Professional Development in the time of COVID-19
As with most things in the unique year of 2020, our LS&L4AL program professional development (PD) did not occur as planned. However, 2020 in turn offered a rare opportunity to provide a program tailored to the needs of teachers facing odds heretofore uncharted. I think we were able to adapt and provide perhaps an even better version of PD to be applied in both virtual and face to face classrooms.
Here’s how it happened.
Recruiting for the third cohort began in fall 2019. As soon as announcements were made the applications started rolling in from 65+ 6th-8th grade Science, ELA and Special Ed teachers in Missouri. In early 2020, the team met several times to select 15 teachers, the approximate number of applicants to be supported annually by the grant.
Invitations to potential participants were sent out, acceptance emails received and the orientation and PD week dates were set. The team finished up the anchor text, and started planning the schedule for each day of the Year 3 professional development week. In parallel, we planned the last follow-up meeting to finish up the contact year for Cohort 2.
Like everyone, we started hearing about the virus in the early part of the year. News was coming in about a deadly viral pneumonia centered in Wuhan, China, and how similar cases were being confirmed in Thailand, Japan and South Korea. We were beginning to pay closer attention. And when there is a preeminent biochemist on your team, that awareness tends to converge with laser focus on the details and potential significance at the local level.
By late January a Washington state resident became the first confirmed case in the US. Within a week of that case, the WHO issued a public health emergency for just the sixth time in its history. Infection rates and deaths started to soar and by February 24 new cases of COVID-19 outside China surpassed the number inside China for the first time. Cases were confirmed on every continent except Antarctica. By March 11, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
In response, U.S. administrators in both PreK-12 and higher education had to scramble to figure out whether and how to offer virtual learning to an audience that might not have the technology to participate from home, along with access to the internet that was and is crucial to any degree of success in this endeavor. Classroom teachers in particular have had to deal with the need to transform quickly and often, dancing to the pandemic blues of 2020.
Our team had to make decisions, too. How could we support our current cohort in closing out the year and still fulfill our commitments to support them and complete program goals? How to collect the last sets of data from their students? What to do regarding the last follow-up meeting for Cohort 2? Would we be able to meet in-person safely? Could we pull off a virtual meeting? After discussion and looking at the available data, we decided we must reschedule the last follow-up for Cohort 2 to a Saturday in May, and to a virtual environment.
We chose to wait to see what unfolded for the next steps for Cohort 3. MU had pivoted to campus-wide virtual learning, then ultimately closed down the campus for face-to-face learning to watch and wait. MU faculty, staff and students all performed the 2020 dance as well, learning new steps on a daily basis.
It soon became apparent that this, this pandemic, would be with us for some time, and that its ripple effect would be significant. The team discussed all possible options for Cohort 3 and came to the conclusion that we also would need to “pivot.” Delivering PD on a virtual platform became the subject for discussion and we had to make the hard decision to postpone the summer 2020 PD for those new Cohort 3 recruits, and conceive of a novel way to transform materials created by previous cohort members to new and virtual delivery platforms.
We contacted the teachers from Cohorts 1 and 2, offering this option, and e-Cohort 3 was born. In July 2020 we met virtually with those seven teachers for a week with the goal of providing support for re-creating each text set so that it could be taught virtually, face-to-face or in combination. Step, step, pivot!
The e-Cohort 3 summer PD schedule was conducted via Zoom, with both synchronous and asynchronous sessions. We met synchronously for morning sessions, with asynchronous work in the afternoons, ending with gathering again synchronously. Team members held virtual “office hours” during asynchronous sessions to answer questions and participate when needed during independent work.
From Day 1, using their own previously created text sets with program scaffolds and anchor texts or the new Vaping anchor text, “Vaping: Not for the Faint of Heart,” e-Cohort 3 teachers worked on gracefully shifting to remote learning. Beginning with “Unpacking the Vaping Anchor Text,” then moving to “Laying a Foundation for Effective Practices for Distance Learning,” for the Monday morning sessions, the afternoon included both independent and partner work exploring the scaffolds related to vaping.
Day 2 moved ahead with “Exploring Different Tools for Distance Learning” and “Conducting Inquiry Through Remote Learning” to support teacher work-pairs trying out tools/apps to create a lesson to share in the afternoon session.
On the third day, synchronous sessions started with “Access for All: Working with Students with Disabilities in Distance Learning” using a hyperdoc organized with the 5Es and filled with active links to online learning resources for special education.
The second part of the morning session was a panel discussion, Connecting with Families/Community Engagement with several local experts. For the afternoon asynchronous session, participants continued planning their text sets, thinking about identifying standards and content focus, learning objectives and possible learning activities tailored for their classrooms. Consideration was given to using ideas, resources and activities both from previous text sets and resources from the week’s sessions.
Day 4’s first session, “Finding the Right Balance for Remote Learning: Reaching All Students and assessing learning/growth” addressed best practices in formative and summative assessment, identified ways to assess learners in an online/remote learning environment and the use of an assessment to inform instruction. A “Meet the Scientists” panel discussion was next, including Dr. Holly Middlekauff, professor of medicine at UCLA, author of the published research that is the basis of the vaping anchor text, and Dr. Rachel Orscheln M.D., Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Infectious Diseases and director of ambulatory pediatric infectious diseases at Washington University School of Medicine – St. Louis. Her current research interests include treatment of viral infections in normal and immunocompromised hosts. The discussion centered around the pandemic, especially in relationship to the effects of vaping on adolescents.
For the Day 5 schedule, teachers worked asynchronously in the morning, with the team available for “office hours.” In the afternoon session we reviewed plans for the upcoming academic year, scheduling, access to the MU team and to each other, and feedback regarding the program.
As of December 2020, there have been three virtual follow-up meetings, held for half-days on Saturdays. The agendas for each of those meetings included check-ins, content updates and focus group meetings, all designed to support participants. Three more are scheduled during the second part of the academic year, when e-Cohort 3 will be implementing their text sets – either in their virtual classrooms, face-to-face or in combination – as needed. All program data, from teachers and their students, will be collected electronically.
The LS&L4AL team recently made the decision to hold the Summer 2021 PD virtually, based on current national, state and local health information related to COVID levels and vaccination rates. Those teachers originally recruited and selected for Cohort 3 will participate as Cohort 4 through 2021-22.
It is the goal of this program to continue to offer PD to support 6th-8th grade science, ELA and special education teachers. We will continue to model the mindset of looking for and finding opportunity, effective teaching practices and offering outstanding professional development – with a pivot and a pirouette here and there.
Author: Sarah Hill, Program Manager; Linking Science & Literacy for All Learners