The Current Reality
Facilitating and managing Zoom calls, implementing new learning management systems, creating lesson plans that can be implemented virtually or in person, supporting English Language Learners and students with Individual Education Plans. This is just part of the new reality that teachers are navigating all during a pandemic. Now that a hybrid mode of learning is embedded in our K-12 system, pre-service teacher preparation and 1st year teacher professional development will need to shift in order to meet the needs of schools and students. Needless to say, COVID-19 has brought about change to the educational system; in a post-COVID world, those changes are likely to remain.
The Responsibility of Teacher Preparation Programs
The time is now for teacher preparation programs and state offices for educator preparation to make the appropriate shifts in content, expectations, and training that will ensure that new teachers are ready to be effective in classrooms. Having pre-service teachers who are placed in more real-world scenarios in coursework where they are required to apply content rather than an understanding of theory. This is especially true when it comes to lesson planning and the teaching of standards. With learning being hybrid a teacher will need to be equipped with the skill set to pull appropriate content and resources to support student learning.
Envisioning Future Change
In the spring the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Governor took a big step in supporting those pre-service teachers who were on track to complete their programs but had not passed the required state exams. They suspended assessment requirements for licensure. While this change was made out of a response to the pandemic, there is a need for this practice to be reviewed for all circumstances. The research shows that teacher certification exams for pre-service teachers are a barrier for entry into the profession. This is especially clear for teachers of color. State educational agencies need to reimagine the requirements for individuals to become teachers. The anticipated teacher shortages across the country will not be able to be addressed adequately by teacher preparation programs with the current parameters that states have put in place. There is a growing body of evidence that shows effectiveness in the classroom can be measured in other ways beyond a written assessment.
Reshaping Novice Teacher Supports
Beyond the shifts that teacher preparation programs and state educational agencies need to consider, K-12 schools receiving teachers need to reshape professional development for novice teachers. Teachers who are in their first year are entering the profession in a unique school year where classroom settings are flexible, and the setting is likely to be inconsistent throughout the year. What is expected of teachers and students in this new era is not something that new teachers can truly say they have been prepared for. Teacher retention is already challenging prior to the COVID-19 pandemic due to lack of preparation and support. When inserting this new circumstance it becomes evermore important for school and district leaders to have a clear plan for continuity of teacher development in a way that has not always been done in the past. The reality is, teachers will need more today than in the past in order to be effective.
Increasing Professional Development
Schools and districts need to reinvest in deep teacher professional development and coaching supports that is focus on providing targeted feedback, resources, and modeling for new teachers. Extending these supports over the course of two to three years, will not only grow them to be more effective, but it will also lead to greater retention. This would also require schools and districts to shift their mindsets, prioritizing teacher growth and development at the same level as student performance. With the suspension of state assessments last spring and the percentage of student learning loss between March and August varying, now is a great opportunity for leaders to truly invest the time, energy, and resources into teacher growth and development over the course of time. In schools where teacher attrition is higher, this change could provide schools and most importantly students with the consistency needed in order for academic outcomes to improve.
The Educator Academy’s Responsive Changes due to COVID
At The Educator Academy (The Educator Academy) we are continually examining our practices so that our teacher preparation, coaching, and our graduate development is responsive to what our program participants, school partners, and students need. Since the start of the pandemic we have shifted our coursework, coaching, and clinical experience to meet the needs of our Residents, graduates, school communities, and their students. We are now engaging in a full virtual experience in preparing new teachers and supporting our program graduates in their first three years in the classroom. The Educator Academy has redesigned its clinical experience to account for the virtual experiences of teachers and students, that include the essential at-bats that pre-service teachers need during their clinical training in order to be ready for the coming year. In our coursework our Residents are not only interrogating the content for the current state, but are also thinking ahead to how best practices can be enacted in a classroom. Graduates are leaning on one another as a network of educators on how to best address teaching virtually, teaching in person with the new safety guidelines, or how to do each one of those while also being a parent of a child who is learning in one of those contexts as well.
Additional Supports for the Whole Person
We have also learned that the mental, social, and emotional health of our Residents and Graduates is paramount to their success in the classroom. (You can get a glimpse at the type of Social and Emotional Supports we offer via our Summer Series on the blog). To support this effort we have launched new partnerships with local organizations that can provide extended supports beyond that of The Educator Academy. It truly takes a community (school, program, network, etc.) to ensure that teachers are able to be successful and healthy during this time. Since 2016 The Educator Academy has implemented its 4-year program continuum in partnership with its school partners to ensure that each Graduate is prepared and developed as Graduates to be highly effective.
The practices that The Educator Academy has gleaned over time has positioned us to view the pandemic as an opportunity to reimagine our work to meet the needs of today and beyond. While we could have never planned for the disruptions that the year has presented us, and arguably it is hard to truly prepare for what to expect each year, it has been inspiring to see how The Educator Academy as an organization continues to meet the challenges head on!
Creating a New Normal
A post-COVID world is not a return to the past, but is an opportunity to forge a new path as it relates to teacher preparation and early teacher development. The old system and practices did not account for the dramatic shifts that have occurred over the last seven months. The current times require new knowledge, habits, and skills for teachers to be successful. To do this successfully it cannot be done in isolation. It requires the entire ecosystem to acknowledge and commit to change. Our students and families are relying on teacher preparation programs like The Educator Academy to fully commit to preparing teachers who can effectively meet the occasion for today and for the future.