By Dr. Dawn A. Nichol-Manning, president of the East Orange Education Association

In my district on March 16, 2020 teachers came in for remote-learning training and then were told to venture out in virtual instruction. I was called into a leadership meeting prior to be informed of the mandates from our governor and district. My major concern was about the health and well-being of my members and students; I never questioned the ability of my members being able to fulfill their duties in the roles they had been professionally assigned.

As the first week rolled out, many questions came in about scheduling, attendance, grades, evaluations, and meetings. The concerns were focused on being informed in order to keep the needs of the students at the forefront during this pandemic. Instruction and the emotional well-being of students were the priority of conversations held amongst colleagues.

Weeks 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 gradually approached, as being socially distant became the norm. I never would have thought as a professional educator that I would have to lead my colleagues in remaining focused and calm during a pandemic. This still all seems surreal. I also ponder the fact that I recently became president of my local association. I leaned on the strength of my members. I have made sure to send messages to encourage and uplift them. I continue to let them know that I am with and for them. I send updates on state regulations, state board of education information, and district instructions.

I’ve learned so much over the last several weeks. Staying in touch and making myself available to my executive board, representative council, and membership remain the center of my attention. I am so appreciative of NJEA and the support it has given to ensure that our local associations remain strong: offering webcasts, conference calls, and professional development.

I cannot forget to mention that NJEA President Marie Blistan really means it when she says call if you need me. Marie was there when I became overwhelmed and quickly assisted me and eased my temperament.

I was also given the opportunity to lead prayer with members throughout NJ with NJEA Members of Color. This has given me a greater appreciation of NJEA because it expressed that my whole being was of a concern while dealing with this pandemic.

During this trying time, I have realized that leadership requires one to be of great service to assist others. This pandemic has shown me the importance of keeping people encouraged and inspired. Educators are essential. The work they put in is immeasurable and priceless. They are deserving of leadership that is dependable and uplifting. I am graciously proud to serve as the president of the East Orange Education Association and to be a part of NJEA.

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