Change Agency Is Not for the Faint of Heart: 4 Steps to Strengthen Your Resolve

By Karen Terry and Barbara Radcliffe

Twentieth-century education theorist John Dewey noted the fundamental purpose of education should be an active process of learning through living, and those endeavors should be relevant and applicable in the life of the learner. As a pragmatist, he believed the art of teaching and learning is a social function as well as an intellectual one (Muraro, 2016).

As the COVID-19 pandemic forces massive global change in the area of public health, education classrooms from Pre-K to post-secondary have been transformed, with teachers and students immersed in the new reality of distance learning. The death of George Floyd has sparked global outrage against systemic racism and produced a worldwide coalition for social justice. The extent to which racism impacts social functioning is based on the recognition that those who are able to function adequately view the world and themselves with a sense of worth, independence, and self-determination; racism adversely impacts oppressed people (Edwards, 2006).

We are returning to classrooms unlike any we’ve ever experienced. Dewey’s theories are just as applicable now, and a focus on social functioning must be paired with intellectual endeavors if we are to move forward. What better place to start than in our classrooms?

Embracing the Unknown

From our vantage point as professors of education, we observed novice to veteran teachers from elementary to high school accustomed to teaching face-to-face, as well as university faculty and preservice student teachers. From Gen Z to Millennials to Boomers, the degree of discomfort was not tied to any single generation. Not all Boomers were old dogs who couldn’t learn new tricks, and not all Gen Z’ers could adapt social media and app expertise to distance teaching and learning. And how might recent events concerning race relations additionally impact an already-disrupted educational phenomenon? What path might lead us through transformational change to higher ground? Is it too much to ask educators to tackle all of it at once?

We offer four strategies for setting a foundation to support change in our learning environments:

  1. Expand your comfort zone. Stepping outside our comfort zones can be daunting, even debilitating. David Iny (2016) suggests aligning your approach to growing outside your comfort zone to Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. Learn more (bit.ly/WhatScience) as you begin to expand your own comfort zone of proximal development.
  2. Seek understanding. When we’re getting uncomfortable, it’s the perfect time to stop talking and actively listen and work to understand others’ perspectives. Allowing an opportunity for empathy to weave freely through open dialogue is a habit Stephen Covey (bit.ly/FirstSeek) deems essential.
  3. Be brave. We may be familiar with the concept of safe spaces—spaces in which we feel protected and not exposed to danger or risk. This is also a time to be brave, to demonstrate and activate courage rather than passive apathy (Ali, 2017).
  4. Fixate on fixed mindsets. You may teach and model the elements of growth mindset to your students. It is also imperative to identify fixed mindset actions that cause harm to others. Review Carol Dweck’s work (bit.ly/GrowFixed), but this time with a focus on fixed mindset attributes and their dangers.

Becoming Advocates for Change

After calculating a path outside our comfort zone, actively listening with empathy, creating brave space, and acknowledging the negative effects of a fixed mindset, we are poised to be advocates for change. Our message to students is that we, instructors included, are a community of learners working together toward two common goals:

  1. The tangible, successful completion of the course.
  2. The intangible benefits of our experiences, which contribute to our personal and professional growth as well as our impact on our communities.

With a focus on intellectual and social functioning, we are implored to actively learn and grow rather than passively participate. In this way, we can begin to find our voices and join in the chorus to establish positive sustainable change in our classrooms, schools, and communities.

Dr. Radcliffe is an associate professor in the Middle Grades Education program at Valdosta State University. Her research interests focus on educator preparation as well adolescent literacy.

Dr. Terry is an Assistant Professor at Valdosta State University in the Department of Teacher Education. She teaches in the undergraduate middle grades and secondary education programs and Teacher Leadership graduate program. Her research interests include education policy and disruptive innovation.

References

Ali, D. (2017, October). Safe spaces and brave spaces: Historical context and recommendations for student affairs professionals. NASPA Policy and Practice Series, 2.

Edwards, B. L. (2006). The impact of racism on social functioning: Is it skin deep? Journal of Emotional Abuse, 6(2–3), 31–46. https://doi.org/10.1300/j135v06n02_03

Iny, D. (2016, November 08). What science says about going outside your comfort zone. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/danny-iny/what-science-says-about-going-outside-your-comfort-zone.html

Muraro, D. N. (2016). The critical philosophy and the education for John Dewey. American Journal of Educational Research, 4(17), 1197–1204.

7 Tips for Surviving Your First Year of Teaching When You Don’t Know What It Will Look Like

By Vincent Laverick

Congratulations! You survived a COVID-19 student teaching experience that may have been cut short or completely altered. Also, you have landed your first teaching position in the fall, and you are eager to get prepared after your interview conducted through videoconferencing and digital introduction to the school.

The first year of teaching is a steep learning curve for all teachers, but this year it will likely cause a few more sleepless nights, because no one knows exactly what the school year will look like or how it will be delivered (face-to-face, hybrid, or digital).

Here are a few ideas to help you begin to prepare for any teaching experience ahead.

1. Create a digital introduction of yourself.

There is nothing more fun than welcoming your students to your classroom. Developing a digital introduction will allow you to send it to students and caregivers prior to the first day, regardless of the delivery method of instruction at your school. Consider a program like Scratch to develop an engaging introduction.

2. Develop “how-to” videos of your planned technologies.

Not all caregivers and students are tech savvy, so a how-to video or a link to a video of the technologies you will be using in the school year is helpful. This will help you in face-to-face scenarios when students may need to access something at home or have forgotten how to use a program. In addition, in a possible digital school setting, caregivers and at-home educational support will be able to guide students to correctly utilize the technology to enhance learning. If you can’t make or borrow a simple video, it may not be the best choice to use in your first year of teaching.

3. Keep instructions and communications simple.

Much like this article, you can communicate important items in just a few words. When communicating instructions in writing, use bulleted lists instead of long-winded paragraphs. No one needs to know you were an English minor and have the ability to write a four-page, perfectly punctuated email to explain the activities of the day. Break the text into two- to three-sentence sections to help the audience read the material efficiently. Use clear rubrics that students and caregivers can understand and self-assess prior to submitting completed assignments without you providing additional instructions.

4. Create student-centered assignments and projects.

Because students may be feeling a loss of personal connections with outsiders due to long periods of social distancing, assignments and projects developed by teachers and students in collaboration creates an opportunity for you to get to know your students while also allowing students to demonstrate a depth of knowledge well beyond what you may have in mind. Also, by allowing students to be a part of the learning process, they will be more likely to develop a passion for the topic.

5. Be creative!

COVID-19 has created a teaching environment where some of the previous practices used in a school classroom—either face-to-face, hybrid, or digital—simply will not work. Look to these challenges as opportunities to find better methods to be an effective educator. Tasks like having a student pass out physical papers may not be possible due to social distancing. Each setting will allow for different solutions and possibly make you develop a new approach to use once social distancing requirements relax.

6. Use all your available resources for support.

Asking a veteran colleague for help on how to teach a specific item or for an idea to teach a challenging math section is good practice. Asking for help or ideas is a technique that veteran teachers use on a regular basis. Being vulnerable and asking for help will likely endear you to your fellow teachers, and they will soon be coming to you for ideas that worked well. Again, no one has taught in the situation we are moving toward this fall, and all will be teaching, assessing, and communicating in different methods than they previously used.

7. Accept that you will make mistakes.

Mistakes will be made—by you, students, caregivers, and administrators. Use each mistake you make as an opportunity to effectively model how to learn from mistakes and take corrective action. Students who see you are willing to talk about your mistakes and demonstrate a growth mentality will be more willing to take risks and learn from their mistakes in your classroom.

Without a doubt, you have been well prepared to be an effective teacher. The seven ideas above should help you survive the beginning months as you effectively teach and make a difference in the lives of your students. Be positive, smile, and enjoy what likely will be a memorable year for you in the teaching profession!

Dr. Laverick is an Assistant Professor and Chair of the Education division at Lourdes University in Sylvania, Ohio. His research interest lies in teaching and learning. Please use vlaverick@lourdes.edu to communicate any questions or ideas.

11 Tech Tools and Suggestions for Using Them

By Melissa Comer
SPRING 2021

In the words of the great philosopher (okay, singer/songwriter) Thomas Rhett, “Life changes!” From a teaching standpoint, this has never been truer than during the coronavirus pandemic and the transition to online learning and teaching. Many of us found that we were at a loss as to where to begin, regardless of how comfortable we might have been in using a smartphone to make calls, watch TikTok videos, or read the news. Suddenly, we were (and are) being tasked with using technology as the chief means for teaching.

With technology as the primary mode of instructional delivery, answering the questions of where to begin and what tools to use is critical. To that end, read on for suggestions and not quite a baker’s dozen of Web 2.0 tools that are free and relatively easy to use.

  1. Check out Flipgrid (info.flipgrid.com), a discussion platform that allows you to record a short, 2-minute video. After setting up your educator registration, create a Grid on whichever topic you choose and share a link or code with your students. Suggestions: Assign students to complete learning reflections, project presentations, or discussion-question responses.
  2. Use Thinglink (thinglink.com) for interactive projects using images, videos, and other media. Rather than something static, you can include various links and other information to reinforce the content of the image or video posted. Suggestions: Post a word cloud of vocabulary relating to a specific topic or insert URLs that provide more information.
  3. Make a visual story using Adobe Spark (spark.adobe.com). This easy video platform allows you to add photos, video clips, soundtracks, and even your own voice. Suggestions: Use as a platform for making an engaging lecture, have students practice digital storytelling, or explain the step-by-step process for answering an algebraic equation.
  4. Try podcasting with Vocaroo (vocaroo.com), a free voice-recording service that requires no registration. Simply press the button to start recording. Once finished, save it, download it, or share through social media, email, embed, or via a QR code. Suggestions: Read/tell a story, discuss a science experiment, or review historical or current events.
  5. Stay in touch with students via Remind (remind.com), a free text-messaging tool that requires no phone numbers. Set up a class and have students join with a code. Add to your messages by uploading documents, photos, or more. You can also send direct links to Google Classroom, Flipgrid, SurveyMonkey, and more. Suggestions: Set virtual office hours so students can text you with questions, send reminders of assignment due dates, and share handouts.
  6. Assess students using Google Forms (google.com/forms/about). Design a quiz using multiple choice, true/false, short answer, essay, or scaled questions. Suggestions: Find out students’ interests and attitudes toward reading by implementing a reading interest survey or give a traditional test over content studied.
  7. Create an online character, or avatar, with Voki (l-www.voki.com). Customize the avatar by selecting hair, skin, and eye color. Record your voice and share via a link or embed it on a website. Suggestions: As an alternative autobiography, ask students to share 10 tidbits about themselves, or use a historical figure and include 10 facts about that person’s life.
  8. Engage in online discussions on documents you upload with Now Comment (nowcomment.com). Suggestion: Form cooperative groups of students and have them work together to do a close read of a document.
  9. Get a quick response to a question using Easy Poll (easypolls.net). Pose your question, share the link, and get responses. Suggestions: Have students rate their understanding of a particular concept or indicate their answer to a direct question.
  10. Check students’ ability to listen actively with ESL Video (eslvideo.com). Insert a link for a YouTube video and pose questions that can only be answered by watching the video. Suggestions: Use a video/quiz already designed or locate a high-interest music video and create your own active listening assessment to reinforce content comprehension for ESL/ELL students as well as native English-speaking ones.
  11. Share data with the Data GIF Maker (datagifmaker.withgoogle.com). This is extremely easy to use! Create rectangle, circle, or racetrack graphs. Suggestion: Ask students to agree or disagree with a statement and create a circles-data GIF to show responses.

Many of us would love to be in the classroom, interacting with students in a face-to-face environment; however, given the current circumstances, that’s an impossibility. To paraphrase Thomas Rhett, you woke up and found nothing the same; your teaching life has changed, and “you can’t stop it [so] just hop on the train.”

Breathe and know that you’re not alone. It’s a learning process that we are all going through. There will be failures; learn from them. There will be successes; celebrate them!

Dr. Comer, a Professor in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at Tennessee Technological University, teaches graduate and undergraduate literacy courses. Professional activities include presentations at local, state, regional, national, and international levels as well as publications of conference proceedings, scholarly articles, and book chapters.

7 Strategies to Make Professional Development Successful

By Marla A. Sole
SUMMER 2021

Highly effective teachers continually innovate and refine their pedagogical practices through professional development. Committed teachers are interested in professional development that demonstrates best practices aligned with the content they are teaching and clearly communicates the steps, benefits, and challenges of implementing new lessons and innovative practices. Those running workshops can gain valuable insight into teachers’ classroom practices, the curriculum, and potential modifications that could better help students reach their full potential.

As part of a funded project titled “PRIME: Project for Relevant and Improved Mathematics Education,” I co-designed and co-ran a series of professional development offerings. Reflecting on my experience, I believe these seven tips can help make professional development more impactful and successful.

Serious Indian woman wearing headphones with microphone talking, using laptop, looking at screen, young female consulting client, video call, student learning language online, listening lecture

1. Time and timing matters.
Learning new pedagogical approaches or technology takes time. Therefore, when designing professional development, it is critical that the time allocated for a workshop is sufficient for participants to absorb new practices or create new activities. To facilitate effective professional development, workshop leaders also should consider when, during the school year, teachers would put into practice what they have learned, and whether there is enough lead time for teachers to successfully modify their lesson plans.

2. Create tangible products.
The comment most often made during professional development workshops was, I want something I can use in my class. Teachers have a strong desire for professional development that is carefully mapped onto their course learning outcomes and produces an activity or assignment that is ready to use, having been critiqued and refined by colleagues. With all the time teachers spend preparing lessons, their top priority is having the opportunity to collaboratively create innovative new lessons or modify existing lessons based on constructive feedback.

3. Develop a plan for implementation.
Effective lessons marry two components: content and delivery. It is not enough to create great content without simultaneously addressing which pedagogical practices will engage students. Effective professional development should discuss best teaching practices, clearly define and model new practices, and share the benefits and challenges of the approach. For example, during professional development, do not lecture about active learning. Instead, define active learning, model how active learning looks in a classroom, and share expected gains from actively engaging students.

4. Facilitate a shared learning environment.
Running professional development, I can attest to the fact that there is enormous potential, expertise, and energy in the room. Professional development will be significantly more valuable if those facilitating the activities capitalize on participants’ rich and varied experiences. Fostering a collaborative environment can have added benefits. Attendees leave knowing more about each colleague’s area of expertise and interests. This can help create a network of educators with intersecting interests who can support one another throughout the school year.

5. Follow up.
During professional development, educators may believe that new activities and pedagogical practices will work seamlessly in the classroom, but unanticipated issues may arise. For example, it may be challenging to help students adopt a growth mindset or to shift the class dynamic to include more inquiry-based learning. Assignments and activities that went through a peer review process may still seem unclear to students. Highly effective professional development finds ways to continue to support teachers when they are back in the classroom, with brief follow-up meetings or by pairing up workshop attendees who can continue to collaborate.

6. Collect feedback.
Provide time for attendees to reflect upon and share what worked and what would enhance future professional development offerings. Solicit anonymous feedback either soon after the workshop or after teachers have had time to use what they have learned in their own classes. In addition, during workshops, listen without judgment to the challenges teachers face. If a few teachers seem to be raising the same issue, consider whether you can integrate this issue into present or future professional development workshops.

7. Assess the impact in the classroom.
Professional development is not designed just to enhance and refine teachers’ skills. The goal is to improve learning! Therefore, effective professional development should not end with a workshop for teachers. It should include some reflection or formal assessment of the impact on students’ academic achievement and level of engagement.

Well-designed professional development can enhance teachers’ skills and reignite their enthusiasm for teaching. Effective professional development empowers and supports teachers to make the concepts in their disciplines come alive. This, in turn, creates a great environment for both students and teachers. Most importantly, with newly acquired skills, teachers can better set students up to excel and perform to the best of their abilities.

PRIME: Project for Relevant and Improved Mathematics Education. This work was supported by a grant from the Teagle Foundation. The opinions reflect those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the funding agency. The author would like to thank Principal Investigator Dr. Alexandra W. Logue and Prime colleagues and guests for engaging conversations about mathematics education.

Dr. Sole is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at Guttman Community College, the City University of New York. Her research interests include persistence in the mathematics pipeline, particularly of underrepresented populations, statistics education, and financial and quantitative literacy.

Don’t Shortchange Your Students! 3 Ways to Assess and Remediate Learning Gaps

By Sachet Lawrence Crooks

One of the biggest educational concerns in our nation is the loss of instructional time for our students due to COVID-19 school closures, as if summer break wasn’t already a hindrance through the ages. This causes twice as much instructional time to be lost and leaves us wondering: How can I get my students on track?! If we continue with our curriculum as if nothing ever happened, how will students catch up?

We can’t conduct school like business as usual. In my school district in DeKalb County, Georgia, we are also unsure of the future, but we are advised that we need to teach a grade lower the first 2 weeks of school. For example, since I teach sixth grade, I need to teach fifth-grade content for 2 weeks to help remediate and refresh students’ memories. Whether this is enough cannot be known, but we can do some things to alleviate the stress.

Have a plan.

As previously stated, our school districts do not yet know what the future holds; even my own principal does not know how the school year will look, and that’s part of the problem. How can we plan for what we don’t know?

But there is hope. As my principal advised, we know that at least part of our instruction will most likely be virtual because things will not be the same for a long time, and we must plan for that. Think of it this way: We are heading into a more technological era anyway; in fact, we are already there, and it behooves us to prepare ourselves so we are ahead of the pack. Consider the way you would usually plan a unit or lesson plan: Keep it, but remember the following:

  • Make sure you have a digital component or alternative in case you have to teach online or use an online platform. For example, ReadWorks is a website that allows you to assign reading passages and comprehension questions to all students and monitor their progress simultaneously. If you need an option for use inside the classroom, you can simply print the articles and questions. Also, as is commonly the case, some students may not have access to a computer.
  • Use resources that automatically grade assessments and activities to make your life easier. ReadWorks also grades assessments for you, as do a host of other websites, including Google Forms, which allows you to create your own assessment.

Use resources that offer adaptive learning.

  • Zearn: Provides a combination of classroom instruction and adaptive online math lessons for Grades K–5. Start with whole-class lessons, then allow students to work individually or in pairs on digital lessons. Finally, group students based on a detailed report of their progress. Use this information to remediate or extend learning.
  • CommonLit: This website offers free literary and nonfiction reading passages for Grades 3–12, assigns students comprehension questions that promote rigor in reading and writing, and analyzes student performance, providing reports on reading and writing skills.

Adapt strategies you already know to meet student needs.

  • Before your lesson: Preteach difficult vocabulary or concepts, provide outlines, worksheets, or guides.
  • During your lesson: Have students take notes, repeat directions, share information.
  • If a student has difficulty expressing themselves verbally, allow them to draw, write, or demonstrate.
  • If a student has difficulty expressing themselves in writing, allow them to do multiple choice, matching, true/false, demonstrating, or reading.
  • Instructional arrangement: If group work does not work for a student, have them work in pairs or independently.
  • Physical or social environment: Allow a student the choice to sit at a desk, chair, table, or quiet space.
  • Alter assignments and teaching methods to fit student needs.

So, don’t stress out; there’s no such thing as impossible. We can do this! Have a plan, make sure it’s flexible, implement it as best you can, tweak it as needed based on the everchanging circumstances, breathe, and push ahead. You do not have to dumb down content in an effort to make up for what they seem to be lacking. Use these resources and curate your own so you can meet students where they are and allow them to grow from there. You will look back a year from now and be surprised at how far you and your students have come.

Mrs. Crooks has been a middle school English teacher at Cedar Grove Middle School for the past 3 years. She is currently pursuing her EdS in Education and has served as a member of the KDP Graduate Student Committee for the past year.

Additional Resources

CommonLit: Free Reading Passages and Literacy Resources
commonlit.org/

ReadWorks
readworks.org/

Zearn Math: Top-rated math program created for teachers
zearn.org

Teacher-Candidate Pep Talk: Just Keep Swimming

By Lydia Gerzel-Short, Lisa Liberty, and Laura Hedin
SPRING 2021

During these unprecedented times, teacher candidates need to remember the thoughtful words of Dori in Finding Nemo and “just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming!” Teacher candidates who continue to practice teaching even in the absence of “real” students are developing as effective teachers. Effective teachers practice their craft (Sydnor, 2016) and reflect upon the instruction (Nagro & deBettencourt, 2019). Being reflective and incorporating reflection into teaching is how teachers and students learn best (Dewey, 1933).

If school environments change and teacher candidates miss practicing teaching during their field placement, or student teaching experience, this does not mean they should stop teaching! In fact, teacher candidates become better teachers when they see their practice and reflect upon their instruction (Nagro & deBettencourt, 2019; Sydnor, 2016). In this article, we present a five-step model for preparing practice video lessons that teacher candidates can use to maintain their teaching skills during school and clinical “downtime.”

1. Plan: “Do I need to do this?”

In short, yes. Planning, even for mini-lessons, is foundational in understanding student needs and the direction of your specific lesson. Teacher candidates will want to:

  • Consider planning several mini-lessons.
  • Focus mini-lessons into no more than 20-minute sessions.
  • Base mini-lessons on a single skill or concept (e.g., word blending, paraphrasing a quotation, expanded notation to ten-thousands place).
  • Center the plan for a specific grade level (e.g., second grade) by using the Common Core or state standards.

2. Practice: “I’m doing that over.”

Consistent practice permits teacher candidates to gain confidence and insight into personal teaching (Nagro & deBettencourt, 2019). It is important to review the mini-lesson that will be taught several times before recording the lesson. Engaged teacher candidates:

  • Practice in front of a mirror.
  • Identify changes that improve the mini-lesson.
  • Alter the presentation and practice until the mini-lesson is firm.

3. Record and watch: “Do I really sound and look like that?”

Video is an essential and powerful tool that teacher candidates can use to review their lessons (Baecher & Connor, 2016). Videoing lessons allows teacher candidates to develop fine-tuned self-observation skills. Recording mini-lessons requires teacher candidates to:

  • Prepare materials and the environment for the lesson.
  • Turn on the camera, smile, and record the lesson.
  • Stop the recording after the lesson has ended.
  • Wait a day and then watch the teaching demonstration.

4. Reflect: “Wow, what parts should I keep? What should I change?”

During reflection, teacher candidates examine their teaching and note any “on-action” or events missed during the actual lesson (Nagro & deBettencourt, 2019). Video technology is a way to repeatedly view, pause, and observe actions and thinking in real teaching time. Reflective teacher candidates complete a self-observation and ask themselves:

  • Did I state the lesson objective?
  • Did I model the skill?
  • Did I use a thoughtful “think-aloud”?
  • Did I consider guided practice?
  • Did I close the lesson?
  • Were my materials prepared and organized?

5. Share: “I am brave.”

Sharing video clips and having open-ended conversations about instruction with an instructor is a powerful closure to the iterative cycle of teaching (Syndor, 2016). Reflecting in the company of others creates an environment for the teacher candidate to engage in thoughtful conversations and reflect in order to improve instruction and add to the candidate’s professional development (Sydnor, 2016). During the share session:

  • Instructors can offer tips and resources, including techniques and materials.
  • Teacher candidates and instructors can listen to each other.
  • View and comment on the lesson.
  • Craft plans for changes to the next mini-lesson.

Learning to teach is a continuous process of planning, practicing, recording, reviewing, reflecting, and sharing. Implementing the five downtime steps ensures that teacher candidates become effective, thoughtful teachers, even during times when traditional teaching experiences are not possible. So be like Dori in Finding Nemo and just keep swimming!

Dr. Gerzel-Short is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Northern Illinois University. Her research interests include teacher preparation, family engagement, and evidence-based practices for supporting diverse learners.

Dr. Liberty is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Northern Illinois University. Her research interests include evidence-based practices, preservice teacher preparation, and co-teaching in inclusive settings.

Dr. Hedin is a Professor of Special Education at Northern Illinois University. Her research interests include teacher preparation and strategies for including students with mild disabilities in general education settings.

References

Baecher, L., & Connor, D. (2016). Video as a tool in teacher learning. The New Educator, 12(1), 1–4.

Dewey, J. (1933). How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. D.C. Heath.

Nagro, S. A., & deBettencourt, L. U. (2019). Reflection activities within clinical experiences: An important component of field-based teacher education. In Handbook of research on field-based teacher education (pp. 565–586). IGI Global.

Sydnor, J. (2016). Using video to enhance reflective practice: Student teachers’ dialogic examination of their own teaching. The New Educator, 12(1), 67–84.

How to Shine Online: Tips for Virtual Interviews

By Anna L. Malone
SPRING 2021

As a graduate assistant, one of my roles is organizing mock interviews for student teacher candidates, a valuable task that increases confidence in interviewing skills (Hudak et al., 2019). Each semester, we invite local teachers and administrators to campus to serve as the interview panel and provide critical feedback to the upcoming graduates.

However, when COVID-19 caused classes to transition online in spring 2020, we had to shift the interviews to a virtual format, which proves a unique challenge in comparison to in-person interviews. Having organized and observed the mock interviews, I want to offer advice on how you can make a great impression in a virtual interview.

1. Research your responses.

Preparation is key to a successful interview, and you can harness the collective knowledge of the Internet. Look up interview questions for educators, which will yield thousands of results. Look for common themes, such as content knowledge, classroom management, and teaching philosophy (LaJevic, 2019).

Additionally, be sure to research the school by going to their website. Take note of any current events, such as an after-school STEM club, to incorporate into your interview responses. Showing your research will highlight your professionalism and attention to detail.

2. Consider your appearance.

Your clothing choices are as important in a virtual setting as they are with in-person interviews (Powers, 2010), but you should also consider what message your background conveys.

Choose a room that is orderly, well-lit, and quiet to ensure that the interview panel can focus clearly on you instead of extraneous noise or the scene behind you. Let others in your household know when the interview is happening to avoid nterruptions.

Also consider the placement of your device. Make sure the camera is positioned to display you from the shoulders up, with your whole face visible, and at an appropriate angle and distance.

3. Test your technology.

Access to functional equipment is a necessity for a virtual interview. If Internet access is unpredictable at your home, consider going to a friend’s home or a quiet public place like your local library or another wifi hotspot. Your college or university may also be a good alternative for privacy and connectivity.

Practice using the online platform prior to your interview. Enlist a family member or friend to conduct a trial meeting to test out your audio, video, and connection. This can help you identify any issues with lighting, device placement, and background distractions. Be sure, however, that your family member or friend is using a different wifi network or hotspot so you can identify connectivity problems unique to your network.

At the onset of the interview, check with the panel to ensure that they can see and hear you adequately, and vice versa. If something goes wrong, such as a lag in video or audio, stay calm and tell the panel as soon as possible without interrupting anyone. Don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat a question for clarification.

4. Showcase your portfolio.

During an in-person interview, you may reference a portfolio filled with evidence and examples that demonstrate your best work and illustrate what you are discussing. If the feature is available, share your screen to show the panel a digital version. Digital portfolios and screen sharing can be successful tools because they are highly customizable and can display your technology prowess (Kelly & Hancock, 2018). You can create a digital portfolio by using a word processing program, website builder, or by simply scanning the hard copy of your portfolio and saving it as a PDF. If screen sharing is not available, reference the portfolio verbally by providing detailed examples that support your responses.

Even though you should consider all these factors as you prepare, the most important aspects of an interview are your comments about yourself and your responses to questions. Don’t be intimidated by the process of interviewing virtually. Be sure to show off your unique strengths and passion for education!

Ms. Malone is a Graduate Assistant and student at West Liberty University. In this role, she works with student teacher candidates and teaches an instructional technology course. During the pandemic, she was tasked with the development of virtual mock interviews and professional development opportunities for candidates.

References

Hudak, K., Kile, A., Grodziak, E., & Keptner, E. (2019). Advancing student interview skills: Incorporating virtual interview technology into the basic communication course. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 13(1), 1–9. http://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2019.130103

Kelly, D., & Hancock, S. (2018). Alberta school principals’ use of professional portfolios in teacher hiring. Canadian Journal of Education, 41(4), 1050–1078.

LaJevic, L. (2019). Exploring the hiring process for K–12 art teachers: Tips for the job search. Art Education, 72(5), 8–13.

Powers, P. (2010). Winning job interviews (Rev. ed.). Career Press.

Let Kappa Delta Pi’s Career Center help you prepare for your next step! The following resources and more can be found at www.kdp.org/resources/careercenter/index.php, including:

  • How to write résumés and cover letters
  • Developing hardcopy and digital portfolios
  • Interview preparation
  • Job search advice

Student Teaching During a Pandemic: 3 Lessons Learned

By Jayme Irene Hines and Kimberly J. Bohannon
SPRING 2021

Last spring, teacher candidates faced an unprecedented circumstance, many having less than a week to pivot from face-to-face to remote teaching. Candidates, cooperating teachers (CT), site supervisors, and college faculty needed to think differently about communication and supervision. Many state-level Departments of Education created specific guidelines for K–12 schools focused on remote learning (Reich et al., 2020). This information and new expectations rolled out quickly.

Candidates who were placed in the Early Childhood through Grade 6 setting in southwestern New Hampshire were allowed to continue their field placement and encouraged to support their CT with remote planning and teaching. The following discussion frames three themes identified through interviews with student teachers and feedback from cooperating professionals at this particular institution.

Lesson #1: Teacher candidates are persistent.

Teacher persistence is “a disposition manifested in the day-to-day actions of teaching” (Wheatly, 2002, p. 3). Candidates struggled to find a balance, and without traditional start and end times for the school day, realized they were working around the clock. This was not sustainable, but candidates continued to persevere. They wrote and presented lessons, created teaching videos, held virtual morning meetings, and connected with children and families over video chat, demonstrating persistence in ways they might not have been able to without this experience.

Lesson #2: Student teachers are a valuable part of the (virtual) teaching team.

Clinical practice offers candidates a “lens through which to understand the problems of practice that currently face the profession,” providing candidates and cooperating professionals opportunities to think creatively and engage in innovative practices (American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, 2018, p. 8). Candidates contributed to their students, grade-level teams, and schools as they piloted new technology and engagement strategies. They dove in alongside their CT to develop synchronous and asynchronous lessons, engage with technology in new ways, communicate with families, and provide social–emotional support to students.

Several candidates created classroom spaces in their homes. Meeting with students in whole groups, small groups, and individually, they continued to meet the needs of all learners. Candidates supported their teams outside of academic delivery, as well. The technological skills of many candidates were strong, with the CT turning to them for advice! Sustaining students’ social–emotional well-being was also a big part of their contribution; they led class meetings, held lunch groups, and checked in with students individually.

Lesson #3: Teacher–family relationships are vital.

The significance of family involvement in education has always been an important connection for candidates to make. Rhen et al. (2018) found that developing relationships with families or guardians is more significant in online learning. This semester, candidates were teaching alongside family members and were heavily reliant on their support. One candidate remarked that her biggest takeaway from remote learning was being able to interact in ways in which she would have not experienced in the typical setting. Some candidates even included family lesson plans, with activities to complete with family members. Others shared games and activities for families to reinforce skills previously learned in the school setting. Overall, candidates felt a great deal of positive support from families.

Concluding Thoughts

Candidates’ learning and engagement throughout remote teaching was certainly not the same as in a typical semester, but they carried on without hesitation. Candidates continued to develop their own knowledge, skills, and dispositions in ways we never would have imagined at the onset of the semester. With uncertain learning conditions for the near future, novice teachers will carry these experiences into their own classrooms, while leaving behind lessons for future candidates, faculty, and cooperating professionals.

Dr. Hines is an Assistant Professor of Education at Keene State College. She teaches coursework across Early Childhood and Elementary programs and supervises Early Childhood student teachers. Her research interests include social–emotional development of preschoolers, teacher preparation, and faculty–student relationships.

Dr. Bohannon is an Associate Professor at Keene State College. She is the Coordinator of the Elementary Education program and teaches and supervises Elementary methods courses and Student Teaching. Her research interests include P–12 partnerships and faculty–student relationships.

References

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. (2018). A pivot toward clinical practice, its lexicon, and the renewal of educator preparation: A report of the AACTE Clinical Practice Commission. American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

Reich, J., Buttimer, C. J., Fang, A., Hillaire, G., Hirsch, K., Larke, L., Littenberg-Tobias, J., Moussapour, R., Napier, A., Thompson, M., & Slama, R. (2020). Remote learning guidance from state education agencies during the COVID-19 pandemic: A first look. https://edarxiv.org/437e2

Rhen, N., Maor, D., & McConney, A. (2018). The specific skills required of teachers who deliver K–12 distance education courses by synchronous videoconference: Implications for training and professional development. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 27(4), 417–429. https://doi.org/10.1080/1475939X.2018.1483265

Wheatly, K. (2002). Teacher persistence: A crucial disposition, with implication for teacher education. Essay in Education, 3, Article 1.

Educators in the Pandemic: From the Inside Out

By Larissa Rector
SPRING 2021

I am no stranger to technology, and I already had plenty of experience using Zoom for various school-wide meetings. However, when I learned that I would finish the remainder of the school year by creating virtual classes for my sixth-grade ELA students, I worried that I would not be able to adequately create an online learning environment that not only addressed the state standards, but created a culture where students felt safe and free to think for themselves—one that invited students to learn and discover meaning through books, ideas, and tasks . . . completely . . . 100% . . . virtually.

That is no small task when you are talking about keeping 85 middle school students engaged through a computer screen, but one that I tackled head on. That is what educators do: We dive right in and face challenges, always acting in the best interest of our students.

The Switch to Online Learning

Instead of going back to the drawing board, I decided to use the online platform my students were already familiar with: Google Classroom. This is where it began to get tricky. Before the switch to online learning, my students were already familiar with their assignments being listed on our class page each day. They knew how to access the various documents that I would attach for the lessons being taught and how to maneuver through different pages on a site. However, it was one thing keeping students interested and engaged in person; doing it online was a complete game changer.

Giving the Classroom Back

To create an online learning experience that would keep my students active and engaged, I decided to reach out to each child individually. I asked questions such as:

  • What has your online learning experience been like so far?
  • How does it compare with your experience as a student in a physical classroom?
  • What would you change about our online learning?
  • What do you want to see more/less of?

The answers to these questions made me realize that what the students needed most was support and understanding. They needed to feel comfortable getting on our Zoom meetings each day. They wanted to be actively involved with me, as well as their classmates. I began to realize that this new online platform that I was creating was not just about continuing to meet the standards that I was expected to teach. In all actuality, it was not even a fraction of what I needed to be establishing for my students. They wanted a say in the process.

So, essentially, I gave the classroom back to the students. I established a framework for the content I would continue to teach and let the students decide which activities they wanted to do during our time together. Collaboratively, we found several sites that allowed the students to play games for the skills we were learning that stimulated cooperation and/or competition among them as they worked toward achieving their classroom goals. All our assessments came from online quizzes and were comprised of a compilation of the literacy standards we covered each week. Together we had created an online learning environment that fit the needs and voices of all the students.

Concluding Thoughts

Whether we are teaching in a school building or through a virtual classroom, the underlying goal is the same: student success. Our role as educators is to encourage students to have a say in their own learning. We want them to exercise problem-solving and decision-making skills in order to achieve their individual goals. I believe that each student is capable of excellence, and with the right guidance and support, they will develop the avenues needed to succeed in school, as well as find happiness and a place of belonging in our society. To be able to help students discover and cultivate these educational and vocational potentialities, we have to ask. We have to listen. We have to give our students a voice.

Each individual child brings something unique to the table. They each have deeply ingrained social habits, identities, dispositions, and learning behaviors—all of which contribute to their academic success. We as educators need to start embracing these differences, as well as each child’s culture and experiences, in order to offer them the best educational opportunities. A student’s voice inspires and empowers them to begin taking ownership over their own education. Learning does not start with the teacher. It begins with the student. And even in a virtual world, learning comes from the inside out.

Ms. Rector is currently a Grade 6 English teacher at Prescott South Middle School in Cookeville, TN. Her teaching experience is distinguished by more than 13 years of service across different grade levels. Her passion is creating a positive classroom culture that increases student learning.

Further Resources:

Kahoot.com

Flipgrid.com

Baamboozle.com

Arcade Game Generator.com

Quizizz.com

Quizlet.com

Tips for developing online learning: Establish a homepage, such as Google Classroom. Develop a routine and stick to it. Make sure students are given breaks during class time. Create activities, like experiments or games that will keep children engaged.

Collaboration and Communication: Teaching During the Pandemic

By Leana R. Malinowsky
SPRING 2021

My second grade class of 2019–2020 was a dynamic group of students. Curious, social, energetic, and carefree would not suffice in describing their full character or potential. I’m grateful that spring of 2020 showed me they also were resilient, the most significant trait they needed as we shifted from the classroom to remote learning. Along on this voyage came my co-teacher (special education), their ESL/ESL bilingual teacher, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, two counselors, two RTI (Response to Intervention) teachers, four related arts teachers, and, of course, the students’ families. As the captain of this crew, I knew the ship had to weather the storm. Inspired by their kindred spirits and eager nature, I grabbed the helm for one of the most challenging experiences of my 12-year career.

Communication with families and as an educational team is important enough in a typical academic year. During all-virtual learning, it became even more critical to continue this positive interaction and not let the uncertainty act as an anchor. Maximizing collaboration with support staff naturally created positive communication with families.

 “Co-teachers must be good communicators, respect each other, have similar teaching philosophies, be willing to spend time planning together, and at times be willing to drop their own ideas and go with the other person’s plans. Good communication with parents is also essential” (Murdock et al., 2015, pp. 46–47).

When navigating uncharted waters teaching virtually, use this guide for peer collaboration to enhance communication with families. These are key elements for success during a time when many families are managing virtual learning.

Compass Points

  • Flexibility is key. The virtual classroom has many unexpected challenges such as additional steps to deliver instruction and set up meetings through technology . Give colleagues and families flexibility on when to meet and plan. This allows everyone to access necessary resources and offers the opportunity to work as a team.
  • Make planning a priority. Set times to meet with support staff individually and as a group to discuss the structure of virtual lessons, scheduling, and methods of communication, and decide which families need additional support systems for success. Make sure the team communicates about ongoing plans and anticipates adjustments.
  • Debrief regularly. Educational teams need to utilize the same practices virtually as they would in the classroom to discuss student needs, understanding, roles, and differentiated lessons. Take advantage of others’ perspectives on lessons and student performance. This allows everyone to be objective and offer suggestions. Debriefing should be frequent and consistent based on scheduling flexibility.
  • Have dependable communication. Speaking with families frequently ensures they are aware of assignments and important information, and that their child is receiving all required resources and services. This refines and builds the trust of family members, especially those who might have language barriers. Invite ESL teachers to meetings for families who need translation. With this support, family members can communicate freely and have an active voice in the conversation.
  • Utilize shared spaces. Use a shared space to brainstorm, such as Google Keep or a Google Doc for all teachers and support staff to share ideas, concerns, and questions, and plan meetings, and so on. Implement a communication app such Class Dojo (Google Classroom or other related apps) to post general information to families to see collectively. Much like a weekly or monthly newsletter, this disseminates information quickly, and many apps offer translation. It also allows multiple teachers to post messages to parents and have them shared quickly. Shared spaces can help extend planning and communication beyond meeting times.
  • Set schedules. Create a personalized schedule for students who receive additional remediation and support services. Include dates, times, and any needed materials. Share the schedule with families and update it frequently. Schedules benefit everyone in and out of the classroom. They provide structure in a learning space that has the potential to become unfastened.

Rising to the challenge of remote learning was certainly not easy, especially with limited time to prepare. I knew I had to implement best practices, creativity, collaboration, and communication together in order to sail successfully through the remainder of the year. It was imperative we stayed on course and worked together as we learned new platforms. I learned much more in the last few months of school than I ever anticipated; however, my skills have stretched beyond the horizon. My compass points provided guidance and offered possibilities for teaching in the future, both virtually and in the classroom. Keep these points in a captain’s log for a guide on the next voyage, wherever it may be!

Ms. Malinowsky is an elementary educator at Carteret Public Schools and has more than 13 years of experience teaching general education, special education, ESL students, and reading intervention. Ms. Malinowsky is a certified reading specialist. She is the Associate Counselor for the KDP chapter at Kean University and is passionate about working with preservice teachers and teacher leadership.

Reference

Murdock, L., Finneran, D., & Theve, K. (2015). Co-teaching to reach every learner. Educational Leadership, 73(4), 42–47.