Uninterrupted Support in an Interrupted Semester

This is Part 1 of an article by Hannah Reeder and Betsy Rosenbalm of Appalachian State University in which they share how they had to pivot student teaching and new teacher preparation during the spring 2020 semester as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teacher is helping one of her primary school students in the classroom. They are sitting at a table using a digital tablet.

When schools suddenly closed in March of 2020, student teachers and beginning teachers quickly shifted their newly learned pedagogical skills to deliver instruction and grow professionally almost solely by virtual means. The Office of Field Experiences and the Public School Partnership in the Reich College of Education at Appalachian State University supplied an uninterrupted flow of resources, professional development, and interaction with professional educators in the field.  This shifted from pivoting out of necessity to attempting to disrupt the status quo.  We were quickly introduced to “our new normal”!

Appalachian State University has18 teacher education programs and produces about 450-500 teachers each year. During the student teaching semester, teacher candidates are placed in 45 districts across the state of North Carolina and supervision is conducted by 30-40 part-time University Field Supervisors.

The Public School Partnership provides support, professional development, and resources to 12 school districts in the northwest region of North Carolina. The NC New Teacher Support Program is housed in the Public School Partnership. This program provides weekly coaching and regular professional development to teachers in their first, second, or third years of teaching in those same districts within our area of the state. 

The Office of Field Experiences: Student Teaching

When schools closed in March 2020 due to COVID-19, student teachers found themselves learning how to teach through virtual environments.  Without the traditional brick and mortar classroom, transitioning from a “student of teaching” to a “teacher of students” became more challenging.  In an effort to provide ongoing support and continuity for student teachers in their liminal space of life, a series of virtual panels were developed.

First, we hosted a panel of first-year teachers, which allowed student teachers to hear first-hand from beginning teachers about their experiences. Then, we facilitated three professional panels to connect student teachers to district personnel to learn about the job search process. Finally, an EC webinar was hosted by an EC director from one of our partnering districts to discuss the relationship between general education teachers and special education teachers.

The Office of Field Experiences also co-hosted a virtual career fair with the University’s Career Development Center.  During the career fair, student teachers were required to network with at least five school districts.  The virtual fair proved to be very successful and we received excellent feedback from both students and employers.

Student teachers were also encouraged to participate in additional professional development opportunities to supplement the work they were doing in their virtual classrooms. 

The Public School Partnership and NC New Teacher Support 

The Public School Partnership has shifted its focus from in-person celebrations and professional development opportunities to virtual options, and we have found that we have more exposure, better attendance, and more engagement from not just our surrounding counties, but from all over the state. Some of the events that had to be shifted just this summer were the NBCTApps Support Group in which National Board Certified App State Alumni now provide virtual mentoring and monthly professional development for candidates going through the National Board process. We also shifted our celebration of being the #1 university in the nation for National Board Certified Alumni. This celebration became a comprehensive, collaborative video that compiled congratulatory remarks and testimonials from App State leaders, the National Board President/CEO, and award-winning alumni.

The North Carolina New Teacher Support Program also experienced a shift to virtual coaching and collaborating.  Typically, when the instructional coaches step into classrooms for coaching sessions, they often feel like they are stepping into a multifaceted classroom in which teachers are hard at work with tasks of planning, instructing, assessing, and managing their classrooms. Coaching sessions can often be an additional task or a small part of a larger list of things a teacher is trying to balance at one time. The switch to Zoom coaching sessions in which teachers are in concentrated professional learning communities has led to more focused and productive conversations around specific topics and resources. These virtual meetings have allowed guest professors, presenters, and coaches to focus on the tasks at hand, eliminating the sidebar conversations and rabbit trails that often discourage busy educators and create more work or frustration for participants. Our professional development sessions, panels, and discussions have seemingly produced a more effective and efficient workflow in which our time online together has been purposeful and productive. These results are beneficial to our stakeholders, who are juggling teaching, learning, and taking care of personal needs in the home.

Hannah Reeder is director of clinical education and Betsy Rosenbalm is director of the Public School Partnership at Reich College of Education, Appalachian State University.

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