How virtual platforms can enhance the preparation experience
By: Dr. Amy Wooten, NIET Executive Director of Higher Education Partnerships and Special Projects
Over the past year, it has been inspiring to watch educators tackle the many challenges presented by the pandemic. Teachers have learned a lot about how to shift learning online for K-12 students … but what about the college students who are preparing to teach these students in the future? How are teacher candidates being prepared for the range of scenarios and demands they will experience in the coming years – and how can a virtual platform best help prepare them?
At the root of these questions lies a fundamental truth about teacher preparation – regardless of modality, learning to be an effective teacher requires practice and continuous feedback for improvement. Teacher candidates need opportunities to see high-quality instruction, learn from a mentor teacher, and get feedback on lessons that they prepare and lead.
While in-person teaching and learning is ideal for aspiring teachers as they prepare, the transition to online has shown us how virtual learning can offer advantages. For example, lessons that aspiring teachers deliver virtually could be more accessible to a variety of faculty and mentors for observation. Additionally, online learning platforms provide aspiring teachers with the opportunity to observe a wider variety of classes than they would be able to access in-person and provide the chance to re-watch effective teaching to notice what great teachers model in practice. They could even watch key clips alongside their mentor teacher so that the teacher could discuss what they observe. Even as we transition back to "normal," higher education leaders should consider how to create similar opportunities for observation and feedback, as well as access to resources that can help aspiring teachers to prepare.
Regardless of modality, learning to be an effective teacher requires practice and continuous feedback for improvement. Teacher candidates need opportunities to see high-quality instruction, learn from a mentor teacher, and get feedback on lessons that they prepare and lead.Dr. Amy Wooten, Executive Director of Higher Education Partnerships and Special Projects
NIET has been working with higher education partners across the country to make sure that teacher candidates can observe high-quality lessons, learn from their mentors, and receive continuous high-quality feedback on lessons they prepare and lead – either in-person or virtually – to improve their professional practice. Our team has seen firsthand how that is helping to better equip teachers. A resource that has helped teacher preparation programs to offer these experiences this year is NIET’s online portal, the Educator Effectiveness Preparation & Support System (EE PASS), and NIET is expanding on this platform to launch a new online portal specifically for higher education – NIET PREP – which will be home to a wide array of resources for aspiring teachers and the educators who support them.
These resources can help fill in the pandemic-caused gaps in a new teacher's preparation and increase access for future candidates. For example, Tennessee Technological University and Union University in Tennessee have partnered with NIET to allow university faculty, staff, and candidates access to the current EE PASS portal to improve teaching and learning in the university classroom and as a resource for teacher candidates working in their residency programs. These two universities also partnered with NIET to train mentors, clinical and university staff, and students on the TEAM Rubric (aligned to the NIET Teaching Standards Rubric), which is directly linked to the online platform, furthering the powerful use of this tool. This type of support and access to resources will be increased by NIET PREP. Here is an overview of what is available now and what NIET is expanding on moving forward.
Videos of High-Quality Lessons
Teacher candidates can learn a lot by observing veteran and mentor teachers in their classrooms. There are valuable lessons to be learned in watching how the teacher implements a lesson plan, differentiates instruction, and manages classroom behavior. As schools shifted to virtual instruction, however, the opportunities for teacher candidates to observe classrooms decreased. While some teacher candidates may have been given the opportunity to observe a virtual classroom, many have not.
To address this gap, higher education institutions have made extensive use of videos of classroom lessons, along with shorter clips focused on specific teaching practices, subject areas, or grade levels in the EE PASS video library. The video library – which will also be available on NIET PREP – currently houses hours of professionally filmed classroom lessons, along with pre- and post-conferences between the teacher and their coach analyzing the strengths and areas for improvement in the lesson. These videos illustrate instructional and classroom management practices across a range of skill levels, grades, and content areas – often in a split screen format to simultaneously show teacher action and student response. Aspiring teachers can see classroom instruction, identify effective practices used in the lesson, and observe what students are doing and the work they produce. After watching the lesson, they can discuss it with university faculty or with their mentor. For some lessons, NIET has provided ideas for related activities and discussion questions that faculty members and site coordinators could use.
Training Modules on Instructional Skills
As teacher candidates progress through their coursework, it is particularly important for them to learn how to use high-quality instructional materials. Making strong connections between the theory – the ideas, concepts, and practices taught during coursework – and how that theory transforms to authentic practice in a real classroom has been challenging for higher education institutions due to school closures over the past year and ongoing limits on school visits. NIET's partners can also use the training modules on the online platform as a learning tool for the faculty and mentors responsible for observing and providing feedback to aspiring teachers. By using the modules, observers can refine and calibrate their understanding of rubric language and what evidence looks like related to a specific indicator. This stronger understanding of the rubric language and "look-fors" leads to more meaningful coaching conversations, ultimately increasing the aspiring teacher's skills.
The online platform also serves as an additional resource for faculty to support aspiring teachers in their coursework. One example of this is Northern Arizona University, where university leadership and faculty opened the portal to students in the university's college of education. With the expansion of access, mentors and university staff can now assign students videos, conference presentations, or other resources on a specific content area for review and practice. We have seen a similar approach among other higher education partnerships, including Arizona State University, Marian University (Indiana), Southeastern Louisiana University, Texas Tech University, and Cumberland University in Tennessee.
Expanding NIET's Support for Higher Education with NIET PREP
Using EE PASS as a teaching tool, professional development guide, and platform for feedback has allowed preparation programs to maintain a high level of support for their students. NIET's higher education partners have also shared feedback about their unique needs and desire for a more tailored online platform, and at our NIET 2021 National Conference, we previewed the new NIET Portal for Raising Educator Preparation (NIET PREP) tool for conference attendees.
NIET PREP will provide higher education institutions with tools, resources, and support specifically tailored to teacher preparation – including access to professional development, training, and certification resources to enhance the instruction and observation of aspiring teachers. Not only will NIET PREP house a resource library of videos and documents, but it will also support the NIET Aspiring Teacher Rubric and provide crosswalks with edTPA and the InTASC standards. Key NIET PREP features are:
- Customized tools for aspiring teachers, including the new NIET Aspiring Teacher Rubric.
- Resource Library, with classroom lessons along with scores and evidence designed to improve performance on the rubric indicators.
- Interactive and self-paced training modules that can be used to enhance teaching practices, the observation process, and coaching practices.
The portal houses resources to extend aspiring teachers' understanding of effective instruction, as well as models of providing impactful instructional feedback to support supervisors and cooperating mentor teachers with their role in developing aspiring teachers. Access to NIET PREP will be available to higher education partners starting in summer 2021. Refining the support traditionally provided by EE PASS, NIET PREP will ultimately help prepare an even stronger pipeline of the next generation of effective educators.