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Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance: Even in a Pandemic

In Part 1 of this article, the authors talk 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 their spring semester.

business, education, people and office concept - businesswoman or teacher in suit pointing finger up from backMany years ago, during a class on educational administration in my [Megan Reister] master’s program, a guest speaker shared an inspirational mantra he lived by as principal of a large elementary school.  He shared the quote, “Prior planning prevents poor performance!” and then went on to explain how he incorporated intentional planning, thoughtful conversations, and open communication with colleagues and staff at his school to create an atmosphere of intentionality and accountability within and outside the classrooms. 

As a professor of special education and early childhood education in Ohio, that expression came to mind more than once as I experienced the tumultuous second half of a semester that no one could have predicted or planned for thanks to COVID-19 in Spring 2020.  No one could have prepared for what occurred—schools closing, moving to remote teaching, working full-time from home while also managing children at home full-time without the usual supports. One could hardly be faulted for poor performance no matter how much planning happened on the fly. I could only shake my head as I thought back on that statement about planning and performance that made such an impact in my early years of teaching in early March when the news broke that the university was taking a week to figure out how to move to online teaching for the next month and then again, once plans were changed and it was determined the whole spring semester would be moved to online learning.

While plans were changing from day-to-day, a completely unexpected windfall came out of this pandemic: an amazing professional development opportunity for preservice teachers evolved and was graciously shared as a direct result of quick new planning in the moment to still attempt to prevent poor performance. 

This professional development through a professional learning community started with a post by Heather Olson Beal, a professor of secondary education in Texas, in a closed group on social media on March 16 in which she asked for help from anyone—whether professionally or personally, as a parent—with expertise in community engagement, community-based teaching, or engaging with families to talk with students needing to complete field hours for course and certification requirements.

A handful of women excitedly responded to her request as we were eager to pitch in and help as needed by collaborating and pooling resources, recognizing that, despite moving to virtual teaching, including guest speakers in our coursework would be beneficial. Guest speakers with expertise within their discipline add credibility to coursework and provide students with real-world examples to supplement their coursework and enhance their learning (McClearly & Weaver, 2009). What better way to learn about the real work done by educators than by hearing directly from the educators themselves (Easton, 2008)?  In addition, several of the participants, despite being academics, spoke from their experiences as parents, demonstrating that parents are important sources of expertise about the school system, underlining the principles of the special programs that preservice educators are completing at their respective universities and colleges (Goodall & Montgomery, 2014). While COVID-19 was and continues to be stressful and troubling for so many reasons, the expansion of online teaching it brought about presented an opportunity for us that likely would not have occurred otherwise.

What unfolded over the next month was an amazing collaboration that led to professional development for preservice and in-service teachers not only in Texas and Ohio but elsewhere. This exciting new collaboration among special and general education faculty and staff spanned several universities, a natural science museum, a 4-H County Extension office, and an elementary school. The women who led the professional development sessions came from the following institutions: Stephen F. Austin State University (SFASU), University of Ottawa, University of South Carolina School of Medicine, Franciscan University of Steubenville, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at Whiteville, the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and San Francisco Unified School District.  In addition, two in-service teachers who are also graduate students at SFASU and an SFASU alumna who is now a middle school orchestra director delivered sessions.

Tracy Ensor, a graduate student and Nebraska Extension staff member who presented about partnering with community organizations within the classroom, said, “… this whole experience of collaborating with colleagues from across the country has shown me how worthwhile long-distance virtual collaboration can be. I gained much from the discussions and working with this group of women.”

Emily Regan Wills, a professor at the University of Ottawa, Canada who presented based on her experience as chair of a school council (similar to a PTA) at a progressive public elementary school, said, “Although there’s a lot about the regulatory environment and core social practices that influences what makes Churchill [Alternative School] possible, it was great to give ideas to preservice and in-service teachers about what might be possible for their own teaching careers in terms of building relationships with parents and their organizations.”

Mary Ellen Cashen, an assistant principal at an elementary school in San Francisco, presented on preparing for and attending an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting and the roles of members of the IEP team. “It was great to chat with preservice teachers about [the IEP process] and discuss how the transition to emergency distance learning meant that we were collaborating and holding IEP meetings in a whole new way,” said Cashen.

Shelby Gull Laird is the head of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at Whiteville, and presented as a parent with her daughter, Patricia, who has dyslexia. They discussed the challenges students with dyslexia were facing as schools transitioned to the online environment. She noted, “Patricia and I wanted them to understand that reading-based materials sent home might take double the time for students with learning differences to complete, and we were excited that the students had so many relevant questions.”

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article on Monday, February 8.

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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