Branch Representative Program

In order to support greater faculty engagement and to ensure that NOLS remains the leader in outdoor education, the NIA advocates for increasing workplace democracy through a network of volunteer Representatives at all NOLS locations.  The goals of a Branch Representative in fostering engagement are twofold:

1. Top Down: raise awareness among the faculty and staff diaspora about current issues at the school.

2. Bottom Up: take the pulse of the greater NOLS community and pass this feedback up the organizational hierarchy.

The NIA applauds the channels already in place to solicit ideas from employees.  These include program evals, the strategic planning process, and the Faculty Summit.  However, the challenges inherent in maintaining an adequate level of faculty engagement at an organization as far flung, diverse, and seasonal as NOLS are so great that the current structures, no matter how well intentioned, are inadequate.  These challenges include:

Discontinuity of contact.  NOLS depends on a far flung network of faculty and staff, many of whom only work seasonally, and some of whom work as little as two weeks per year.  

Geographical isolation.  Many of these employees live far from any other NOLS employee, and have no face to face contact with a big picture decision maker.  Some have never been to Lander.  It is hard to overestimate the extent to which an newer instructor living far from Lander can feel alienated by, and disconnected from, the NOLS community.

Lack of orientation.  Instructor courses do a good job of preparing new employees to work in the field.  They do a poor job of orienting them to the intricacies of the NOLS bureaucracy.  Recently a rank and file NIA member asked "What is the EDT?"

Deprioritization.  It's hard to make a living in outdoor education.  This is particularly true for non-AFP field instructors, interns, and WFA instructors.  In many cases these people, whom NOLS depends on to carry out our mission, must work three or even more jobs to pay for the basic things considered necessities in American society today.  These include rent, car insurance, car payments, gas to travel to work contracts, health insurance (without which we cannot take seminars), cell phone bill (without which we cannot communicate with staffing in a timely fashion), student loans, and the upkeep of the various personal gear sets needed to work different NOLS course types.  Although their hearts are with NOLS, their second and third party paychecks may be bigger.  In these instances it is only natural for employees to prioritize keeping up with the organizational issues of the companies that provide them with the larger part of their income.

Apathy.  NOLS is large.  849 Instructors taught courses in FY14. The companies we draw from are often smaller, newer, and more dynamic.  Many new employees have gone from being big fish in smaller pools to feeling like very tiny minnows at NOLS.  Under these circumstances it is easy to feel that NOLS is monolithic and unchangeable, and that your voice is not heard.  When people do not feel heard, they do not engage.

The view may be very different from 284 Lincoln St., but the Board and membership of the NIA speak from their collective experience when we assert that the above are real issues for a significant number of NOLS employees.  We further speculate that these and other related sentiments, coupled with strategic underemployment, are the reason why many IC graduates never work a course, or leave the school after having worked just a few.  This trend deprives us of both talent and potential.  Helping all faculty and staff to engage will provide the school not only with new ideas, but with greater human resources as well.  In this regard the NIA conceives of the Branch Rep program as a service to the entire NOLS community, as opposed to a service to the NIA itself.

There are a variety of ways that Branch Representatives can effectively build engagement:

  1. Create and maintain informative displays in staff common areas.

  2. Facilitate seasonal meetings.  Publish the minutes from these meetings on the public portion of the NIA website to become a matter of record, and for all members of the NOLS community, from intern to Trustee, to read.  These minutes will inform internal NIA decision making and guide the message that our representative takes to Board of Trustees.  We further hope that they will serve as inspiration to the decision makers when they are confronted with new challenges.

  3. Interact with NOLS employees in informal settings and one-on-one chats.

  4. Participate in discussions on the NIA Facebook Group,, in conference calls with the NIA Board, and on various committees convened by the Administration to advise and decide on responses to specific challenges.  

Think creatively.

Act collectively.

Join the NIA.

The mission of the NIA is to communicate and advocate instructor views and to work within the NOLS community to promote the school's mission and values

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