Social worker Dawn Lloyd-Matthews (photo), an 18-year member of the Sayville Teachers Association and this year’s NYSUT Health Care Professional of the Year, shared wisdom with her colleagues at the forum.
Lloyd-Matthews said that, as the first black person to be hired in her district, she had a difficult time on the job, working with some parents who would not allow her to see their children, and being called derogatory names.
It took time and effort, but she slowly turned the tide.
“It was still a matter of me saying: ‘What can I do differently?’” she recalled. “I went to every (school) event,” sporting events and school orientation.
“They accept who I am. I’m different from them,” she said.
Lloyd-Matthews also got involved in her union as a building representative. Since then, she’s been executive vice president, grievance coordinator and member of the union’s negotiating team. She is also a convention delegate to NYSUT and the American Federation of Teachers.
As professionals, she said, it is good to remember to “use your strength to make an impact,” and be courageous enough to work on improving yourself.
Lloyd-Matthews confided that she has trouble smiling. But, as a social worker spending her days with students and striving to gain their trust, she was faced with the realization that people thought she was mean. So she began moving her face into a smile more often.
Whether it is a facial expression or a tone of voice answering a phone call, “How we represent ourselves those first few minutes can win or lose someone’s respect,” she said.
In a smile-filled presentation at the podium, Lloyd-Matthews encouraged colleagues to always try to communicate with students and parents face to face, and to be aware that email and text communications can easily be misinterpreted. Content, grammar and spelling should always be checked, even for quick messages. Social media requires much scrutiny and care. “It can harm you and your profession,” she warned.
Lloyd-Matthews works with at-risk middle school students referred for social, emotional and/or behavioral reasons. She provides individual, group and family crisis intervention; coordinates community outreach programs; and assists children and families on matters dealing with abuse, neglect and homelessness.
Like her colleagues as the forum, she says, “We provide patient-centered care in a complex system.”