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Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance: Even in a Pandemic

In Part 1 of this article, the authors talked about how as teacher preparation program professors in different areas of the United States, they managed to still provide valuable, worthwhile, and innovative professional development for their preservice educators and graduate students who are in-service teachers, despite the myriad ways in which COVID-19 derailed the spring semester.

In Part 2, the authors share the feedback from their students who participated in the virtual professional development.

We, six collaborators, banded together to provide professional development for pre- and in-service teachers’ professional learning experiences during their transition to emergency remote teaching (Hodges et al., 2020) through a self-initiated professional learning community (SIPLC) (Pinnegar & Hamilton, 2009). Adopting this widely practiced research method among teacher educators (Hamilton & Pinnegar, 2013), the collaboration aimed to deepen the understanding of preservice and in-service teachers’ experiences in the SIPLC as they transitioned to remote teaching under the pandemic (DuFour & Eaker, 1998; Song et al., 2020) using Zoom recordings.

After each professional development session, the Zoom recording links were sent to each contributing guest speaker to share with their students. Student evaluation comments revealed how much they enjoyed learning from the online webinars and that they had grown in knowledge after hearing about a particular topic from an expert.  For example, some students in a rural area in Texas—a right-to-work state—were shocked to hear about a teacher strike from a professor and teacher in Canada and to hear about the ways in which school climates differed from Texas to Ohio to California to Canada. 

As professors, we recognize that nothing can truly replace an in-person guest speaker and meeting face-to face-but the professional development we created by sharing our time and talents with one another through the virtual guest speakers was still of high quality and appreciated by our students. The student feedback supported the fact that meaningful relevant teachable moments make an impact and remain with our students long after they have left the classroom. The student quotes below illustrate how impactful the professional development sessions were.

One student who participated in the professional development session led by a Stephen F. Austin State University alumna regarding trauma-informed parenting wrote in a concluding reflection, “I learned that occupational therapy helps with stress (fight/flight/freeze).  Not many people know how to handle kids with trauma.  … It is important for educators to be informed on this and work alongside parents instead of thinking they know more than the parent.”

Another student, after participating in the professional development focusing on collaboration between special education teachers and parents of students receiving special education services, wrote, “A takeaway I had in regard to a teacher being in the child’s microsystem was to be sure that my relationship with the child’s parents was appropriate and healthy. I also learned that there is more to being culturally responsive than simply knowing and being aware that there are different cultures, but actively representing their beliefs in the classroom.”

The view of a different student from the same session as listed above said, “It is important to be there for other preservice educators and help them if they are struggling. I think that during a time like this it would be important to not overload students with work either. They are probably stressed out enough that they will not be able to get the proper teaching they need so it will be hard for them to figure things out on their own.”

A student in the first class within the certification course at her university attended the session with Shelby Laird and her daughter, Patricia, about challenges completing schoolwork during COVID-19.  The student wrote, “Dr. Laird and her daughter talked about the definition of dyslexia and common accommodations at school that are given to students. Patricia read a 5th grade passage about pseudo scorpions to demonstrate that people with dyslexia take a longer time to read a passage than people without it, which is why they need extra time for assessments. They discussed how some schools have reading support for students with dyslexia during school hours, but some schools do not … This way many people are unable to get extra reading help for their children because it can be costly or not available in the area.”

Another student who attended the session regarding dyslexia and accommodations during COVID-19 said, “The presenters are experts because one is a professor … and she is also the mother of a girl with dyslexia. As a parent, she helps her daughter a lot with her schoolwork, which makes her an expert on the topic”.

After listening to the session that reviewed Individualized Education Plans (IEP), a preservice teacher who will be student teaching next semester shared, “After watching the session, it reinforced what I learned previously about all the teachers and individuals who need to be present at the IEP meeting. I also learned before that the student can be present if they are old enough. I found it helpful to learn that general education teachers should know the needs, goals, and information about their student that is provided in the IEP before the first day of school even if it will require more effort or work on the part of the general education teacher, which is what I’m going to be.”

As some of the takeaway points that were shared by the above student comments reveal, it does take effort to collaborate, through the use of technology, and a variety of support strategies, but it is so worth it when the needs of the students are being met and, on the professors’ end, efforts yield high-quality professional development (Vacca et al., 2014) for pre- and in-service educators. 

Through exposing our students to current, relevant material in this way, we were able to see how they are learning in concrete ways as we observed them explaining something in their own words, asking questions of the guest speakers, making connections, recreating (rather than reproducing) information they have synthesized and learned from the guest speakers, justifying their decisions, explaining their thinking through talking with one another through the classroom communities we cultivated in our teaching, having the pre-service teachers actually do something with the information, reflecting on the content that is shared with them, re-drafting, revising, and re-thinking about the information, as well as offering analogies and metaphors of their own on the content while processing the information presented to them (Webb, 2017) in relationship to their learning. 

We were also modeling several behaviors that we hope our students will do when they become teachers themselves, including professional collaboration, networking, and leveraging available resources. We hope that in future semesters, we can continue to develop this professional collaboration that grew out of wanting to help one another through a simple request made via social media. We may even want to continue this online collaboration in the future when we return to face-to-face classes.

Indeed, prior (or maybe current) planning does prevent poor performance—pandemic or no pandemic, and we are grateful for this community of scholars who was willing to step up and fill in the gap when needed. May our future teachers take note and rise to the challenge when they, too, are faced with the unexpected to meet the needs of their future students!

Authors include Megan Reister, Franciscan University of Steubenville; Heather K. Olson Beal, Stephen F. Austin State University; Tracy Ensor, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Emily Regan Wills, University of Ottawa; Mary Ellen Cashen, San Francisco Unified School District; and Shelby Gull Laird, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at Whiteville.

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