From the NJEA Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division

Amid the busyness and noise that is typical at the end of a school year, we often begin to dream about some quiet time alone with a good book. But this year is anything but typical. With the massive amount of screen time we have all experienced, and the call for social distancing and quarantines, curling up with a good book might be needed now more than ever. With that in mind, we give you this year’s summer reading recommendations from the NJEA Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division (PDII).

Equity and justice are on the minds of the PDII staff members this season, as can be seen by many of their reading choices.

Dr. Chrissi Miles suggests Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. The author paints a disturbing picture of America’s broken criminal justice system. As a lawyer fighting for justice for America’s most historically marginalized communities, he depicts the systemic racism and injustice that still exist today. Throughout his experiences, Stevenson learns that human connection, understanding and empathy are the key to justice and redemption.

Gabriel Tanglao finds inspiration in the work of the keynote speakers from last year’s NJEA Convention in Tell Me Who You Are: Sharing Our Stories of Race, Culture, and Identity by Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi. This is an amazing collection of stories from people across the country describing their experiences with race, culture and identity. It was compiled by two young women from New Jersey helping a new generation become more racially literate.

Priority Schools coordinator, Amanda Adams, and NJEA Convention coordinator Janet Royal were both moved by the same book, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem. The book calls on all of us to recognize that racism is not about the head but about the body. It introduces an alternative view of what we can do to grow beyond our entrenched racialized divide.

Continuing this theme, Camy Kobylinski recommends How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi, who shares his exploration of internalized and institutionalized racism. He makes a distinction between being “not racist,” a passive state, and being “antiracist.” He challenges the reader to consider why in a world where most people consider themselves not racist, racism still exists.

Elisabeth Yucis, the newest member of the division suggests The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates. The central thesis of this phenomenal text is—to borrow Gates’ own words—that “when you lift up women, you lift up humanity.” Gates shares stories of child marriage and maternal health initiatives from abroad, while reflecting on her own experiences balancing work and motherhood. The work of uplifting those on the margins is central to what we do as educators, and you are sure to experience a deep resonance between Gates’ narrative and your own work.

Shifting to personal growth, Mike Ritzius suggests Presence by Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski and Betty Sue Flowers. These authors discuss how striving for deeper self-awareness and seeing ourselves as part of a greater whole are the foundational steps for transformational systemic change. They discuss how these changes offer fresh possibilities for shifting a world that is dangerously out of balance.

Rich Wilson, coordinator of the NJEA Teacher Leader Academy, continues the theme of personal growth, encouraging educators to explore Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators by Elena Aguilar. The author understands—perhaps better than anyone else in the field of education—the need for educators to reflect on and take care of their emotional needs. With compassion and empathy, she lays out 12 habits and dispositions that help educators better understand and develop their whole selves.

Director of the division, Michael Cohan, looks for inspiration in past presidents in Leadership for Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The famous historian helps us learn the lessons of prominent past U.S. presidents who dealt with dramatic reversals that disrupted the country. She examines how their leadership moved us forward. As we move from what promises to be a turbulent summer to a very significant presidential election, we need these lessons about the type of leadership our country needs.

The members of the PDII Division staff hope that this year’s summer reading recommendations provide a needed respite from a uniquely challenging school year, while still fostering reflection and opportunities for growth. In a year’s end that required juggling remote instruction for your students—and, if you have children, supporting their remote instruction—while caring for and worrying about parents, friends and neighbors, make sure to take the opportunity for some self-care with a good book this summer.

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