Widespread public and private school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic created a significant challenge for teachers-in-training (teacher candidates) across the Unites States. As schools and districts moved online, this left teacher candidates struggling to complete their necessary student teaching fieldwork hours and training. The pandemic and transition to virtual learning compounded an already serious statewide teacher shortage in California.
In an effort to support public education and ensure an uninterrupted pipeline of future educators, Chapman University’s Thompson Policy Institute on Disability (TPI) came together with its partners to create online resources for teacher candidates and schools. In collaboration with state and national partners, including the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) and Orange County Department of Education, TPI helped develop the California Alliance for Inclusive Schooling (CAIS) Active Education Webinars Series for teacher candidates.
The first CAIS Active Education Webinar was held in late April 2020, just two weeks after the idea was proposed. Eight total webinars were held throughout April, May, and June, serving more than 800 participants, with overwhelmingly positive feedback.
The CAIS webinars were designed for candidates in all preliminary teacher preparation programs—Multiple Subject (elementary), Single Subject (secondary), and Education Specialist (special education) candidates. The goal was to help teacher candidates continue to gather required observation or clinical hours, despite widespread school closures.
The CAIS Active Education Webinars held throughout April, May, and June covered a breadth of topics:
- Universal Design for Learning
- Differentiated instruction
- Multitiered System of Support (MTSS)
- CalTPA guidance for candidates and programs during COVID-19
- Collaborating with students in face-to-face, virtual and blended learning environments
The virtual format gave teacher candidates direct access to experts in these key areas. With integrated breakout sessions, the webinars also helped them form professional learning communities with peers and veteran teachers.
Seventy-three percent (73%) of the webinar participants were teacher candidates themselves. On average, each participant attended two CAIS Active Education Webinars. The registered participants included teacher candidates from 176 California school districts representing 31 of the 58 counties in the state.
The other 27% of participants consisted of representatives from county offices of education, SELPAs (Special Education Local Plan Areas), district superintendent offices, and 55 institutions of higher education (IHEs) from across the United States.
Preliminary survey results show the webinar attendees benefitted from the expert content. Teacher candidates said they felt more confident in creating lesson plans, while teacher educators said they planned to use the information from the webinars to train future teachers.
Somneng Deneng, an instructional aide working in the Oakland Unified School District and a teacher candidate in the Masters of Education and teaching credential program at Holy Names University, said the CAIS webinars reaffirmed her love of learning and teaching: “My session was amazing and informative, by far one of the best I’ve attended and participated in 18 years of working in education. I have gained so many more tools and strategies, especially for my students with learning differences.”
Results indicate that 95% of participants felt the webinars strongly increased or increased their understanding of the content, and 94% said that their ability to apply what they learned increased or strongly increased. In addition, 94% felt more prepared to create engaging and accessible learning experiences than before the webinar.
Virginia Kennedy, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Special Education at California State University Northridge, thought the webinar she attended was comprehensive, organized, and “of great value to teachers.”
Because school and district plans for the fall are still unsettled, Dr. Kennedy believes there’s continuing need for teacher candidate training moving forward: “We don’t know whether getting access to candidates’ clinical practice settings will be smooth or not, so counting these webinars as hours may still be needed.”
Fall Webinar Series
TPI and its partners have developed a second set of webinars for fall 2020. Currently scheduled fall topics include “Using Tech Tools to Universally Design Distance Learning,” “Culturally and Linguistically Relevant Academic Instruction,” and “Building Community Through Restorative Practices.” See the Active Education Webinars webpage for the full set of topics, dates, and times.
In addition to the fall 2020 series, recordings of past CAIS Active Education Webinar sessions are available on-demand at InclusionCalifornia.org.
Thanks to financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Thompson Family Foundation, the webinar recordings are available to all at no cost.
Thompson Policy Institute on Disability
TPI’s mission is to provide independent information on topics related to disability and facilitate action in areas that require community change. Throughout each year, TPI produces research that results in recommendations to decision-makers at the local, state, and national levels. The aim is to educate stakeholders on these topics in order improving the quality of life for children and adults with disabilities and their families. For the latest information, follow TPI on Facebook.
California Alliance for Inclusive Schooling
The California Alliance for Inclusive Schooling (CAIS) is an intersegmental group of professionals dedicated to the development of inclusive schools for all students. Our mission is to support, unify and promote efforts to increase inclusive schooling in California. The Alliance focuses on practice in schools, policy for state recommendations, and preparation of school professionals and is comprised of three working groups: Practice, Policy, and Preparation.