Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Has anyone asked you how you are doing?

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This is normally a time in our schools when we might focus on teaching students about the importance of mental health. But has anyone asked you, as the practitioner working long hours, physically distanced from your students, friends and loved ones, how you are doing? This Mental Health Awareness Month we want to know about you. And we want to know what your school community is doing to ensure that you are mentally ready to tackle the challenges we will be facing in education this summer and fall.

I will be hosting our next NYSUT Twitter chat on Sunday, May 31 at 7 PM focused on your mental health and wellbeing and what school communities should be doing to prepare for the return to school this fall. A Twitter chat is a great way to engage with other practitioners, share ideas and problem solve together in a quick, one-hour interactive conversation. I hope you will join me on Twitter by following @nysutEVP or you can follow the hashtag #NYSUTchat.

In the meantime, we should all start planning for a return to school where paying attention to mental health will be just as critical as solving the concerns we have about our school community's physical safety. After all, a teacher's working conditions is a student's learning conditions. Students can't learn if they don't feel safe and secure, and teachers can't do their best to meet students' needs if they are not attending to their own mental health. So what should schools be doing? 
  • Allow time for faculty, staff and students to debrief before returning to school or campus, so the supports needed to start the academic year off right are ready for everyone upon their return.
  • Discuss your campus or school's mental health plan. Don't have a mental health plan? Start working collaboratively in a labor/management partnership to create one that addresses the needs of faculty, staff and students.
The bottom line is this.  As you've been working long hours planning, teaching and assessing each student's progress academically, you've also been working on staying connected to them and showing them that you care. This isn't easy to do. But for some of your students, you haven't been able to reach them at all. You might be worried, scared or feeling very uncertain about what the future holds for you and for them. Going back to "normal" isn't really an option for any of us. So we need to process these feelings together and learn how to plan to control those aspects of our personal and professional lives that are within our sphere of influence.

How many of you have truly processed how it felt to pack up your classroom for the summer during this period of remote learning?  How many of you wept in your car as you participated in a parade through a local neighborhood?  It is important to let yourself feel all of that, but it is equally important to do something about those feelings, because we are in this together.  

We have it in our power to harness labor/management partnerships to start planning now for an environment where we are all taking care of each other physically and mentally, but we mustn't wait until the fall. NYSUT sees you, and we are here to help. So I will ask you again, how are you doing?  Join us on Sunday, May 31st and let's talk about it.

Resources that can help you with planning:

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Because of You - A letter of gratitude to NYSUT members

Dear NYSUT members,


Because of you, our union is stronger today than it ever was.
Thank you for seeing NYSUT through the last three years. You've had our backs every step of the way. You’ve seen us through the Janus decision and stuck by us as we fought for fair and reliable state testing for our students. You’ve been there while NYSUT lead the conversation in this state on the teacher shortage and the need for a more diverse workforce to meet the needs of New York’s students, and you’ve joined our women’s movement by the hundreds to create a fairer more equitable world for girls and women. And you’ve done all of this while conducting your full-time jobs whether you are an SRP, teacher, professor, or health care professional. You’ve stood by us and with us, whether your home is a small rural town, medium-sized suburb or giant city!
Because you opened your school and classroom doors to us during NYSUT's Fund Our Future Bus Tour, citizens across the state have seen the struggles our schools and campuses face each day. And yet everywhere we traveled, SRPs, teachers and professors were thanking us for visiting. But right now, amid this crisis, communities around this state are now THANKING YOU. They are thanking you for keeping their children connected to their schools, campuses and friends. They are thanking you for keeping students fed and cared for, and they are thanking you for going above and beyond when it comes to providing instruction, remediation or enrichment during this period of remote learning. They are thanking you for putting 2020 graduate signs on the front lawns of high school seniors. They are thanking you for the virtual college commencement ceremonies and the words of advice and reassurance. And they are thanking our #HealthCareHeroes for saving lives. Because of you, the image of a NYSUT member is that of a hero. Christopher Reeves once said, "A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles." Our NYSUT heroes have empathy, expertise, compassion, professionalism, drive and perseverance to endure in the face of these COVID challenges. You are nimble and responsive, innovative and intuitive. And as our educational heroes, you never quit on a student or a family even when the situation seems insurmountable. Because of you, we are better leaders today than we were three years ago. We will never stop being your advocates or your partners in this fight for educational equity and gender and social equality. It has been the greatest professional honor of my life to serve as your Executive Vice President. Thank you for entrusting me to represent you for the next three years. I hope to make you proud as we embark on this journey of advocacy and service together.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Reimagining Schools

Much has been said this week about reimagining schools in New York. Many of my fellow educators have already expressed some wonderful ideas. I've also reflected on this topic and wanted to share some thoughts.

In my reimagining, all students would have access to smaller classes with our innovative, creative and caring New York teachers at the helm. These students would attend state-of-the-art facilities and have access to music and the arts, technology and family and consumer sciences. Each school building would have a school nurse, a beautiful library with a librarian and access to CTE, world languages, physical education and health. And each building would have locally developed ways to keep students safe and secure. All schools would have strong connectivity and devices for each student to assist in supporting their learning. School food would be healthy and tasty, and our playgrounds would be gathering spots where play is celebrated. School-related professionals would abound to assist our students and teachers as learning takes place. Electives and advanced placement courses would be available in our secondary schools. Teaming would exist in all of our middle schools. Social workers, school counselors and school psychologists would be abundant to ensure the social emotional needs of students were put first.

Professional learning for our educators would be a priority. Structures would be put in place to ensure that trauma informed, restorative and culturally responsive practices were refined and honed to meet the needs of all children. Our newest teachers would be placed with a mentor teacher for as long as needed. And our workforce would reflect the students in the community by removing the barriers that exist for teachers of color to enter and be retained in the profession. And of course, our most vulnerable students, like those learning English and those with special needs, would have access to programs based on their needs and not based on space or staffing considerations.

Our schools can and should be the heart of our communities, and in fact, the community schools model would be another way we could reimagine our education system for our students and families.

Imagine if we had the time and training to focus on building even stronger family and school engagement partnerships? I could go on and on, but I won't. You get the picture.

This reimagining doesn't require outside groups to make it happen. It takes listening to our educators and investing in our students by funding their future in New York and that includes investing in our community colleges and SUNY and CUNY. We don't need anyone else reimagining our schools or colleges for us. We need funding, so we can look at our children and know that we gave them every opportunity to succeed. Imagine that!

Monday, May 4, 2020

Teacher Appreciation Week Thoughts

It's Teacher Appreciation Week!

We've all seen the meme "I teach. What's your superpower?" Truer words were never spoken. Educators are superheroes! Whether with porch-side or front-lawn "socially distant" home visits to make sure a child's needs are being met or handwritten post cards to each student to ensure they are receiving a sign that their teacher cares and misses them, our New York State public school teachers demonstrate just how dedicated and extraordinary they are, not just during this crisis but each and every day.

You are the heartbeat of our communities.  You are the bedrock of our democracy.  And you are essential!  No piece of technology will ever replace the expertise you possess to meet the needs of your students.  No distance-learning plan can ever meet all of the needs of the diverse student populations you teach or replace the warm, safe and inspirational learning communities you provide in your classrooms.

The high fives, hugs and quiet moments you spend in your classrooms supporting your students cannot be replicated through remote learning. And now, like before, many of you are putting the needs of the children and families you serve above your own needs. You are worried about their social and emotional wellbeing and their physical health, and you would move mountains to ensure they have every basic need met and are thriving academically.  But you must take care of yourself too.  You are doing your best and your families need you.  This state needs you.  And this country needs you.  Throughout this time, and when this is over, NYSUT will be here for you, supporting you and being your biggest cheerleader.

Each day I am thankful to be a part of your educational community, but one week just isn't enough to express how grateful I am for who you are and what you do!

Stay safe and well.  We can't wait to see you again in person soon. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Has anyone asked you how you are doing?

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This is normally a time in our schools when we might focus on teaching students about the importance o...