CONNECTICUT EDUCATOR RECEIVES NATIONAL TEACHING AWARD Stratford Education Association President Michael Fiorello recognized for teacher, student advocacy

Their school community extends far beyond the classroom. They know their students, and they encourage, support, and challenge them every day. Their commitment extends to their colleagues and their profession, and the NEA Foundation’s prestigious California Casualty Award for Teaching Excellence recognizes their efforts. This year, Stratford High School English language arts teacher Michael Fiorello was named the Connecticut winner of the Award for Teaching Excellence. He will join 44 fellow award recipients—public school educators across the country—at the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence Gala in February 2022. A proud public school teacher for the past 31 years and president of the Stratford Education Association,

Fiorello is passionate about his students’ education and well-being and outspoken in his commitment to well-supported teachers and schools. He began his career in Bridgeport, where he taught for 11 years at the middle and high school levels, before accepting a position in Stratford. Over the course of his career, Fiorello has led efforts to increase transparency among municipal leaders and boards of education, protect teachers’ jobs in the face of budget cuts, include educators in decisions regarding school protocol, and more recently strengthen COVID prevention measures in schools. He has made numerous media appearances to bring the public’s attention to these and other key issues, knowing that informed communities and policymakers are important allies for public education.

Alliance (GSA). “I have advised the group in each of my 20 years here, and at Bassick High School in Bridgeport, I was a GSA founding advisor.” Describing Fiorello as a teacher who cares deeply about his students and colleagues, CEA President Kate Dias says, “Michael goes the extra mile to advocate on their behalf, promoting well-resourced schools and a teaching and learning environment that ensures all students can achieve. He is a dedicated professional educator and union leader who has consistently advocated for good teaching and learning conditions.” Dias applauds Fiorello’s work to ensure the safety of Stratford students and educators during the COVID pandemic. “He has earned the trust and respect of his colleagues and community members,” she says. “For years, he has amplified teachers’ voices on important issues, empowering them to participate in policy discussions that impact students, public education, and the teaching profession.” The Award for Teaching Excellence recognizes educators who embody excellence in their practice; advocacy for the profession; commitment to equity, diversity, and opportunity; community engagement; leadership and encouragement for fellow educators; and support for relevant, high-quality professional development.

“My biggest initiatives in union leadership have been around communication,” he says. “I email members weekly on a variety of topics and regularly visit every school in the district. Communication has been key to engaging members in actions around budgets, layoffs, COVID policies, and more.” He adds, “When I learned I would receive a Teaching Excellence Award from NEA, I was thrilled but humbled. I have the utmost respect for the educators who work with and for our union. To be honored by them moves me deeply, and I am profoundly grateful.” Some of his proudest work, he says, has been with Stratford High School’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance, formerly the Gay-Straight Stratford High School teacher Michael Fiorello was named the Connecticut winner of the NEA Foundation’s prestigious California Casualty Award for Teaching Excellence. the center of every classroom. As an example, she says, administrators divided students into cohorts that left many unable to choose elective classes. “I understand the health concerns,” Graham acknowledged, but added that if she’d been consulted, “I would have said, ‘Here’s my list of seven students where taking music from them may break them.’” Poulos, a Spanish teacher at Joel Barlow High School, noted that some districts have historically fallen short when it comes to incorporating teachers’ perspectives and leadership—and COVID proved no exception. Teachers of Connecticut provides a platform where educators can share their insights, and parents and policymakers can understand what’s happening in Connecticut’s classrooms. “It’s an opportunity we all have for a reset,” said Poulos, “whether it’s instruction or curriculum or social emotional learning.” Themes are not limited to pandemic instruction. Teachers might explore what drew them to the profession, how they connected with particular students, insights gained from difficult situations, and more— with the focus being more on the personal than the political. Graham anticipates that Teachers

Fiorello, who is president of the Stratford Education Association, has been a strong voice for safety, transparency, and greater investments in public education.

FEATURED TEACHERS: STORIES FROM CONNECTICUT EDUCATORS When Troy Williams became band director for Wilton Public

public education, and teachers in particular, in part to her own days as a student, when one exceptional teacher’s patience and passion led to her love of reading. A space for sharing The idea for Teachers of Connecticut came from virtual meetings Dalio Education held with dozens of Connecticut educators last spring. Guidance was provided by an advisory group of civic leaders and public school teachers, including New London Education Association President and elementary school teacher Rich Baez, and former Connecticut Teachers of the Year David Bosso, Sheena Graham, and Chris Poulos, who teach at the high school level in Berlin, Bridgeport, and Redding, respectively. In a pandemic school year that left many feeling stretched thin and less able to connect with others, 38- year veteran choir teacher Sheena Graham—who is featured on teachersofconnecticut.org —took comfort in the fact that some students who struggled to find their

Schools, he encouraged his students to ask him—one of the only Black teachers in a mostly white district— anything they wanted to know. Williams was raised in Bridgeport, and the questions his students asked (“Were you ever in a gang?” “Have you ever been in jail?”) helped shed stereotypes and build relationships based on honesty, respect, and trust. His story is one of several featured on a website whose mission is to amplify teachers’ voices on a digital platform. Stories are published twice a week and shared on social media, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Teachers of Connecticut ( teachersofconnecticut.org ) is a product of Dalio Education, a public education initiative of Dalio Philanthropies. Several CEA members have helped shape the site. “One of the things we kept hearing was that teachers sometimes feel as if their voices aren’t being heard,” said Barbara Dalio, the organization’s founder. “With so

Clockwise from top left: Rich Baez, David Bosso, Chris Poulos, and Sheena Graham are among the educators featured at teachersofconnecticut.org .

of Connecticut will help teachers feel not only seen and heard but also appreciated. “This is a field where you don’t always hear a thank-you,” she says. “You don’t always see the seed you plant bloom. This might be a way of touching so many educators out there who deserve more recognition and appreciation for the incredible work they do.”

voice in traditional classrooms became more outspoken through technology.

Learn more at teachersofconnecticut.org .

much noise out there on so many different channels, they sometimes feel as if their voices are getting lost in the mix. So that’s what this is: simply a platform for them to tell their stories, unfiltered, in their own words.” Dalio traces her support of

Like most of her colleagues, Graham is overjoyed to be teaching fully in person this fall. She also believes that the last two years might have taken less of a toll if more decisions were made in consultation with teachers—the professionals at

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