One year ago, everything came to a screeching halt. It became clear that the pandemic had arrived in the U.S., with New Jersey experiencing one of the early outbreaks. Staying safe meant staying home. At NJEA, this meant canceling all of our events—meetings, conferences, professional development—all of them were put on hold for the safety of members. This posed special challenges for us as a union. Our style of organizing has always been in person through intentional gatherings, conversations of meals, handshakes and hugs.
Professional Development was especially hard hit. County and local affiliates typically organize more than 200 learning opportunities for members each year. These learning demands skyrocketed as schools abruptly transitioned to a fully remote teaching. NJEA had never offered a webinar before but we decided to give it a shot. With less than one week’s notice, 163 people joined that first event in late March. NJEA Learning was born.
What Is NJEA Learning?
NJEA Learning is the new home of all things professional development. There members can find upcoming workshops on a wide diversity of topics—online pedagogy, equity and inclusion, educational support professional needs, the NJEA R.E.A.L. Movement, health and safety, technology tools, and so much more. The workshops are organized in the “Upcoming Events” tab where members can search for topics and add events to personal calendars. Members may also subscribe to email notifications for upcoming events through the “About” tab. Attendees will have certificates of attendance added directly to their NJEA PD transcripts. (njea.org/transcript)
NJEA Learning also has a growing resource tab where members and leaders can find advocacy tools, such as our interactive video on evaluation changes and advisories, resources for helping parents, and classroom tools. Previously recorded sessions can be found under the “Session Recordings” tab.
Learning our way through it
As we launched NJEA Learning, one of the first things we learned was that we were no longer limited by geography and room capacity. In a typical year, members would have access to approximately 10 to 20 workshops a year offered by their county or local association. Now, members from across the state could attend any workshop. By the middle of April 2019, we were offering daily workshops on NJEA Learning on a wide range of topics—169 to date.
We were able to partner with several organizations to diversify our offerings with a wide range of topics including pedagogy, equity and inclusion, health and safety, arts integration, and educational technology. Realizing that parents were also struggling with the transition to remote and hybrid schooling, participants in the NJEA Teacher Leader Academy began offering workshops and resources to them as well through the site. The events calendar grew to also include member-interest events such as Degrees, Not Debt and health care workshops offered by other NJEA Divisions.
As hard as the pandemic has been on all of us, it has taught some positive lessons. In a post-COVID future, NJEA Learning will persist and evolve. Attending professional development in person will remain the gold standard for us, but NJEA Learning will help overcome in person limitations. It will be a place for highly popular workshops, such as our partnership with The Reading and Writing Project, which attracted more than 200 attendees. It will also serve members seeking specialty workshops, overcoming the challenge of small numbers in a specific geography.
NJEA Learning is also poised to become an organizing platform to elevate your work. New Jersey’s county teachers of the year helped develop an example of this with model lessons, such as learning.njea.org/SELebrating-characters.
Whatever the future holds, NJEA Learning will be here to help us learn our way through it.
Mike Ritzius is an associate director in the NJEA Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division. He can be reached at email@example.com.
A sampling of resources at learning.njea.org
Interactive advocacy resources
Parent resources (member created)
NJEA learning stats
Number of workshops: 169 (at time of writing)
Number of attendees: 4,256 (at time of writing)
Site visitors since launch: 26,495
• NJ Work Environment Council (WEC)
• Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice
• Make It Better for Youth
• Garden State Equality
• Arts Ed NJ
• Sustainable Jersey
• The Reading and Writing Project – Teachers College, Columbia
• NJEA Teacher Leader Academy
• Google Certified Teaching – Rich Kiker Learning, LLC