The school year is upon us and across the state, NEA-Alaska members are kicking into high gear.

From Kotzebue to Anchorage, our public schools and local associations are buzzing with activity, excitement, and innovation as we once again embark on the journey of educating young Alaskans.

For me, the hardest thing about the first week of school is the pain in my feet. Standing on a concrete floor eight hours a day is not natural, however, the clean classrooms, energy, and the names of my new students keeps that pain at bay.

In Alaska, our schools in rural districts are often the first to open their doors. On August 8, I had the opportunity to join teachers in Kotzebue for their first day back. All 150 teachers listened to the wise words of Lance Kramer, a NANA board member and Kotzebue High alumni from 1989. As he spoke, he held a traditional, handcrafted birch basket used for berry picking and asked everyone to be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking—just like the basket is to the berries.

As I spoke with incoming educators I asked them to think of their membership in their local association, and NEA-Alaska the same way. Our union is always looking for new ideas and new ways of thinking to be more reflective and representative of the members we serve.

Further south, our brothers and sisters in the Anchorage Education Association are doing exactly that during their Good Teaching Institute. This member led professional development opportunity is driven by member feedback in areas they’ve identified as important to their professional growth. More than 100 members participated, taking part in lessons from emerging technology trends to trauma-informed teaching.

NEA-Alaska is committed to finding ways to help each member be as successful as possible in their professions because we believe deeply in maximizing student learning. Sharing resources, ideas, and lessons are part of what is driving one of the largest and most exciting platforms available to our members, EdCommunities. This forum is a gathering place for all educators across the country. Signing up is easy and allows you to join groups tailored to your specialty or job classification, create new groups, and join the conversation about important public education issues. Sign up today at www.myNEA360.org and explore the groups NEA-Alaska has already created on topics such as Back to School, Alaska politics, rural teacher housing, and New Educator Support Teams (NEST).

As schools reopen and wide-eyed new educators find their places in them it is critical that we reach out, talk to them, and make them feel welcome. Our public schools are the sum of the efforts of all kinds of public school employees, many of whom will be brand new to your building this year. Take the time to have a conversation with them, find out what brought them to your community, and ask if they have the support they need to do their jobs well.

Our union is stronger when we work together. We can only build strength by welcoming and empowering those who are new to our profession. My challenge to you this fall is to have a conversation with someone new to your building within the first week of school. Talk to them about your local and NEA-Alaska and what they mean to you. No matter if you’re a custodian, counselor, special Ed aide, classroom teacher, or any other public school employee, we are all bound by our commitment to educate students and provide them with every opportunity to be successful. Let’s make it happen.

Let’s make it happen.