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Post-COVID Classrooms: What Practices Should We Keep?

Lynn BurdickThere is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges in education. At the University of Illinois (U of I) in Urbana-Champaign, we are facing a lot of those challenges. However, I am trying to be the glass-half-full girl by saying there are a few things we have implemented in these past 12 months that I would like to see us put in place to stay.

When this pandemic is behind us, what best practices should we keep?

Technology for Collaboration, Engagement and Assessment

As we gradually move back into face-to-face classrooms, I know many teachers are ready to put the Chromebooks away! However, some teachers are continuing—and will continue—to apply the new technology skills and tools they discovered during online learning as they return to in-person teaching.

There are so many options for collaboration with creative uses of tools like Jamboard, Google Workspace, Padlet, and so many more. Technologies such as these have helped students who might not contribute when everyone is face-to-face actively participate in online activities. Quick online formative assessment tools have also made it easier for teachers to “take the temperature of the room” and make informed instructional decisions based on individual student learning.

For both Pre K-12 and preservice teachers, using these online tools to improve teaching and learning should be a keeper.

Expanded Use of Video for Educator Development

Another use of technology I would like to see continue with our preservice teachers is the expanded use of video.

Video can be utilized a number of ways.

Video Helps Teachers Reflect on Teaching

Prior to the pandemic, we were gradually trying to introduce Edthena as a tool to incorporate the use of video in our teacher preparation courses.

Preservice teacher candidates recorded themselves teaching and then, using The Framework for Teaching and edTPA frameworks, they were able to identify the “grows and glows” of their own teaching and the teaching of their peers. Candidates shared their videos with peers and/or instructors who then added suggestions, questions, strengths or notes to the video through the comment feature.

During the pandemic, more instructors ventured into the arena of video use, and I will continue to lobby for even more instructors to give it a try.

Video Analysis Enhances Course Assignments

In addition to traditional uses, we also saw some creative uses of video in teacher preparation courses. One example was to reassign the colors of each type of comment in Edthena (questions are red, suggestions are green, etc.) to match best practices and what edTPA scorers are looking for.

For instance, any examples of creating a positive learning environment would be tagged in red and examples of engaging students would be green. Lots of red? The preservice teacher is establishing a good learning environment for the students! This strategy creates a great visual of which instructional best practices students are or are not using.

Edthena video screenshot

Some assignments in teacher preparation courses had to be modified to work in an online environment. One such assignment, which required collaboration, screen recording, sharing video, and peer review, had always presented logistics challenges.

However, these challenges were overcome through a simple marriage of Zoom and Edthena. Through a modification of the assignment, preservice teacher candidates were able to collaborate online to create a Google Slides presentation, gather in a Zoom meeting to record the presentation, and then upload the Zoom recording to Edthena. Candidates reflected on their instruction and then shared their presentation for peer comments in an Edthena conversation.

These coursework experiences were designed to develop candidates’ skills for self-reflection within video, a key component of successfully completing the edTPA process for certification within our state. Why would we ever go back? Video is a keeper.

Video Observation Improves and Increases Supervision

The biggest increase in video use during the pandemic came with supervision. Prior to the pandemic, many supervisors hesitated to use video. The technology was a barrier for some, and some held tight to in-person interaction with their candidates. Overall, supervisors mostly used video as part of a remediation plan with candidates who were struggling.

With instruction moving online, health concerns for supervisors, and restrictions on visitors in schools, supervisors turned to remote supervision and, in some cases, video. If you have ever supervised teacher candidates, you probably said to at least one candidate, “Do you remember when you…?” and how many of them did not remember doing what you pointed out?

Feedback is so much more concrete, and conversations are so much richer when preservice teacher candidates can actually see themselves teaching. Like our supervisors, I would not want to see all supervision done remotely, but we have seen success with video supervision during the pandemic. I hope to see some of this remain when we return to our new normal.

Video Databases Enable Candidates to See More Classrooms

Video Database screenshot

During the reduced opportunities for classroom observations caused by the pandemic, we used National Board ATLAS videos to show students what best practices look like when implemented in a classroom. Edthena also provides access to the Gates Foundation METx Video Library, which includes more than 2,100 classroom videos.

As we move back into face-to-face instruction, I think libraries like the ATLAS videos can continue to make instruction more visual—and students more reflective—without having to get the permissions necessary to record partner classrooms. These examples of expanded use of video in teacher preparation are definitely keepers.

Creating Supportive Learning Environments for Teacher Candidates

Two additional positive takeaways have come from the pandemic: increased attention to our classroom communities and awareness of the mental health of our students.

During the time we have all spent teaching and learning from home, instructional leaders have encouraged PK-12 and university instructors to pay close attention to the needs of their students. Extraordinary efforts have been made by teachers to create the sense of community online that would be built in a face-to-face classroom.

On campus there was also an increase in the number of students who struggled with mental health challenges as a result of the new, isolated learning environment. Instructors rose to the challenge with increased communication with their students and patience with those who struggled. At U of I, the faculty in the Elementary Education program provided a fall “pause week” in response to student overwhelm. In the PK-12 classrooms, blocks of time were devoted to morning meetings and social-emotional learning.

As a huge champion for the importance of classroom community and teacher-student relationships, this increased attention to student needs is what I would consider one of our most important “keepers.”

I encourage the expansion of that awareness to include attention to teacher overwhelm. Let’s keep talking to each other and let’s continue to show each other grace. Perhaps this could be a step toward reducing the number of professionals we now lose to overwhelm.

Lynn Burdick works at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign as the edTPA coordinator for early childhood, elementary education, middle grades and secondary education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. She is also the program coordinator for elementary education.

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