Preparing Student Teachers During the Transition to a Virtual Learning Environment

As states and localities take the necessary precautions to keep communities safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, teacher preparation programs and their partners face a challenge of their own: how they will adapt their programs to continue to support and train teacher candidates. This challenge is especially salient for teacher candidates currently completing their student teaching and no longer able to be physically present in classrooms working with students and learning from a mentor teacher. While some programs are suspending student teacher placements, others are exploring ways to continue the student teaching experience during this time of transition. For example, one program is setting up a virtual learning space in Zoom that is open to the community so teacher candidates can provide instruction and support for students. 

Given the importance of student teaching in the development of teacher candidates, preparation programs should collaborate with states and districts to identify creative solutions to continue and not cancel this clinical experience. Additionally, with many states experiencing teacher shortages, continuing to provide student teaching opportunities may help to prevent exacerbating those shortages in the coming years by ensuring current candidates in the pipeline are prepared to pursue licensure and enter the classroom. Finally, leveraging the capacity of student teachers can help districts transition to providing students new opportunities for learning in a virtual environment. 

Below are recommendations for teacher preparation programs (TPPs) to support the continued development of teacher candidates in this new environment, along with some recommendations for state education agencies (SEAs) and local education agencies (LEAs)/schools. All of the recommendations prioritize: 

  1. Serving the students in districts and schools that are most affected; 
  2. Continuing to provide student teachers the resources and support they need to learn and grow; and
  3. Maintaining high standards for practice while still being flexible.

Recommendations for TPPs

Collaborate with districts to alter expectations for student teachers

  • Communicate and collaborate with district partners as they develop their virtual learning plan, and where needed take the lead on transitioning content to virtual platforms with guidance from the district
  • Once a virtual learning plan is established by a district, incorporate the plan into college coursework and invite P12 faculty to virtually co-teach courses with higher education faculty so that student teachers can learn about the plan and virtual learning instructional strategies (see the Higher Education Remote Teaching Practices gathered by Instruction Partners)
  • Clearly communicate revised expectations for the clinical experience and coursework and create an FAQ for student teachers, district leaders, school leaders and mentor teachers that is regularly updated as guidance evolves with new information
  • Encourage student teachers to engage in a broader set of activities than originally envisioned, which may include researching virtual learning strategies, collaborating with the mentor teachers to structure the learning experience, and conducting family outreach and engagement

Explore virtual options for student teacher and mentor teacher communication and teaching activities

  • Identify additional resources to support virtual learning and communication such as a video conferencing platform (i.e., Zoom, WebEx, etc.)
  • Create structures for supervisors to ‘observe’ student teachers in the virtual learning environment, which may include joining live sessions, reviewing recorded sessions, and screenshots of dialogue between students, student work, assignments, and rubrics

Support new ways for student teachers to learn with one another and practice

  • Create an online space, or translate an existing space, for cohorts of student teachers to come together and share experiences, learnings and best practices for virtual engagement with students and mentor teachers
  • Explore the use of virtual classroom simulations, like the ones offered by Mursion, to provide ongoing interactive learning experiences to teacher candidates

Identify emerging student needs and support student teachers in meeting those needs

  • Develop a set of technology competencies for online teacher educators in collaboration with faculty, researchers and P12 leaders/teachers
  • Create an online teaching methods course and instruct student teachers on K-12 online teaching standards, such as iNACOL’s National Standards for Quality Online Teaching
  • Incorporate social and emotional learning (SEL) standards and teaching practices into teacher candidate curriculum 

Support teacher candidates in meeting graduation requirements

  • Allow student teachers to meet clinical experience and graduation requirements through virtual teaching placements
  • Support teacher candidates in completing the edTPA, with registration valid for 18 months, extension requests available with no change fee for impacted candidates, and two additional windows for submission announced by Pearson (dates pending) or other licensure requirements  

Additional Recommendations for LEAs/Schools and SEAs

LEAs/Schools

  • If teacher preparation programs are supporting the creation of a virtual learning plan, provide input and use student teachers as thought partners in how to engage students and families through online platforms
  • Encourage mentor teachers to develop a plan to work with student teachers as they convert classrooms into a virtual learning environment and translate coursework for the online platform
  • Empower student teachers to engage students’ families, which may include weekly family newsletters, 1:1 communications to families and compiling recommended activities for families to support student learning at home
  • Include student teachers in ongoing professional development provided to support teachers in the new virtual learning environment. And where student teachers have advanced skill in online platforms or engagement, enlist them in helping established teachers grow their own virtual acumen.

SEAs

  • Support collaborations between teacher preparation programs and districts to create and implement virtual learning plans 
  • Enable student teachers to serve as substitutes for teachers who may need to go on extended leave
  • Determine alternatives for teachers to meet the clinical experience requirements (e.g., allow virtual teaching placements to count towards required clinical experience hours)
  • Communicate changes to licensure assessments, including postponements and rescheduling to TPPs and teacher candidates
  • Consider a probationary license certificate for teacher candidates in the final year of their program, and implement a check in the Fall of 2020 to ensure they are meeting the basic teaching standards

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