Mary Washington Reaches Out

College of Education Helps K-12 Teachers Navigate Change

By Neva Trenis ’00

After doing their best to teach remotely for three months due to the global pandemic, Virginia’s K-12 teachers got word in June that they likely would return to teaching for the fall semester – and at least some of it would be online. The sudden switch in spring had been hard enough; few of the state’s teachers had been trained in remote education or in keeping off-site students engaged.

They needed help. That’s when the University of Mary Washington’s College of Education (COE) stepped up. In collaboration with Continuing and Professional Studies (CPS) at UMW, a Summer Virtual Teaching Series quickly emerged.

“It has been an exciting opportunity to share the experience and knowledge of the College of Education faculty with local schoolteachers,” said Kristina Peck, UMW director of clinical experiences.

In just four weeks, based on local educators’ input, UMW prepared six one-credit professional-development courses providing best practices in online instruction. Despite the tight schedule, UMW didn’t sacrifice quality, said Kimberly Young, CPS executive director. The classes had to meet the same standards as other COE courses.

“It’s important that we are able to quickly respond to the needs of the region by doing just-in-time programs like this series,” Young added.

The Summer Virtual Teaching Series began in mid-June with full enrollment – 200 K-12 teachers from across the region. The courses offered training in online instruction, but just as importantly, they placed teachers right where their students would be: facing the challenges presented by remote learning.

A student might have trouble logging on to a site, Young said, or downloading materials and assignments. “These are real things that are going to happen, and the teachers [in our program] experience it themselves,” she said. “They gain personal insight and empathy.”

The classes covered teaching tools, planning, and options for delivering assignments. Among the topics were elementary instruction, foundations of online teaching, secondary instruction in science and mathematics, ways to support students with specialized learning needs, and K-12 assessment. The series supported Virginia standards of learning and helped teachers inspire critical and creative thinking, collaboration, communication, and citizenship.

As a public university, Mary Washington is eager to help local residents when needs arise. UMW couldn’t have delivered these classes so quickly without the collaboration of area schools and teachers – and it was facilitated by the College of Education’s longstanding relationships with area school divisions.

According to COE Dean Peter Kelly, each year UMW places more than 350 students in partner schools for hands-on learning. “Our ability to be successful in teacher preparation is contingent upon the success of our partner schools,” he said. “As a college of education in a public university, we have a responsibility to be actively involved in the life of our partner schools.”

In her role as director of clinical experience, Peck works closely with area school divisions. She helps place UMW students in classrooms, and she supports initiatives such as Virginia’s Teachers for Tomorrow program for recruiting high school students into the teaching profession.

Developing the summer virtual learning series was a natural fit for Peck.

Local divisions reaped the benefits. Stafford County Public Schools educator Monica VanHusen worked closely with UMW to register county teachers in the program. The classes focused on skills she and her colleagues needed, she said, and UMW offered them at the right time.

Marci Catlett, superintendent of Fredericksburg City Schools, was “extremely excited” about collaborating with UMW and neighboring districts to support teachers. “We can always count on UMW to provide high-quality and relevant courses that respond specifically to the diverse needs of our staff,” Catlett said.

Helping teachers also helps families and communities, Young said. Investing in students today will result in adults who contribute to society tomorrow – something that the COVID-19 pandemic has proven may be more important than ever.

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