Shifting the mindset can lead to success in any modality
Most teachers had never faced a greater learning curve than they did this past year when they were confronted with the reality of virtual teaching – and it happened essentially overnight. At a national level, given the immediacy of the need, we saw different approaches to supporting educators in the shift to virtual and hybrid learning. While some states continued the traditional model of working through districts to provide support, others went directly to teachers and school leaders themselves and offered training to equip them with virtual instruction.
One example of this direct support was seen through a partnership with the Louisiana Department of Education and NIET for the 2020-21 school year, which provided free online training and support on high-quality strategies for virtual teaching and learning. The training provided educators with tools, templates, and resources they could apply immediately in their schools, all while promoting student engagement and ownership. Principals and school leaders also had the option to participate in a separate training on virtual coaching practices that support teachers with planning and delivery of high-quality virtual instruction. This partnership met the urgency of the moment and clearly showed the responsiveness of state leaders to educators' immediate needs, even if a teacher-level, statewide approach can be challenging to scale.
Using the techniques and tips provides an opportunity to think through the process of the lesson from a different perspective. This in turn broadens teacher thinking and planning that leads naturally to differentiation and efforts to truly engage this new kind of learner.Louisiana Teacher
Demand for these sessions was strong from the start. Thousands registered for the sessions, which started in the fall, and educators from 80 school systems (LEAs) across the state participated. The training not only met a key need at a key time, but it equipped educators more broadly to re-center on high-quality instruction practices and embrace new ideas. Here are a few of the comments we heard from educators who experienced the training.
Accommodating Educators' Needs
Accessing Timely, Relevant Strategies Anytime
The series of three 90-minute sessions, offered live and on-demand, equipped educators for a learning modality many were navigating for the first time by focusing on the most important levers for effective virtual teaching. The three sessions covered organization and planning; delivery of instructional practice that impacts student achievement; and how to create an engaging environment where all teacher and student needs are met. In each session, NIET outlined the elements and mindsets that need to shift from one modality to another and how these shifts can improve teaching over the long term.
Essential to this process was working collaboratively with LDOE to make the transition to virtual learning palpable for Louisiana educators. Careful planning went into showcasing Louisiana teachers instructing students with Tier 1 (high-quality) curriculum and incorporating annotated examples teachers across the state were using with their students. The organization of the sessions, coupled with the illustration of best practices grounded in familiar tools and resources, gave educators a touchstone for building their plans.
For teachers who were jumping in, quickly drilling into the most important areas was key. "The focus was what I needed to start virtual teaching," one teacher said in a follow-up survey. "The suggested instructional practices could be put in to place easily. I felt like I walked away from the session with more tools for my virtual learning toolbox," said another.
As a PD supervisor, the sessions helped me feel more confident in supporting my fellow teachers, especially brand-new teachers. I had to be very ready to take on their anxiety of teaching and learning virtually.Louisiana Leader
Leaders also pointed to the broader set of strategies that the sessions provided as influential in helping them think through the transition. "Using the techniques and tips from the training provides an opportunity for the teacher to think through the process of the lesson from a different perspective. This in turn broadens teacher thinking and planning that leads naturally to differentiation and efforts to truly engage this new kind of learner," one educator said. "We have incorporated a Tech Spotlight session in our PLCs where teachers share software and platforms that can be easily incorporated into their existing digital lessons. We have found tech that is useful for teachers and students, making the digital environment easier to navigate and more fun to be a part of."
Another school established a Digital Learning Team "consisting of teachers across all grade levels and content areas to support continued progress towards top-notch digital teaching and learning," the school leader said. "We have seen a surge in teacher confidence with the tech and a renewed sense of curiosity and risk-taking which has empowered teachers."
The leader-focused series also equipped school and district leaders to provide the support teachers needed. "Honestly, as a PD supervisor, the sessions helped me feel more confident in supporting my fellow teachers, especially the brand-new teachers whom I train once a week and who come to me for advice," one leader said. "I had to be very ready to be able to take on their anxiety of teaching and learning virtually."
Benefiting from a Statewide Network of Educators
Many educators felt more confident and reassured from the ability to collaborate with educators across Louisiana who, regardless of district size or location, were experiencing similar successes and challenges with the online transition. Through these sessions, they also saw they had the same needs to make online learning successful and create a safe space for students to thrive academically and emotionally.
The training "provided all of us with information about virtual learning formats and usage, as well as information and advice from other teachers on 'how-to's' and the realization that we are all in this together," said a Louisiana teacher. "I made some great connections with teachers who were not in my district and received some great input and add-on information."
The discussion groups were wonderful tools to learn more from peers, understand what works for others, and how I can incorporate that into my own teaching.Louisiana Teacher
Teachers also learned how to more intentionally incorporate strategies like wellness checks into their instructional time that could address both academics and social-emotional needs. Other educators and peers provided ideas in the chat box and in breakout rooms for strategies they had tried to facilitate online engagement and student ownership to deepen virtual learning. "The information was very applicable to my current situation, and the breakout session was extremely helpful to be able to discuss and get ideas from other teachers dealing with the same issues as I am with my virtual classroom," one teacher said. "The discussion groups were wonderful tools to learn more from peers, understand what works for others, and how I can incorporate that into my own teaching," said another.
Building on What Educators Knew
When educators had to quickly design and deliver virtual instruction in March 2020, many drew from their rubric or system of educator support. NIET designed a complementary tool for the NIET Teaching and Learning Standards Rubric called the NIET Rubric Companion for Virtual Instruction, which also had a crosswalk to the statewide Compass rubric. NIET rooted the tool in each training session to provide clarity and specificity around how to implement virtual learning. The resource outlines what effective teaching looks and sounds like in asynchronous and synchronous settings, broken down by domain and indicator, to deepen understanding of high-quality virtual instruction. The relevance of strong Louisiana examples, tools, and resources strengthened the connection between the rubric and everyday instruction.
Overwhelmingly, Louisiana training participants singled out the companion tool as helpful in laying out expectations, evidence, and what to look for in student actions and student work. Many valued its strong alignment to the NIET Teaching and Learning Standards Rubric and to Compass. "The Rubric Companion and crosswalk to Compass was exceptional," one educator said.
"I really enjoyed the breakdown of utilizing a rigorous objective for high expectations and student accountability," a Louisiana school leader said. "I was able to redeliver the information from the three sessions and make it applicable to our Guidebooks lessons in secondary ELA."
"The environment companion tool was directly related to what we were planning to deliver in cluster [professional development meetings]," said another school leader. "I was able to get more direction and strategies when planning to deliver this information to teachers."
Shifting the Mindset: "It's Not a Transition; It's a Transformation."
Virtual learning is more than a change in modality; it's a change in mindset. As one school leader put it, it's not merely a "transition" from one environment to another; it's a "transformation." NIET specialists used virtual learning as a vehicle for educators to dig deeper into their own instructional practice.
"The 'copy-and-paste' lesson plan is dead," said a Louisiana teacher. "Lesson plans for the virtual environment have to be revamped and rethought."
While lesson length or segmentation may be different in synchronous and asynchronous settings, student ownership of learning should be the ultimate goal. The training detailed three critical mindsets for achieving it: clarity (of objective and expectations); making sure students are the ones doing the thinking and problem-solving; and facilitating opportunities for students to take responsibility and leadership.
Clarity is critical for any lesson, but is even more pronounced when educators are not interacting with students face-to-face. Participants learned strategies to organize their lessons for various audiences. For example, they discussed how to make their thoughts crisp and concise for shorter synchronous sessions, and more detailed for asynchronous sessions so that students are able to complete their tasks without an abundance of follow-up.
The planning session "helped me look at our resources in a different way and helped me select materials to better support communication between the teacher and students in the virtual classroom," said a Louisiana school leader.
Coaching shifted the focus from a teacher-led to a student-led environment where students are thinking through their own strategies and interacting with each other to problem-solve and reach their own conclusions. Taking student engagement further, educators brainstormed how students could assess their own work, ask questions for understanding, and develop next steps to direct their own learning.
"I will use the student-adapted rubrics to have students assess their own learning," said a Louisiana teacher. "I am also using the shared website to take the pulse of students to have them feel cared for in the learning community."
As educators look to the fall, they will carry skills both adaptable for any modality and beneficial throughout their careers.
"I honestly expected these trainings to be redundant and not beneficial to a teacher who had already done some virtual teaching. However, the collaboration and discussion that occurred as well as the rubric that helped guide virtual learning and teaching were extremely helpful," one educator wrote. "The presenters were well spoken and delivered a meaningful training that didn't drag on in a way that was boring or useless. I really gained a lot from these trainings and have recommended them to all I work with on numerous occasions."
Deepening Learning this Summer
The asynchronous modules are available on the LDOE website to access or reference at any time.
This summer, the LDOE is continuing its partnership with NIET to offer a training opportunity called Best Practices for Louisiana Schools. The training is being provided virtually, or in person if preferred, and supports schools in leveraging the essential components that drive professional and student growth: instructional leadership teams; teacher collaboration; teaching and learning standards; principal standards; and career pipeline. For more information and how to participate, download the flyer.