Making the Grade: Professional Learning to Support our Educators During Remote Learning

by: Avleen Makkar, Abbe Cart, Max Spence, and Adam Newman | Blog Papers |Oct 14th, 2020

The first day of school looked starkly different this year for teachers and students nationwide. As districts continue to face uncertainty around how and where learning will happen, teachers are doing their best to engage students and deliver high-quality educational experiences. As teachers are stretched ever further by rising expectations, all stakeholders, from parents to administrators to suppliers want to know the same thing: how can the K-12 community better support teachers as they continue to navigate this fluid learning environment?

Tyton Partners first connected with teachers in April, at the start of the pandemic. This month we’ve followed up with PreK-12 educators nationwide to understand how they have adapted, what professional development they’ve engaged in, and where they continue to require support.  We have highlighted selected findings below; more detailed data and analysis can be accessed in our presentation, available for download.

If you are interested in discussing any of the themes below, we invite you to reach out and schedule time.

Tyton Partners is also sponsoring SOCAP20 Virtual and leading several conversations, including one regarding the effects of COVID-19 social emotional health. As a sponsor, we invite you to register for the event (Use the code Tyton20 for a 20% discount) and stop by our virtual booth. We will be available to meet throughout the conference Oct. 19-23. Please visit us there! 

Have a good day, and speak again soon.

Adam Newman, Founder and Managing Partner

Andrea Mainelli, Senior Advisor

Tanya Rosbash, Director 

How have teachers adapted to remote learning? What supports are still needed moving forward?

 

Educators continue to feel overwhelmed: The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in more than 90% of teacher respondents shifting to teaching remotely, though most had not done so previously. Teachers are adapting to an online format, but despite high participation in formal professional development activities this summer, teachers still don’t feel prepared to facilitate remote and online learning models.

While hybrid environments attempt to bridge student and teacher safety with the desire to create more familiar learning environments and experiences, mixed-modality models are often even harder for teachers to navigate than a fully remote classroom. Schools have adjusted staffing arrangements, but more significant opportunities exist to provide best practices and guidelines to teachers for this approach in particular. One issue to watch for will be teacher attrition; to what extent does the broader environment within which teachers find themselves contribute to elevated levels of movement away from the profession. Or, given the current economic challenges, will an increasingly overwhelming teaching role still be better than the possible alternatives?

For teachers, level of access, investment in professional development has varied: 40% of respondents report professional development available to them this fall has increased, while 30% report a decline. Access to online professional development models has grown, not surprisingly, particularly through participation in classes and conferences. However, in-person opportunities, which saw a near shut-down last spring, have seen the greatest rebound since, with ~70% of teachers reporting participating in a face-to-face experience this fall. Testing whether or not the uptick in online persists – and gains further traction and expansion at the expense traditional face-to-face models – will likely be an issue suppliers track closely.

Quality of professional development may not be at level needed: A significant percentage of teachers feel the quality of professional development they have received during COVID is worse than what they have experienced historically, accounting for both content and delivery considerations. Most teachers report schools and districts have invested in preparing teachers for the fall, but the consensus is that expectations placed on teachers through this period have been too great. While teachers have appreciated the ability to participate in development activities asynchronously and through virtual formats, many of the experiences have been too generic to effectively support a more purposeful transition to hybrid or online models; moreover, survey comments highlight an issue many past studies have reported: teachers simply don’t have the time they’d like to participate in training and development.

The level of effort across the summer and early fall to simply get schools opened certainly affected the amount, duration and level of professional development most districts and schools were able to provide. Understanding teachers’ perceptions of the impact of the professional development they have and are participating in across the fall will be an important signal vis-à-vis the gaps that still exist in reskilling and upskilling our educators.

Teachers are also pursuing training on their own: Given the pivot to remote learning and ongoing adaptions, only 10% of teachers feel the professional development offered by their district fully meets their needs. To fill the gap, nearly 80% report seeking their own professional development experiences solutions or are reaching out to peers for support. More than 40% are spending their own dollars to access necessary learning experiences. Gauging whether these individual-specific investments will persist – and in what form – is something we will continue to evaluate across the year.

Short-term, teachers are looking for ways to engage students virtually: ~90% of educators have participated in professional development around the use of digital tools and platforms and have found that to be invaluable. While this has been critical in providing teachers with the basics of teaching online, a gap exists between feeling comfortable managing the basics and moving forward to apply and adapt tools in more mature ways to deliver strong instructional experiences and meet the learning needs of specific student populations. These findings are not surprising; building new competencies for online/ remote instruction is not something achieved in weeks or even months, and yet teachers in our K-12 ecosystem are being expected to do just that.

Over the next six months, 50% of teachers desire more training on how to engage students in a remote environment. Considering that more than a quarter of teachers surveyed by Tyton Partners last June reported “maintaining student relationships” as a top challenge during COVID, there is a great opportunity for training that helps teachers connect with individual pupils.

Regarding the long term, there is less of a clear consensus around teachers’ priorities for professional development. Though all groups show an increased interest in finding ways to assess student growth and mastery, PreK-5th grade teachers also show a noticeably higher desire for training on differentiated instruction. Teachers of older grades indicate interest in subject-specific training.

For third-party vendors seeking to support schools and teachers during this unique time, keeping close to the under-served or unmet needs of teachers and students is vital.  There remains much work to be done in this area to ensure we meet the needs and expectations of 50+ million students and their parents.

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