When the COVID-19 health crisis sent students and educators home in March, K-12 educators skilled at teaching face-to-face in traditional classroom settings suddenly found themselves faced with the challenges of a transition to virtual, or online teaching.
For many teachers, it was a daunting transition. How would they connect with students? How would they keep them motivated? How would this affect their grades? What is Zoom?
Two University of Louisiana Monroe faculty members in the School of Education in the College of Arts, Education, and Sciences, Dr. Heather Kennedy and Dr. Amy Weems, were asked to develop a program to assist Northeast Louisiana educators from kindergarten through 12th grade to manage and maximize their online classrooms.
Kennedy, Ed.D., Field Experience and Residency Coordinator, and Weems, Ed.D., Assistant Professor and Coordinator for Secondary Education, already have relationships with area elementary, middle, and high schools. Kennedy and Weems work with district leaders to place ULM education students in residency classrooms (student teaching), coordinate practicums, and foster the interest of high school juniors and seniors planning to become teachers through the Educators Rising Program.
Together, they were poised to help teachers find effective ways to continue to educate students who were logging in from home.
“When K-12 schools in Louisiana closed due to COVID-19, Dr. Amy Weems and I were approached with the opportunity to help support K-12 teachers in delivering content online to their students. We immediately contacted our partner districts and educator friends to spread the word. We were greatly pleased by the positive response we received,” Kennedy said.
“We were contacted by Leslie Durham from the Delta Regional Authority with a request to help teachers transition from face-to-face to online learning,” said Weems. “We had to re-imagine what good teaching can look like when it’s not face-toface. The educators who have stepped up to the plate during these online support conversations have been so supportive of one another.”
The result is Online Educators Support. Using weekly webinars with educators throughout NELA, Kennedy and Weems presented howto instructions, plans, and goals for each week.
“We started with the basics and showed educators how to, in real-time, connect with their students even if it was just to see their faces and say hello. I think connecting with students in the early stages of the stay at home order was the most important part for educators,” Kennedy said.
With Kennedy’s background in elementary education, she focused on those teachers, while Weems centered on middle and high school. They addressed specific needs as they developed, customizing plans to fit the grade level and the subject.
“The program evolved from helping educators connect virtually on different platforms, to creating virtual classrooms and setting expectations so that learning could continue,” Kennedy explained.
“We created modules for transitioning traditional assignments to online platforms, discussed how to reach students who may not be able to ‘attend’ virtual classes and how to manage the online work while providing high-quality feedback to students,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy and Weems were available to work one-on-one with educators by appointment through “virtual office hours.”
The response from more than 150 educators has been rewarding for the pair.
“It was so encouraging each week to see teachers come back and want to know more. Teachers and administrators from all over north Louisiana attended and put their new learning into action,” Kennedy said.
The school year ends soon, but the uncertainty of the fall looms: will schools reopen in the fall for the 2020-21 academic year?
The response from educators led Kennedy and Weems to realize this was probably just the beginning for Online Educators Support.
“My favorite part each week was talking with teachers about how they connected with their students and used some of the virtual tools they learned about in the webinars. The teachers would light up talking about their students, that made this work so rewarding and encouraging,” Kennedy said.
“I think this was a pilot (program) for how the university can support programs for the future. Everyone benefits from community partnerships, and the Online Educators Support can serve as a model going forward,” said Weems.