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Member & Activist Spotlight

'I want to make sure our students have a voice'

Gina Harris is a Culture and Climate Coach in Oak Park, Illinois
Gina Harris Moses Mitchell
Published: September 8, 2023

My somewhat unexpected career in education also has led me to a very rewarding role with my union, and I love having an impact on the lives of my students and more broadly on education and the inspired work my great colleagues do.

My family was a union family, and I knew I’d be involved and became active early in my career. I loved the idea of educators working together and having a unified voice around the important issues facing education. I loved the advocacy for important political decisions.

But I also am lucky that my union supports the type of work I do as a culture and climate coach -- work I feel strongly about for the educators and students in my school. It means the priorities for me at my school dovetail with opportunities I have as a leader in the union.

Issues of inclusion and diversity are important to me, and I advocate for them at my middle school in Oak Park, Illinois. I found in the union there were avenues for me to learn about paths forward for those issues and connect with others for whom they are important.

I also am very happy to know the development of social emotional learning is a priority for NEA and my state affiliate. I am a longtime teacher of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness and, in schools, a firm believer in SEL and restorative practices. I think school leaders and educators should recognize their importance and give them the attention in school they deserve.

Beyond that I have three primary issues I feel passionate about and want to address in my work with the union.

I want to pursue efforts to make certain that everyone’s voice is heard and valued. This union is our organization to support and represent us regardless of skin color, zip code, gender identity or sexual orientation. Our union does a good job of addressing these issues – it was one thing that drove me to be involved.

I also believe that we need to improve labor relations and the ways we work with the management of our schools. I would love to help cultivate an environment where we understand we are not adversaries, and both should have the same goal – a better learning environment for our children.

And, finally, I’d want to make sure our students have a voice – in the classroom and in the formation of policies at the district and the state level. It is so important for teachers to understand that they can learn a lot from their students about their teaching and material and important for policymakers to understand that it is valuable to have insight from the people who their decisions will affect most.

I feel very fortunate to have a job where I can address issues of school culture and climate and help students, teachers, administrators, and other staff members find new ways to make sure everyone feels welcome in our schools and is given the best environment in which to learn.

But beyond that, I am really lucky to be part of an organization in my union that is addressing many of the same issues I work on each day and is open to improving how these ideas are addressed.

National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.