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Educator Preparation During COVID-19: Lessons Learned for Fall

Online Teaching

This article originally appeared on the EdPepLab blog and is reprinted with permission.

As U.S. schools closed their doors this past spring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a little-considered effect was the impact of school closures on the preparation of the next generation of educators. Teacher and leader candidates all over the country had their field experiences abruptly cut short, and educator preparation programs (EPPs)—in partnership with school districts and state education agencies—had to adapt quickly to ensure candidates continued to receive high-quality preparation and were able to complete their licensure requirements.

As districts begin to enact school opening plans, EPPs are building off of lessons learned from the spring as they engage candidates in equity-centered, deeper learning preparation. LPI has been in discussion with members of EdPrepLab—a network of programs working to continuously improve and share their practices—to better understand how they’re responding to this unusual time. Three themes have emerged as guiding their strategy and practices moving forward:

  • Focusing on core program strengths
  • Shifting from crisis mode toward innovation
  • Capitalizing on innovations to strengthen educator preparation after COVID-19

Stay Focused on the North Star

EdPrepLab programs are staying true to their values and their high standards of educator preparation, using these to guide practice, despite the uncertainties of these times. These core values—including equity, humility, compassion, community, and service—have been their north star, grounding their work in the COVID-19 context, as programs have been charged with simultaneously meeting the needs of current candidates and planning for future cohorts.

Depending on the context, candidates continue to work with cooperating teachers, supporting lesson planning and implementation. They’re also taking on new roles such as working with small groups of students through remote settings, bringing knowledge of technology to bear in supporting virtual instruction, and making unique contributions even as they are learning and adapting to the new environment.

Ira Lit, director of the Stanford University Elementary Teacher Preparation Program, reflected, “We can’t jettison all of our professional knowledge and expertise because the context has changed. We’re figuring out ways to retool, to meet the moments, to be creative and innovative. We need to rely on principles of effective practice, our core mission and our core values, and the aspirations we have for our candidates, for educators in the field, and for the students, families, and communities that they serve.”

Thus, student-teachers at Stanford have been working with faculty and their cooperating teachers during virtual learning to sustain strong relationships with families—a core principle of the program and foundational to culturally responsive teaching. Candidates role-play having conversations with family members in their online seminar course. They discuss the multiple ways to stay connected with families during the pandemic (including supporting technologies such as language translation apps), stressing the need for communication to focus on the social-emotional well-being of the student and families, as well as academic development.

A common theme heard from EdPrepLab members is that strong relationships are central to how they engage in preparation—relationships they have nurtured with current candidates, their pre-k–12 district partners, and families and communities. The programs have invested time and attention to foster authentic, reciprocal relationships with their partner districts. The trust at the center of these relationships enables programs to continue to support teacher and leader preparation, even with school closures and the likelihood of hybrid schooling models this fall.

Program leaders described how they have leaned into their deeper learning and equity pedagogies and are adapting them to our new reality. Some ways they are doing this are:

  • Providing online viewing and analysis of teaching videos, unit and lesson plans, and student work that candidates continue to engage in their courses and, for those who are student-teaching, with their cooperating teachers during distance learning
  • Revising courses that relied heavily on being physically in schools and communities to include virtual tours of schools and classrooms; meeting community members virtually and learning about neighborhood cultures and assets; and utilizing Google World to explore students’ communities
  • Offering new virtual courses and sessions on teaching online and critical pedagogies for virtual teaching and learning
  • Connecting candidates to communities in new ways, such as supporting district food distribution (which can be counted toward clinical hours due to the new flexibility states are giving EPPs)
  • Revising performance assessments to better fit online reflection and learning
  • Exploring innovative pedagogies and assessments, such as student photo journal essays, websites, and online video art
  • Modeling trauma-informed practices through meditation, affinity groups, and critical resilience practices
  • Tapping alumni who are now teaching and leading online to be guest speakers at seminars and workshops for prospective teachers

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