An online meeting shows on a laptop screen behind a house plant.

Teaching Teachers to Teach Online Still Matters

Author: Samantha Goldman;

The concept of online teaching was foreign to many K-12 educators prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that brick-and-mortar schools have returned to a status-quo, does that mean that the need to prepare teachers for the online and hybrid environment has passed?

According to a recent Washington Update from the Teacher Educator Division of the Council for Exceptional Children, the answer to that question is no. The TED updates shares that, because of the teacher shortage, Virginia high schools are turning to online learning to support the needs of their students. And, as temperatures rise in the Northeast, some schools, particularly those without air conditioning, are opting to go virtual.

Supporting Educators in Online Learning

Research supports that, prior to the pandemic, most institutions did not provide pre-service teachers with the opportunities to develop skills as online teachers and only a select few states offered online teaching endorsements. So, the question CIDDL and other entities, such as CEEDAR, have been attempting to answer is “how do we best support pre-service special education teachers to develop the skills necessary to support learners in the brick-and-mortar, fully online, and hybrid environments? 

One place for support would be the iNACOL National Standards for Quality Online Teaching out of the Aurora Institute, which were written prior to the pandemic. Additionally, the collaborative effort of CIDDL and CEEDAR’s Affinity Group on the topic offers suggests, tools, and actionable resources that can be applied within teacher-preparation coursework. These include interviews with current teachers who teach online at the elementary and secondary level, recommendations for providing virtual practicums, and how to work with families as the “learning coach”.

Why It Matters

Students with disabilities and their families are choosing the online or hybrid environment for their students for many reasons including increased flexibility and challenges associated with medical issues. And, it is our responsibility to ensure FAPE for students with disabilities, regardless of the learning environment. Additionally, it is important that we continue to reflect on what went well during the brick-and-mortar closures and what areas schools and teacher-preparation programs need to improve. 

A recent article from Edweek cited four recommendations for schools to prepare for the next pandemic. First, they recommended focusing on procedures rather than specific scenarios. Even without a pandemic, having a plan in place for when school will be canceled and when it will be delivered online is important for school personnel and families alike. Is the infrastructure in place to support students online, should the need arise, due to snow days, extended heat, or other factors outside of our control? Next, they recommend having relationships with health officials. Though this may seem very “pandemic” focused, this too has implications beyond just the medical. How are we ensuring devices and necessary materials are delivered to students? How are we ensuring all are accounted for? Having these connections with officials can help ensure smooth transitions and roll outs. Additionally, they recommend to consider communication. How is the district, the school, and the teacher communicating with related personnel and families about their plans? Having a centralized messaging system is crucial to ensure everyone has the same access to information. Finally, and perhaps the most important, having a plan for teaching and learning to continue. Disasters and emergencies happen. We need to do our absolute best at the teacher preparation program to ensure that teachers leaving our programs have the preparation they need to be successful, regardless of the teaching environment.

Online and Hybrid Prep in Your Program

How are you preparing educators to teach in this environment? Do you have dedicated courses on the topic? Is it embedded within other methods classes? Share about your experiences in our community!