Sometimes good things come in small packages—and that was the case on the final day of CEA’s 2017 Summer Leadership Conference. Day 3 featured a packed morning and afternoon of 90-minute workshops on a wide range of topics, including student debt, teacher evaluations, educator autonomy, culturally competent schools, adult learning theory, engaging members in political campaigns, trauma-informed practices, legal rights in the special education process, Section 504, and more.
“It’s my first time at Summer Leadership, and I just came for the day of mini sessions,” said North Haven teacher Jennifer Frederick. “I’m especially interested in new laws and policies affecting our classrooms. As a regular education teacher with special education students in my classroom, I’m also seeking support in that area as well as using Google apps in my classroom—which is covered in one of the sessions I signed up for.”
Like Frederick, 30-year Cheshire teacher Tracy Ajello attended Summer Leadership for the first time this year and decided to get her feet wet with mini sessions. “The topics CEA is offering are really relevant to me.” One of those, Difficult Discussions, drew a large group of both new and seasoned educators, many of whom were looking for effective ways of handling those hard conversations with administrators, parents, and students.
“Start with heart,” said CEA Educational Issues Specialist Michele Ridolfi O’Neill, reminding teachers that they come from a place of caring—and that explaining that can help smooth difficult discussions.
Four years into his career, Torrington teacher Michael McCotter, attending Summer Leadership for the second time, is looking for as much guidance as he can get.
“I came for the entire conference, and I liked the in-depth sessions offered on days one and two,” he said. “But I also like dabbling in different areas, so the mini sessions are great. They’re enough to give you the tools you need.”
Frederick, a 19-year veteran teacher embarking on her first year as a building rep, said it’s especially important in today’s charged political climate for teachers to come together at events like this and back home in their communities.
“I’m politically independent, but I recognize that we need to make a push right now, because if we don’t stand up for our children and ourselves, we will be next on the chopping block.” Frederick organized one-on-one conversations with teachers in her district last year, meeting personally with them and listening to their needs and concerns. “We are gathering all that information and using it to make our school climate better and our profession and union stronger.”
“It’s key to reach out early to new members—and even second- and third-year teachers,” Jeff Morrissey agreed. Morrissey, who teaches in Bridgeport, says early outreach is critical in districts such as his, where teacher turnover is high. “We want to retain our teachers.” If their union isn’t supporting early career teachers, he noted—if they aren’t making that initial contact and aren’t that first friendly face—then other groups with other agendas will step in. Many such groups, self-described ‘education ‘reformers’ that oppose collective bargaining, are already poised to fill that void.
CEA members helped establish the very bargaining rights that are now at risk, CEA Executive Director Donald Williams reminded conference participants at a midday plenary session—rights that are disappearing or have already been eliminated in other states, such as Wisconsin. The requirement that boards of education collectively bargain with teachers has provided Connecticut educators with job security, due process, and a voice at the table on everything from salary to working conditions, contributing to Connecticut’s high ranking as one of the best states to be a teacher. Those rights, he explained, are now at risk.
“This is a wakeup call to our members,” said CEA UniServ Rep Justin Zartman, who recently traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where teachers’ contracts have been reduced to a two-page document and their rights unilaterally taken away.
Zartman conducted a workshop tailored to building representatives and emerging leaders at this year’s conference.