activities, and try to ensure international solidarity is on the agenda of every meeting and in every local communication output. Other opportunities for sharing with fellow members include (but are not limited to):

  • Reps training days,
  • Local CPD trainings,
  • Regional Council meetings,
  • Organising Fora and other activist meetings, and
  • Speaking to Executive Members.

Engaging new members

International solidarity is a great way to engage new members, and to get less engaged members to take on an active role in the Union. Here are some ‘top tips’ for engaging new members, developed by the legacy NEU-NUT Section 2018 International Solidarity Activist National Organising Forum:

  • Know your audience: are you trying to get new members, or re-engage existing members? What are their interests? Why are they in the Union? Could you engage other members, such as support staff?
  • Context: what are the key areas for your geographic area? How can this be used to engage new members?
  • Resources: are you making sure you provide relevant and accessible resources, and sharing these at appropriate times?
  • Signposting: how can you help new members develop their interests and learn more about issues and campaigns?
  • Activities: could you develop short starter activities, related to key subjects, that could give new members an easy way to get involved?
  • Events: how can you make it FUN? Could you organise socials, quizzes, dinners or other fun ways to get members engaged?

Events, Seminars and Conferences

As well as training, the Union organises and supports a number of ad-hoc events, seminars and conferences throughout the year, including for World Teachers’ Day, Srebrenica Memorial Day, and more. These are excellent opportunities to learn more about key issues and network with other ISOs, members, and activists. 

Priority campaigns

The current ISO priority campaigns are Cuba, Palestine, Quality Education for All, and Human and Trade Union Rights. These have been highlighted to help unify the ISO voice across the country, giving key points around which to organise the network’s advocacy. However, if there are other key issues about which you or your district/branch are passionate, please do explore them. This is a starting point for ideas and not intended to be prescriptive.

  • Cuba

    Cuba is a developing country, which has been under a US blockade for over 55 years, with few natural resources. Despite the scarcities and difficulties caused by the blockade, the Cuban people have created a society based on health, education, social justice and internationalism. The country has a near 100% literacy rate and school meals and uniforms are free for all children. The Union works closely with the Cuba Solidarity Campaign to fight for an end to the blockade and to support and learn from Cuba’s achievement of near universal literacy.

    What ISOs can do:

    • Organise and raise awareness around the Cuban model of education and challenges facing children and teachers
    • Affiliate to CSC, both personally and as a district/branch
    • Share the 2018 Cuba Delegation Report and other resources
    • Quality Education for All

      In September 2015 the United Nations agreed the Sustainable Development Goals, the new agenda set to guide the world’s work to end poverty, mitigate climate change and build a better world for all global citizens. The 17 Goals were envisioned to affect every country equally, with all leaders and governments striving to achieve every goal by 2030. SDG4 focuses specifically on education and seeks to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning. Targets of the Goal include 100% completion of free, high- quality primary and secondary education, eliminating gender disparities in education, promoting access to early childhood education and vocational opportunities, and substantially increasing the number of qualified teachers globally, among others. A major barrier to implementation of the goal will be securing the financing required for change, as education is chronically underfunded across the world. The Union works through the Steve Sinnott Foundation and the Send My Friend to School Campaign to advocate for the realisation of SDG4.

      What ISOs can do:

      • Organise and raise awareness around the campaign for quality education
      • Get your class involved in the Send My Friend to School campaign
      • Support the Steve Sinnott Foundation
      • Raise awareness of the importance of the SDGs in your classroom and within your district/branch
    • Human and Trade Union Rights

      The Union supports various campaigns that focus on human and trade union rights. Often, the Union works in partnership with other unions or organisations advocating on a similar issue. Over the years, we have supported campaigns in Bangladesh, Cuba, Turkey, Iran, Colombia, Venezuela and more.

      What ISOs can do:

      • Organise and raise awareness around the campaign for human and trade union rights across the globe
      • Write letters to leaders in support of trade union and unionist rights
      • Affiliate, personally and as a district/branch, to solidarity campaigns in affected countries (such as Nicaragua, Venezuela, or Colombia)

    Communications

    The international team publish and contribute to a series of communications throughout the year. These include:

    Publication

    Timeframe

    Audience

    ISO Monday Morning Mail-Out

    Weekly

    ISO Network

    e-Bulletin

    Weekly

    District Secretaries

    Educate

    Bimonthly

    NEU Members

    Global Matters e-newsletter

    Termly

    NEU Members

    As an International Solidarity Officer, you may wish to produce or contribute to similar communications for your district/branch, or even work within your regional network to produce a regional newsletter. This will help to spread the message about your work and galvanise interest in your projects, events and campaigns.

    Organising Forum (OF)

    The Organising Forum (OF) was established in 2018 as a representative body of international solidarity activists. This body comprises two representatives from each of the regions/Wales and four from London. The OF has the remit to: promote and develop the engagement of members in international solidarity; share, utilise and build on effective practice; share and spread good practice in engagement and involvement of members; develop the regional network structure; and advise on policy priorities in relation to international solidarity work. Speak to your District Secretary if you are interested in joining the International Solidarity Activist OF.

    Partner organisations

    Working through partnership is one of the best ways to maximise impact and reach the most people while operating with a limited resource base. The Union works with a number of key partner organisations, including:

    You may also wish to consider working with local organisations in your area on an issue that has particular significance in your community. It is important to ensure that any organisation you work with is within the values of the Union. If in doubt, ask the international team.

    Affiliations

    Some organisations have the option of affiliation. As an ISO, you are encouraged to consider which organisations your district or branch could, or should, affiliate to and raise this at your next meeting. Affiliation helps keep small organisations alive and is an excellent way of pledging your support for certain causes.

    Do’s and Don’ts as an ISO

    Do…

    Don’t…

    • Job Share – it can be an overwhelming task.
    • Be creative – test out different ideas and think outside of the box.
    • Engage with your district/branch
    • Network – try to make ISO network meetings and go to other meetings where you can share your ISO message.
    • …whatever you can. Anything helps!
    • Engage with people who are abusive, aggressive, or manipulative, whether in person, in the media or  on Social Media.
    • Feel intimidated – it will take time to build up your support.
    • Get overwhelmed – there are many issues you could be working on. Just do what you can.
    • Make promises you can’t keep.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    I am passionate about lots of different issues. How do I choose just one?

    Great question. Start with existing contacts or activity – is there an issue you care about that is connected to your local community? Build on existing work and then expand once you’ve found your feet.

    I don’t want to do any public speaking – is that okay?

    Absolutely – there are lots of ways to get involved that don’t require public speaking. Letter- writing, event planning, meetings and social media are all good ways to campaign without speaking to a crowd.

    My branch and/or local community isn’t very supportive. What do I do?

    Start with a neutral issue, such as Sustainable Development Goal 4 (quality education for all). Once you have built up a supportive network who values your work, you can introduce more challenging topics with allies ready on your side.

    What if I’m too busy to be effective?

    Everything you do will make a difference to the global education and human rights community. But if you want to do more as a branch, try to get as many volunteers on board as you can. Identify key skills in the group and try to share the workload accordingly. Rejig responsibilities around people’s schedules, reallocating tasks when someone knows they’ll be busy. Work smarter, not harder, and try not to bite off more than you can chew.

    How do I balance my national activism with international activism?

    Many international issues connect to domestic campaigns. For example, the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention (which is both a product and consequence of workload, pay and conditions) is outlined in SDG4c. Rather than seeing these agendas as competitive, try to find the overlapping opportunities and maximise your impact in both areas simultaneously.

    Avoiding Burnout

    This section was originally published in the National Education Branch’s ‘Putting Our Values to Work’ resource. We have abridged the text for length.

    Activism over time can leave you feeling drained of the passion that once drove you. And once your passion has ebbed, you’re just going through the motions.

    Here are some tips for rekindling your passion:

    • Give yourself time and space to reflect. Action without reflection can easily lead to monotony and emptiness. Reflection allows you to re-examine the roots of your activism and replenish your moral reserves.
    • Pace yourself. Civil Rights activist Ysaye Barnwell, of the singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock, has compared social involvement to the process of making music. In both, she says, you can’t rush things.
       
    • Immerse yourself in an activity outside the cause that rejuvenates your soul. For some it might be art or music; for others, it might be sports or a walk in the park.
       
    • Read Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in a Cynical Time by Paul Roga Loeb and Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth by Derrick Bell. They are both amazing resources for activists.

    Sharing

    We encourage you to share any events, campaigns or projects you are working on with the international team. This will enable the international team to identify linked projects and share relevant information and contact details. We also encourage you to tell the Union about any successes you have – this will be shared with other ISOs to inspire them and celebrate your great efforts.

    Resources

    Below you will find two useful templates to help you get started on your international solidarity work, including a mapping exercise and a campaign planning template. In addition to these, the international page of the NEU website has lots of resources – including reports, Strategy Snapshots, and more – which can support your work. You may also find our ‘Education for Respect’ and ‘Why NOT become an ISO?’ videos useful. We can also provide the following resources, available by emailing international@neu.org.uk.

    •  A timeline planning template
    • Template letters for campaigns
    • A template checklist for events
    • A template twinning agreement
    • A Sustainable Development Goal mapping activities
    ISO exercise mapping template

    A  mapping exercise template to identify what activities, groups and campaigns already exist within your networks.

    Key Dates

    Below is a list of key dates throughout the year which you may wish to consider in your ISO planning (please note that some of these are subject to change):

    January

    27: International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust

    February

    20: World Day of Social Justice

    Half-Term: Delegation to Palestine (TBC)

    March

    8: International Women’s Day

    21: International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

    May

    17: International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia

    June

    12: World Day Against Child Labour

    20: World Refugee Day (and Refugee Week)

    Mid-June: Send My Friend to School’s Week of Action

    July

    11: Srebrenica Memorial Day (and week)

    August

    9: International Day of the World’s Indigenous People

    19: World Humanitarian Day

    23: International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade

    September

    8: International Literacy Day

    15: Send My Friend to School Action Day

    15: International Day of Democracy

    15: UN General Assembly

    21: International Day of Peace

    October

    Black History Month

    5: World Teachers’ Day

    11: International Day of the Girl

    17: International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

    Half-Term: Delegations to Palestine/Cuba

    November

    20: World Children’s Day

    29: International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People

    Nov/Dec: International Solidarity Officers Training

    December

    1: World AIDS Day

    2: International Day for the Abolition of Slavery 3: International Day of People with Disabilities 10: International Human Rights Day