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Helping Fellow Members “Improve their Practice”

“We have an abundance of talent and knowledge from the many roles we have in healthcare across our union,” said Dale Cunningham, RN, a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) staff nurse. A night shift employee, she found a recent sleep health course presented by a fellow caregiver at L+M Hospital in New London to be an empowering and uplifting experience. 
“It’s amazing how many ways increasing our knowledge can affect our lives,” added Cunnigham, who also serves as treasurer of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated L&M Hospital Nurses union.
While the workshop was designed primarily to assist healthcare professionals, it offered a broad appeal across our state federation’s constituencies. “Members of teacher and public employee locals came because they — or a family member — are suffering with sleep issues,” said Cunningham. “It’s a unique ability to have access to individuals with so many different kinds of experience and skill sets,” she added.
Click here for photos from the course, presented by union leader and sleep lab tech Stephanie Johnson, RPSGT.
Our PD program, which includes workshops coordinated at the local, state and national levels, provides necessary time and space for colleagues to share with each other. In many workplaces, members find the opportunity to collaborate limited by the day-to-day demands of their jobs or not adequately supported by management.
“We each have interests and passions that we want to share,” said Stacy Vocasek (above), an English and creative writing teacher at Arts at the Capitol Theater (ACT) High School in Willimantic. The active member of our EASTCONN Federation of Teachers has presented two education-focused courses for fellow union members, including a new “infusing arts into the curriculum” workshop last month.

“There’s something special about being able to support the learning of a co-worker,” said Vocasek. “It’s just as amazing to see those ‘ah-ha’ moments with a colleague as it is with the students. It’s a different kind of leadership opportunity and it feels good to hear other teachers getting excited about my ideas and improving their practice as a result,” she added.
Click here for additional photos from the latest course presented by Vocasek.
The variety of private and public sector workforces represented by our state federation’s affiliated unions offers unique opportunities for sharing and learning across constituencies. It also often results in courageous conversations about real-life struggles, like those addressed in a new course aimed at improving collaboration among public educators.
The session was co-presented by Daniel Blanchard, a social studies teacher at New Britain High School and Daniel Flores, a paraeducator in the city’s Pulaski Middle School. The workshop drew members of unions representing PreK-12 certified teachers as well as paraprofessionals and school-related personnel (PSRPs) from across the state.
“We decided to create a space to talk about the challenges of working together as professionals in a classroom,” said Flores, our New Britain Federation of Paraprofessionals’ union vice president. “What was unique, was both Dan and I were able to share our perspectives — and sometimes that meant calling each other out when respect and teamwork were lacking,” he added.
“It’s rarely easy for a teacher and paraeducator to work flawlessly together,” said Blanchard, who serves as secretary for our New Britain Federation of Teachers. “Working together effectively takes a lot of hard work and an open mind. However, the educational and professional prize of everyone doing better within the realm of teaching and learning is well worth the effort and the time,” he added.  
Click here for photos from the workshop Blanchard and Flores led together.
These three courses are but a sampling of more than a dozen workshops over the past four months organized by AFT Connecticut’s professional development coordinator. Additional courses covered a wide variety of topics — from labor leadership skills to worksite safety to software skills acquisition to retirement planning — for dues-paying members.
With many presented by their colleagues, these training, education and professional learning courses are another example of how the “U and I in Union” delivers benefits beyond the bargaining table.
Click here for our previous report on our PD program’s offerings.

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