AACTE Board Members Share Advice on Coronavirus Response
AACTE Responds to Coronavirus
In recent interviews, AACTE Director of Marketing and Communications Jerrica Thurman met with six members of the AACTE Board of Directors to discuss how they are managing their university’s response to COVID-19. The interview participants were Patricia Alvarez-McHatton, Marquita Grenot-Scheyer, Robert Floden, Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson, Carine Feyten, and Monika Shealey.
All participants were asked, what words of advice or lessons learned would you share with other university leaders or college deans about what you have experienced so far in your crisis response planning for the coronavirus? Here’s what they had to say:
Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley
“We have our academic affairs leadership team in which we bring all the chairs, directors, and deans together on a monthly basis. It just so happened, fortuitously, that our March meeting was scheduled prior to when this all began. We placed participants in heterogeneous groups and had them respond to five guiding questions about things to think about should this situation materialize as it has. I think it brought people together. It generated an awakening and understanding of the things that we need to think about. We were able to learn from each other. It became clear that first and foremost we need to empower and have faith in our faculty’s ability to do what needs to be done.
At a time when people want to get behind closed doors in their houses, it’s a time when we really need to come together and be there for each other. It’s really going to be important for us to support each other as we get through this. Yes, it’s a serious situation. But we need to put it in perspective and approach it from a calm manner so that we are better able to assess the situation, identify opportunities and barriers, hurdles, or unintended consequences of the decisions that are made and move forward such that students, faculty, and staff are able to continue the important work they do and are valued and celebrated for their efforts.”
Assistant Vice Chancellor, Educator Preparation
California State University, Office of the Chancellor Grande Valley
“People have really pulled together and there’s a sense of community and care that is clearly obvious on our campuses. If there’s any silver lining at all, that’s the one. The big challenge is that things are changing so very rapidly. And the other part of that challenge is that we need to plan for now, summer, and the fall. It’s both short-term crisis planning and long-term planning. If in fact the COVID-19 virus is still with us over the summer and the fall, we’re already starting to think about, what we need to do for our students who will return to us in the fall. Are we going to remain in alternative modes of instruction? That’s the challenge as we move forward in this unprecedented situation.”
Dean and University Distinguished Professor
Michigan State University
“I would say that in terms of being prepared, I’m just glad this happened now instead of five years ago. We would not be nearly as well prepared to provide online instruction and interactions five years ago as we are now. Our university already provides a lot of instruction online so we can move other things online using what we’ve learned there. We are providing our faculty resources to help them move courses online, both the technological resources, making them aware of what’s available at the university as well as advice on offering online instruction and hosting online meetings. The advice on hosting meetings online, for example, addresses topics such as ways to make a meeting productive when you’re meeting with a group of people online to make sure that everybody’s voice is heard, and thinking about a meeting’s goals as you set up the rules for the meeting, so that you have a productive meeting.”
Dale- Elizabeth Pehrsson
Clarion University of Pennsylvania
“I think the first thing is leadership matters. If you have a ‘we can get through this’ calm response and attitude, a constantly reassuring method of the way you approach people in your demeanor, then that’s really important because people will look to you for safety. The second thing is stay connected with your peers internationally and mostly nationally, statewide, and locally so that you get information as it comes out in real time. This is a rapidly moving thing. You have to keep in touch. The third thing would be making sure there’s a way to check in that’s easy and not cumbersome. There was such a flood of emails coming in for everybody with so much information [that it became overwhelming]. We went to a joint text so the leadership team could connect immediately if there was a hot button issue that we needed to address. Make sure you don’t have a lot of complicated stuff, keep it simple.
I think the fourth thing for leadership is it’s important to model the behavior you want people to do. Our students here on campus are very friendly and lovable. I had one young man come up to me and he started to hug me. I just put my hand up and said, ‘I care for you. This is a hug I’m sending your way, but I got to protect you.’ When I said, ‘I got to protect you rather than I got to protect me,’ he got it. Finally, the last thing is AACTE, all colleges of education, and K-12 schools are primarily educators first. That’s what we must continue to do. This is a time to educate people about health.”
Texas Woman’s University
“I think the key has been making sure that we are ready, and not just jumping into a solution. It’s important to ensure everybody is prepared for what it takes so that we can successfully implement new directions in a way that student learning is not negatively impacted. The other thing I would say is the importance of focusing beyond the challenges to one’s personal health. Many people have been concerned about what to do for social distancing, et cetera, but all this is very much focused internally and can cause a lot of stress. Something that I think is really important and helpful is to focus on what we can do to help others on campus. What can we do to create more communication channels so that people find out what other people on campus are doing? How are they handling these challenges? What are they doing creatively or what are they facing? It builds empathy and connection among the university community, which I think is really important.”
Senior Vice President, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
“I would say that you have to make sure that you are developing a plan that includes as many voices in your community as possible on your team. When we first heard about the possibility of extending spring break, we got on the ball to start developing a plan. What does that look like for our area? What does that look like for Title IX, for Title VI? How can we make sure that our students have a space to connect with us if they experience any kind of bias and harassment? We developed a plan early and one for each of our areas. We made sure that we thought about how services, resources, and programs translate to a virtual space.
The other lesson learned is to remain positive. I know it’s difficult sometimes in the face of a pandemic but it’s important to have someone in the room who is reminding us to breathe, to take it step by step. Someone telling us we are all working hard and any mistakes are not malicious. We’re just trying to learn how to navigate in this new space. I think you have to have people in the room who can do that and keep the team focused. Finally, make sure that you develop mechanisms to communicate with students, to reassure students, particularly in the educator preparation space. You want to be tightly connected to P-12 schools, making sure that you’re sharing information and that you’re working closely with them to make sure that you’re a resource to the schools as well, not just there to think about how does this impact our teacher candidates. Seek opportunities to help others navigate this new norm.”
Stay tuned for more coronavirus responses from AACTE member leaders, available in the “Member Voices” section on the new AACTE COVID-19 Resource Hub webpage.