October 01, 2018

Union grant raises awareness on education justice

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
nea grant
Caption: In a warm-up activity, Kingston Teachers Federation President Lauri Naccarato explains a favorite quote.

Labor and management leaders from Amsterdam, Schenectady and Kingston are working together to help mentors and early career teachers better recognize and proactively address racial and social injustice in their schools.

Using a three-year grant from the National Education Association’s Great Public Schools Fund, NYSUT and the three local unions are piloting the program with specialized professional development and mentoring for teachers just beginning their careers.

The program kicked off this year at NYSUT headquarters as district teams heard each other’s perspectives on racial and social justice issues in their schools and brainstormed what strategies would work best in their communities. The overall goals are to help mentors and new teachers connect better with their students; facilitate conversations among educators about the district’s current culture and possible bias; and to embed racial/ethnic justice in schools.

SUNY Albany faculty members Alex Pieterse, a professor in educational and counseling psychology, and Kathyrn Schiller of the Educational Policy and Leadership Department, provided a taste of what their professional development sessions could look like during the 2018–19 school year, as well as surveys and other assessments that could be used to measure the initiative’s impact. Pieterse and Schiller are members of United University Professions, the union representing academic faculty and staff at SUNY.

In addition, experienced trainers from NYSUT’s Education and Learning Trust and programs such as the New York City-based Border Crossers will assist in presenting professional development sessions.

Local union leaders said they liked what they heard so far.

“It’s a very non-threatening way to go about opening up hard conversations,” said Kingston Teachers Federation President Lauri Naccarato.

“I like how the approach is not about blaming teachers,” said Juliet Benaquisto, president of the Schenectady Federation of Teachers, where the district has been working on restorative practices and to ensure disciplinary measures are not disproportionately aimed at students of color. “Instead it encourages you to reflect on your interactions in a thoughtful way and with a historical perspective.”

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