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Empowering Members to Meet their Professional and Personal Needs

Dozens of members in July traveled to the nation’s capitol city to take advantage of the most comprehensive educational professional development (PD) event on the calendar. They were among thousands of teachers, paraeducators and school support staff attending AFT’s biennial Together Educating America’s Children (TEACH) conference. The four-day event features a variety of workshops providing strategies, skills and materials to address members’ personal and professional needs.
In addition to those in attendance, four active and retired union leaders from Connecticut this year volunteered to share their expertise and present during TEACH. Among them was Walter O’Connor, RN (at podium in photo above), who helped lead a workshop on retirement planning and investing.
“Our workshop had an attendance double that of any breakout session during the entire conference,” said O’Connor, who for three decades worked as a registered nurse at New Milford Hospital. “That shows the need and interest in all aspects of retirement — and retirement planning, specifically — throughout all age groups,” he added.
O’Connor’s comments are reinforced by the growing popularity of similar courses organized locally by AFT Connecticut’s PD department. RSVPs for both our pre-retirement seminars for teachers and financial literacy courses for all members routinely exceed capacity within days of announcing their schedules
Click here for photos from our most recent retirement planning course for educators.
In addition to addressing post-employment issues, O’Connor’s conference presentation also focused on the importance of members remaining active in retirement.
“The benefits are two-fold,” said O’Connor, a retired member of our affiliated New Milford Nurses Union and vice president of AFT Connecticut’s retiree council. “First, for the individual, continued involvement provides a social network with peer support and access to unique educational opportunities. Second, for the union, retirees can be mobilized for various activities, from humanitarian missions to political activities to community actions, to boost local, state or national efforts.”
Additional union leaders presenting at TEACH included Newtown Federation of Teachers President Tom Kuroski, New Britain Federation of Teachers Secretary Daniel Blanchard and EastConn Federation of Teachers member Stacy Vocasek. Kuroski participated in a panel on school safety and gun violence, Blanchard led a course on success with difficult students and Vocasek presented two workshops on educating with visual arts.
Click here for additional photos of all four activists at TEACH.
Sessions organized last month back here in Connecticut demonstrated the kind of tangible benefits O’Connor referred to for active members of affiliated local unions representing paraprofessionals and school-related personnel (PSRPs). The full-day event empowered participants with the skills to present professional learning to their colleagues in three relevant subject areas, including stress management, workplace violence and school culture. 
Denise Brezinski, a paraeducator at Sedgwick Middle School in West Hartford, attended the session on minimizing anxiety, which she described as allowing for “lots of group sharing.”
“What I would take back to my fellow paras is that stress can ‘hurt’,” said Brezinski, a member of our West Hartford Federation of Education Personnel. “It is no joke and should not be taken lightly. Finding creative ways to lessen stressors should be a high priority for all of us,” she added.
Click here for photos of the “Train the Trainer” sessions at AFT Connecticut headquarters.
Brezinski’s comments illustrate our PD department’s goal for training and information courses to meet both professional and personal needs.
“The program was well organized, the presenters were awesome and I highly recommend union members take advantage of future professional learning offerings!” Brezinski added.
Click here for our previous PD program report, which previewed the August 3 event.
To ensure a continued variety of course offerings through the summer of 2020, AFT Connecticut PD coordinator Jennifer Benevento and divisional vice presidents are currently polling rank-and-file members. Healthcare professionals, PSRPs and certified PreK-12 educators earlier this week were sent online surveys and have until October 11 to submit their responses. *
Click here to access and complete the PD survey for healthcare professionals.
Click here for the PSRPs’ survey.
Click here for the teachers’ survey.
* Deadline extended from original October 7 date.

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