On her many rounds throughout the state presenting workshops and meeting with School-Related Professionals as NYSUT liaison, Margaret MacCartney hears repeated requests for professional development. She listens, and takes action. For the past two years, she has teamed with Susan Lafond of the NYSUT Education and Learning Trust to create online seminars that meet SRPs’ needs for job requirements, professional improvement and changes in students’ situations.
At Thursday’s Pre-RA Local and Retiree Council Presidents Conference, SRP leaders were introduced to four online seminar workshops: “Bully, Bullied or Bystander;” “Dealing with Difficult Behaviors;” “Our World, Our Students;” and “Supporting Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.” A seminar on poverty is in the works.
MacCartney said online courses are beneficial because many SRPs live in rural areas; or they may not have time or money to get to a conference. They can do the work on their schedule. Already, 228 people have taken the asynchronous courses since the first one went live last January.
The different online seminars meet the requirements for continuing education credits needed by teaching assistants and food service workers. For other SRPs, they are a means to protect the health and safety of themselves and students in challenging situations; to learn about changing student populations; to improve skills and to adjust to new job responsibilities and laws, such as the Dignity for All Students Act.
Some students have emotional problems, anger management issues or defiance disorder, and their actions sometimes harm SRPs, explained Maryellen Scarola, Sachem Central TA. These seminars, which she now facilitates, “give us strategies to defend ourselves, to keep ourselves safe and to take care of the children.” While there is not one universal response, Scarola said she now has different tools to respond to aggravated or pushy students.
“You don’t know what’s going on in their world. They do not have an ally. They may not have gotten dinner. They’ll be annoyed and try to bully you,” she said.
The $25 cost for an online course can be paid by the district, the individual, the local union, or be a shared cost. Presenters urged SRPs to make the districts pay as part of their responsibility for professional development.
SRP leaders at the session represent many constituencies, including keyboard specialists, grounds crew, bus drivers, maintenance workers, secretaries, occupational therapists, teacher aides, teaching assistants, account clerks, registrars, techs, electrical engineers and receiving clerks.