When many of us gathered at the end of February in Atlanta, the coronavirus cloud was on the horizon, but I suspect few of us had a true inkling of the whirlwind that was to come. In the intervening months, education from preschool to graduate programs has been upended, and those of us working in educator preparation have seen the impact at all levels of the system. As higher education has moved online and preservice candidates’ clinical placements have moved out of the schools, our professional practices and personal experiences alike have been stretched and tested.
Now, as this strange semester comes to a close, we can pause to reflect on what we’ve learned so far and to think critically about what lies ahead—the knowns as well as the unknowns. Like all ill winds, this one has blown in a few good lessons already. But navigating in its wake will demand careful planning, flexibility, and responsive innovation; success for all of us across the P-20 system will depend on collaboration and partnership.
Innovation and Adaptation – The Good We’ve Seen
When AAQEP convened an online Open Forum in March for members to discuss responses to disrupted clinical placements, numerous positive lessons arose, even at that early stage of the crisis. Participants spoke to the creativity and leadership of candidates, the mutual support and adaptability of the faculty, and the steadfast commitment and responsiveness of teachers and principals in partner schools.
Candidates who stayed with their cooperating teachers as schools transitioned to virtual operations were using their skills in digital communication to support both teachers and students in new ways. Others who moved home as campuses were shuttered shifted their support to their hometown schools, demonstrating flexibility and resiliency adjusting to new assignments, different online platforms, and even discrepancies in access to technology.
Education faculty were being tapped as leaders, supports, and resources for colleagues across their campuses, and their collaboration and inventiveness were noted in shifting to both online instruction and remote mentoring and supervision. Forum participants also reported gains in candidate engagement and participation as their classes employed more discussion boards and other online channels—advantages that need not be left behind when campuses reopen, as increased implementation of blended or hybrid modes of instruction may be a lasting legacy and benefit of this crisis.
Keeping Safe and Catching Up – The Changes to Come
But looking ahead, forum participants also raised clear-eyed observations and concerns about the field’s prospects for the fall and beyond. At the local level, how will schools operate in fall, with what modes of instruction? Will educator candidates be welcome, or what happens if some P-12 partners want to pause field placements? For this year’s program completers, how will states view the “asterisked” COVID certificates issued by other states? How will next year’s new teachers—many with limited and disrupted culminating clinical experiences—be supported, and what role might their preparation programs play?
While the answers to some of these questions lie outside the authority of educator preparation programs, they all present an opportunity for the field to lead conversations with P-12 and state partners to create solutions to what are really mutual concerns.
When the question of fall field placements came up in March Open Forum, one colleague observed that virus-related disruptions would be a stress test for clinical partnerships. His prediction was that stronger partnerships would succeed in finding mutually beneficial solutions for the fall, while less well-established ones might just unravel under pressure. Right now is a critical time for preparation programs to prioritize talks with partners to focus on co-creating strategies that address mutual concerns for the fall term.
Two main concerns will drive P-12 operations when schools reopen: keeping everyone safe (adults as well as students) and catching students up. Safety protocols will surely include limits on the number of new adults entering school facilities and interacting with students and teachers. Catch-up efforts may well include providing students with remotely delivered individual or small-group instruction.
How can candidates’ field work be adjusted to support these goals? Might early field experiences focus on providing virtual instruction to students in lieu of in-class observations? How might program faculty support and evaluate them in this work?
Where student teaching is concerned, doubling the instructional staffing of a classroom should certainly help in catching kids up; how can we ensure that student teachers are also an aide to keeping everyone safe? For example, when candidates are available as stable members of the teaching force, schools may be able to deploy them or their mentor teachers when substitutes are needed, reducing the number of new adults entering the school environment.
And of course, clinical supervision under normal circumstances involves adding yet another adult to the classroom. Supervision may need to go remote even for in-person student teaching—which supervisors themselves may also prefer, especially if they are part of an at-risk group.
As with any partnership work, these adjustments will require engagement from all sides. Faculty, P-12 partners, and state authorities all have valuable expertise to bring to the table, and each can help support the other’s success and ensure needs are being met. We have many good lessons to build on as we navigate this new road together. Collaboration will help us all get through the crisis and emerge with stronger bonds of partnership—some real good blown in by this ill wind.