Professional development in Mercer County

By Dawn Howlen 

When NJEA members walk into a professional development (PD) workshop at the Mercer County Education Association (MCEA), they may be unaware of everyone responsible for making the session possible. MCEA President Dan Siegel says the association begins its PD planning process in the spring when MCEA executive board and committee chairs meet.  

The meetings also include staff from the UniServ and Professional Development and Instructional Issues divisions of NJEA. They determine a budget for the upcoming year using the previous year’s workshop data. This approach allows them to offer various workshops to their diverse educator community.  

Once spring planning is complete, MCEA looks ahead to the summer. During this time, the association compiles a master registration form distributed to members electronically as a part of Mercergram, the county association’s newsletter. This gives members enough time to plan for future sessions and coordinate their schedules accordingly.  

Workshop catalog online 

This past summer, MCEA used this information to create a new platform for its members: a workshop catalog that can be viewed online. This tool allows members to browse the workshops and read the descriptions before registering.  

The registration process in Mercer County has a twist. Members are required to send a check to hold their spot for workshops. When members attend the workshops, they get their checks back. This has reduced member cancelations. Siegel also highlighted the importance of working closely with the local leadership within his county. He acknowledges that when local presidents share the county information via their platforms, it helps support the participation at the county office.  

MCEA’s committee chairs, officers and Executive Assistant Iris Tonti work together to ensure members have a pleasant experience. There is always a variety of food, drinks, snacks, and desserts from local establishments. In addition, using NJEA county association PD grants, they also have secured the latest technology in Chromebooks and Smart TVs, which benefits members and presenters. 

Local association PD in Mercer County 

Mercer County also has two locals that plan yearly professional development opportunities for their members, the Trenton Education Association (TEA), and the East Windsor Education Association (EWEA). These locals use virtual workshops as their primary platform, which has helped maintain higher attendance levels.  

One of the tools EWEA uses to address the needs of its members is surveying them about their PD interests and giving them a $5 Dunkin gift card after each workshop. EWEA President Ellen Ogintz and Professional Development Chair Vanessa Rosa agree that communication is key. They send out multiple friendly reminders that highlight the PD of the month. 

TEA uses a variety of strategies to engage its members. Each year, TEA surveys its members to determine their PD wants and needs. This, along with visits to individual buildings, allows TEA to recognize trends in issues across the district.  

TEA shares a full schedule of workshops with members so they can make room for them in their schedules. Once members preregister with TEA, they are sent the link to register with NJEA. TEA 1st Vice President Kathy Graf also checks in with a staff member in the NJEA PDII Division to ensure the members have registered on the NJEA Zoom account.  

TEA also offers its members the National Education Association Blended Learning Program, which is designed to enhance collaborative professional learning. TEA was one of the first locals in the state to institute this program for its members and the opportunity has proven to be successful in helping the participants learn about relevant topics, such as how to support English language learners.  

Dawn Howlen is an associate director in the NJEA Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division. She can be reached at