Supporting Delaware Educators
CEHD helps teachers, administrators adjust to remote learning
School buildings across Delaware and much of the nation were closed in the spring of 2020 because of the coronavirus (COVID-19 pandemic and many are now closed for the summer, but that doesn’t mean the University of Delaware hasn’t been working to help students and teachers, parents and administrators.
In Delaware, more than 138,000 public school students were impacted by Gov. John Carney’s declaration that school buildings remain closed for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. Districts, schools and educators shifted gears to remotely serve students and families across the state. But they didn’t have to do it all alone. The faculty and staff of UD’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) have been working with educators across the state to offer assistance during this disruption.
Besides the research and academic missions of CEHD, the college has various centers and programs that are routinely engaged in offering support to schools, students and educators. While the setting may have changed from in-person to virtual meetings, the work of these centers and programs continues uninterrupted and in many cases is enhanced.
Supporting students by supporting leaders
The Delaware Academy for School Leadership (DASL) is a professional development, research and policy center that works to improve public education by developing leaders through a variety of programs like the Principal Preparation Program, which is a certification program that includes a robust mentorship program.
With established relationships spanning the state, the faculty and staff of DASL are well-positioned to offer school leaders direct support for their pandemic responses.
Nathalie Princilus, assistant principal at Delcastle Technical High School in the New Castle County Vo-tech district, sees this as a key benefit.
“What are you seeing in other schools that are great resources?” Princilus recently asked her DASL mentor, Jacqueline Lee. “Through her conversations with other educators, she’s been able to share resources with me that I don’t necessarily have access to, but that have proven beneficial to our school.”
DASL Director Jackie Wilson also credits the extensive connections DASL has throughout the state as an asset during this crisis.
“The faculty and staff of DASL are so connected to Delaware educators,” Wilson said. “We have all been principals and assistant principals. We have been teachers and we all teach courses. As a result, many educators across the state have been reaching out to us for guidance. We are in the relationship business and we have utilized those relationships to help in whatever ways we can.”
Supporting students with autism
As teaching shifted online, how best to serve students with autism, as well as students experiencing other disabilities, was and remains at the forefront of many discussions around implementing remote teaching.
The Delaware Network for Excellence in Autism (DNEA) is led by UD’s Center for Disabilities Studies in collaboration with its partner organization Autism Delaware. The DNEA provides training and technical assistance to agencies, organizations and those directly impacted by autism. Among other programs, the work includes a regular training schedule designed for educational professionals on how best to support students with autism and their families.
The DNEA recognized the need to swiftly shift to virtual training sessions for educators.
“In response to the COVID-19 crisis, we have moved our large-scale, statewide trainings to an online format,” said Sarah Mallory, interim director of the DNEA and CEHD faculty member. “These trainings focus on evidence-based teaching strategies for individuals with autism and enrollment has only grown, despite the current situation and the change in format.”
Virtual training sessions were offered through May and scheduled for June. Training sessions are free and open to educators, professionals supporting students with autism, and families.
Additionally, the DNEA is creating resources that can be utilized by educators and families to support distance learning and explain COVID-19 related topics, like social distancing and handwashing, to children and youth with autism.
“These resources are being developed in response to conversations with community members and stakeholders about their needs,” said Mallory.
One important response from the Professional Development Center for Educators (PDCE) is helping to lighten the burden of curriculum development on the shoulders of educators.
PDCE works closely with teachers and administrators to meet the professional development needs of the kindergarten-to-12th-grade education community through its expertise in evidence-based instructional practices and the core subjects of English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies.
That work is still happening, but the UD faculty and staff have leveraged their existing relationships with schools and educators to provide the kinds of support educators need right now.
The PDCE provided direct curriculum support and instructional materials to schools, which freed educators to spend more of their time interacting with students.
Jillian Mitchell, a literacy and intervention specialist with the Brandywine School District, reached out to PDCE director Sharon Walpole early on with questions about how to transition to remote teaching.
“I contacted Sharon Walpole and asked what the curriculum would look like during remote learning and what her team could do for us,” Mitchell said. “Her response, ’We’re here for you. We’ll do whatever you need us to do.’ ”
The response from PDCE was to create lessons in multiple content areas for K-12 educators, not only at Brandywine but for school districts throughout Delaware. This heavy lift from PDCE has been crucial in allowing districts to provide lessons that are equitable and allow teachers to be more responsive to the individual needs of students and their families during the pandemic.
“Our teachers are so appreciative of this lift off of their shoulders,” said Michelle Hawley, a mathematics and world languages supervisor also with Brandywine School District. “To know that these resources have been vetted and prepared by curriculum specialists is really just amazing.”