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From the NJEA Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division

Once again, we find ourselves in June realizing that “this was a year like none other.” It was the third straight year marked by interrupted learning while attempting to return to some sense of normalcy. Many educators are looking again to the summer as a time to recharge before facing whatever challenges might be around the corner in 2022-23. 

If some of that recharge time includes exploring new ideas through text or other media, the staff members of the Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division once again have perused their proverbial bookshelves to make some recommendations for summer reading or listening.  

One of the division’s newest staff members, Lizandaa Alburg suggests The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGee. She explains that McGee masterfully uses analytics, sound research, historical events, statistics and anecdotes to challenge the zero-sum narrative—the idea that gains of one group comes at the losses of another. This thought-provoking book is a must read for social justice activists and every union member ready to change mindsets, host conversations and understand how we are all connected.  

Because she is an avid gardener and loves the outdoors, administrative assistant Cindy Vannauker has enjoyed reading The Old Farmer’s Almanac 2022: Trade Edition. She finds the almanac to be a great resource with information that is useful on a multitude of topics. She also enjoys their gardening wall calendar and Night Sky Almanac, which she describes as great resources for people who don’t have time for much reading.  

Associate Director Elisabeth Yucis was inspired for her choice from a conversation she recently had with colleagues and members around the values driving our work. The value of belonging—accepting oneself and others is vital as we work to strengthen our union. With this motivation in mind, she will be rereading Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown. Written in 2017, this book holds valuable lessons we can apply to reconnecting and rebuilding as we emerge from the COVID pandemic and try to heal our divided political landscape.  

The new director of the division, Dr. Chrissi Miles, turns to a future keynote speaker and recommends two books by the same author: Nikole Hannah-Jones’s The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story and Born on the Water. In both titles, Nikole Hannah-Jones’ writing paints a clear, powerful, and real history of the Black experience in America. In preparation for Convention 2022, where Hannah-Jones will provide a keynote address, we invite members to immerse themselves her work.  

Associate Director Camy Kobylinski turned to the keynote speaker from this year’s NJEA Exceptional Children Conference in reading Empowering Students with Hidden Disabilities: A Path to Pride and Success by Margo Vreeburg Izzo and LeDerick Horne. Through Horne’s experience as a person with a learning disability, the book gives families and educators practical ideas on how to inspire students to find their passion and achieve their life goals.  

In 2018, Gov. Phil Murphy signed the Transgender Student Bill of Rights. With students coming out at younger and younger ages and many schools finding themselves ill-equipped to support students in understanding their gender identities, Associate Director Rich Wilson suggests Transgender Students in Elementary School by Dr. Melinda Mangin. Using many real-life stories of success, Mangin provides practical strategies for educators to create gender-inclusive schools where all students can learn.  

Amanda Adams, Associate Director and coordinator of ACCESS is recommending Angela Davis, An Autobiography in which Davis describes her compelling journey from a childhood on Dynamite Hill in Birmingham, Alabama to one of the most significant political trials of the century. The reader is taken on a journey from her political activity in a New York high school to her work with the U.S. Communist Party, the Black Panther Party and the Soledad Brothers. And Davis’ story continues as a faculty member in the Philosophy Department at UCLA to her appearance on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” list.  

A recommendation from a classic union organizing story is the recommendation of Janet Royal, Associate Director and NJEA Convention Coordinator. In Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983, author Barbara Kingsolver relates the compelling story of how women’s lives were changed by a strike that lasted 18 months against the Phelps Dodge Copper Corporation. This is truly a story of hope, empowerment and strength.  

Another new addition to the staff is Associate Director Dawn Howlen who recommends Miseducated: A Memoir by Brandon P. Fleming.The author takes us on an inspirational journey from his unsuccessful suicide attempt to Harvard University, where he is an assistant debate coach. Through his lens, we learn about the importance of perseverance through adversity and how giving back to his community allowed his life to come full circle.  

And if you are a true crime fan who prefers listening to reading the written word, Administrative Assistant Vicki Serreino suggests Down the Hill: The Delphi Murders, narrated by hosts, Andrew Iden and Barbara MacDonald. They weave together the story of two young girls who disappear during a hiking trip, only to be found dead the next day. In spite of video recordings and the voice of the alleged killer on one girl’s cellphone, the murders remain unsolved to this day.  

Whether you’ll be on a beach, in a mountain cabin, or in the comfort of your own backyard, we hope this list inspires you to explore some new ideas and broaden your worldview before our schools are once again filled with the energy of learning that comes with the return of students in September.