By Elisabeth Yucis
On a typical pre-COVID day in the NJEA Professional Development and Instructional Issues (PDII) Division, the office buzzed with the sounds of collaboration. Phones rang, copiers chugged along, Outlook notifications chimed, dry erase markers squeaked, and warm greetings were exchanged. Until March 13, our offices on the third floor of NJEA headquarters in Trenton were a place of teamwork and laughter.
Now teamwork has morphed into “quaran-teaming” over the past few weeks. You might be wondering how the PDII Division has responded to the COVID-19 crisis. Here’s a peek at how our work has shifted, thanks to a bit of creativity and some fearless leadership.
School building closures have brought new opportunities for engagement as we continue providing meaningful professional development for members. With the support of our associate staff and our many talented PD consultants and Digital Boulevard partners, we offer a full calendar of virtual events to keep all our members learning, including our educational support professional (ESP) members.
One notable new partnership with the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) and WNET/NJTV is “New Jersey Learning Live.” This daily weekday show, airing from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., brings televised enrichment lessons into children’s homes. The lessons are taught by New Jersey public school teachers, and the program is hosted by New Jersey Teacher of the Year Kimberly Dickstein Hughes.
Along with supporting our members as they transition to a remote learning environment, we have also strengthened partnerships with UniServ reps and consultants as they advocate for members and local associations in this unprecedented work environment. PDII Division staff work with teams in the Northeast, Northwest, Central and South zones to ensure continued member advocacy. Our associate staff, at HQ and in regional offices, has seamlessly handled all the logistics of planning and communication.
The thread of member advocacy reaches all the way to the NJDOE, with whom we have been communicating about the COVID-19 crisis since early March. Our thorough and nuanced understanding of how policy impacts the daily work of members and their students has benefited us in advocating for the successful cancellation of statewide assessment—including the graduation portfolio—and in recommending actions that the commissioner can take that will benefit members and students, including those in special education classrooms.
Equity is a major focal point that permeates our work, and our Priority Schools Initiative (PSI) embodies this value. In the current crisis, the work of our PSI consultants has expanded: from conducting wellness check-ins to facilitating grade-level meetings, the PSI team ensures that these students and teachers are given the supports they need.
Educators across the state understand the significant need to continue advocating for a trauma-informed approach to all the work that we do. We’ve made sure to keep our website updated with important mental health resources for members. Likewise, social justice and anti-racism are embedded throughout our continued service. We are working to build on our existing partnerships to share anti-racist, equity-informed education resources.
A global pandemic can’t stop Teacher Leader Academy, in its inaugural year, from remaining fully operational. This program has been reworked for a virtual learning environment, including conducting performance assessments via WebEx. The consultants and candidates participating in TLA can’t wait to be together again.
School building closures have brought new opportunities for engagement as we continue providing meaningful professional development for members.
Similarly, our flagship events won’t be stopped. Although our spring events have been cancelled altogether, planning for the inaugural RISE conference this summer and the NJEA Convention this fall is proceeding, with the added task of creating parallel plans if it becomes necessary for these events to take place virtually. This includes providing presenters with resources they would need to adapt their sessions to a virtual format. Our associate staff has risen to the occasion in doing double duty with creating detailed backup plans and ensuring that all details are covered.
When I joined the PDII Division in early February, I had no way of knowing that in five short weeks, I’d be saying goodbye to my Trenton commute and beginning a new phase of NJEA’s work. Nevertheless, we persist in this “new normal” and we look forward to the day when we can be together again.
Elisabeth Yucis is an associate director in the NJEA Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division