Blog: Educator Preparation During COVID-19: Lessons Learned for Fall

By Maria E. Hyler

As U.S. schools closed their doors this past spring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a little-considered effect was the impact of school closures on the preparation of the next generation of educators. Teacher and leader candidates all over the country had their field experiences abruptly cut short, and educator preparation programs (EPPs)—in partnership with school districts and state education agencies—had to adapt quickly to ensure candidates continued to receive high-quality preparation and were able to complete their licensure requirements.

As districts begin to enact school opening plans, EPPs are building off of lessons learned from the spring as they engage candidates in equity-centered, deeper learning preparation. LPI has been in discussion with members of EdPrepLab—a network of programs working to continuously improve and share their practices—to better understand how they’re responding to this unusual time. Three themes have emerged as guiding their strategy and practices moving forward:

  • Focusing on core program strengths
  • Shifting from crisis mode toward innovation
  • Capitalizing on innovations to strengthen educator preparation after COVID-19

Stay Focused on the North Star

EdPrepLab programs are staying true to their values and their high standards of educator preparation, using these to guide practice, despite the uncertainties of these times. These core values—including equity, humility, compassion, community, and service—have been their north star, grounding their work in the COVID-19 context, as programs have been charged with simultaneously meeting the needs of current candidates and planning for future cohorts.

Depending on the context, candidates continue to work with cooperating teachers, supporting lesson planning and implementation. They’re also taking on new roles such as working with small groups of students through remote settings, bringing knowledge of technology to bear in supporting virtual instruction, and making unique contributions even as they are learning and adapting to the new environment.

Ira Lit, Director of the Stanford University Elementary Teacher Preparation Program, reflected, “We can’t jettison all of our professional knowledge and expertise because the context has changed. We’re figuring out ways to retool, to meet the moments, to be creative and innovative. We need to rely on principles of effective practice, our core mission and our core values, and the aspirations we have for our candidates, for educators in the field, and for the students, families, and communities that they serve.”

Thus, student-teachers at Stanford have been working with faculty and their cooperating teachers during virtual learning to sustain strong relationships with families—a core principle of the program and foundational to culturally responsive teaching. Candidates role-play having conversations with family members in their online seminar course. They discuss the multiple ways to stay connected with families during the pandemic (including supporting technologies such as language translation apps), stressing the need for communication to focus on the social-emotional well-being of the student and families, as well as academic development.

“EdPrepLab programs are staying true to their values and their high standards of educator preparation, using these to guide practice, despite the uncertainties of these times.”

 

A common theme heard from EdPrepLab members is that strong relationships are central to how they engage in preparation—relationships they have nurtured with current candidates, their pre-k–12 district partners, and families and communities. The programs have invested time and attention to foster authentic, reciprocal relationships with their partner districts. The trust at the center of these relationships enables programs to continue to support teacher and leader preparation, even with school closures and the likelihood of hybrid schooling models this fall.

Program leaders described how they have leaned into their deeper learning and equity pedagogies and are adapting them to our new reality. Some ways they are doing this are:

  • Providing online viewing and analysis of teaching videos, unit and lesson plans, and student work that candidates continue to engage in their courses and, for those who are student-teaching, with their cooperating teachers during distance learning
  • Revising courses that relied heavily on being physically in schools and communities to include virtual tours of schools and classrooms; meeting community members virtually and learning about neighborhood cultures and assets; and utilizing Google World to explore students’ communities
  • Offering new virtual courses and sessions on teaching online and critical pedagogies for virtual teaching and learning
  • Connecting candidates to communities in new ways, such as supporting district food distribution (which can be counted toward clinical hours due to the new flexibility states are giving EPPs)
  • Revising performance assessments to better fit online reflection and learning
  • Exploring innovative pedagogies and assessments, such as student photo journal essays, websites, and online video art
  • Modeling trauma-informed practices through meditation, affinity groups, and critical resilience practices
  • Tapping alumni who are now teaching and leading online to be guest speakers at seminars and workshops for prospective teachers

Innovate!

A second theme that emerged was how programs quickly pivoted from operating in crisis mode to viewing educator preparation through a lens of potential and innovation.

The tendency for some programs is to lament what candidates are missing—and they are missing a lot—including “traditional” forms of student-teaching or leadership residencies and participation in school activities. While programs are supporting their candidates through these losses, they are also focusing their energy on highlighting what candidates are gaining. Rebecca Cheung, Director of the University of California, Berkeley’s Principal Leadership Institute, shared, “It’s really easy to fall into the idea that our students are not getting something because the environment is not the same. At the same time, they are getting something in fieldwork that no one else has had the opportunity to receive, and I think it’s important for us to hold that tension in a way that also shapes our programs after this pandemic.”

And prospective teachers and leaders are getting a LOT from these programs. For example, leadership candidates are getting an up-close look at school leadership crisis management. They are learning to navigate the consequences of persistent racial and socioeconomic inequities, which have been exacerbated in this time of crisis. They are partners in district and school efforts to support families and communities in new ways, as they balance instruction and learning with meeting students’ basic needs. Programs are creating space to process these experiences in real time, supporting candidates’ learning, and addressing the trauma they are experiencing. These strategies have been vital to candidates’ ability to persevere during this time and have served to model the practices they will be implementing in their future classrooms and schools.

The COVID-19 world has also opened up new, cross-departmental collaborations as a way of better supporting candidates and the students and communities they serve. For example, UCLA’s Center X is utilizing counseling and psychology departments to support candidates’ social-emotional well-being and to equip them to support their students. Dr. Annamarie Francois, Executive Director of Center X, noted, “UCLA has world-class counseling, psychological services, and mental health and wellness units on campus. [They’re coming] into our classrooms to teach about how to take care of ourselves and to take care of our students in this time of COVID.”

This work has also blurred the lines between educator preparation and professional development for existing educators and has created an opportunity to build stronger bridges between EPPs and their partner districts. Montclair State University’s EPPs, for example,  have exceptional connections to partner districts through the Montclair State University Network for School Renewal. Dr. Jennifer Robinson, Executive Director of the University’s Center for Pedagogy, described how they are leveraging those partnerships. “We’ve provided a lot of online workshops … drawing upon many of our faculty on campus—from counseling, from the psychology department, even our school psych program.” Robinson said teachers and administrators in their partner districts “have been flooding those workshops because we’re trying to provide the kind of support that we know our teachers need, [and] our administrators need to help them.”

Reimagine Educator Preparation

The new focus on cross-department collaborations to support educator candidates is an example of how programs are reimagining educator preparation in a COVID-19 context. Several faculty members indicated that the program modifications made in response to distance learning resulted in improved pedagogies that they will continue to use even when face-to-face courses resume. These included more frequent use of social-emotional practices and check-ins with candidates, more space for analysis and reflection of unit lesson plans with an increased focus on equity and access, and more one-on-one and small-group sessions spread throughout the semester.

Despite the many uncertainties as schools plan for the 2020–21 academic year, one thing is certain: EdPrepLab programs are poised to continue the vital work of preparing the teachers and leaders whom our students need—educators who can navigate the challenges of new technology, unpredictable resources, systemic racism, and the widening of opportunity gaps for marginalized students. Those programs are equipping their graduates to not only meet the current reality, but to be a part of the movement to reimagine schools and classrooms where all students are educated and empowered.

Learning in the Time of COVID-19

This LPI blog series explores evidence-based and equity-focused strategies and investments to address the current crisis and build long-term systems capacity. Explore the series >