Dive Brief:

  • When schools shut down in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, South Dakota’s statewide teacher mentoring program shifted to virtual platforms like Zoom and Google Classroom so participants could continue to benefit from the insight of their peers — both for virtual instruction and mentoring, Waubay School District Superintendent Alan Neville and school improvement specialist Janeen Outka write for Edutopia.
  • Participants observed new teachers as they taught live remote lessons by either adding mentors as students or including mentors as co-teachers. Mentors were also able to collaborate on lessons with new teachers and share strategies, tech tools, resources and feedback online.
  • Additionally, mentors and new teachers said virtual mentoring saved time and allowed for flexibility like meeting more frequently.

Dive Insight:

Ongoing professional development has been critical in facilitating transitions to virtual learning amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. And while mentoring had been a high-value method of teacher training prior to the onset of the health crisis, shifting it to a virtual environment can be as tricky as transitioning a classroom itself. 

Some educators may need additional guidance to adjust to some platforms, and the logistics of how mentoring activities are carried out will need to be sorted. However, the virtual environment can also offer payoff in opening teacher/mentor pairing options that may not otherwise be possible. 

Top strategies for virtual mentoring include weekly meetings through a platform like Zoom or Skype, consistent scheduling, and working through scenarios that provide teachers prompts, such as reflecting on their past year through open-ended questions. Teachers and mentors can also jointly plan and implement virtual lessons, which allow mentees to ask questions and improve their own outcomes.

In a post-pandemic world, it will also be key for professional development to center on trauma-informed instruction as students begin to deal with the psychological repercussions of the previous year. Many students may be suffering anxiety, fear, sadness and feelings of being overwhelmed, and they need to feel they can connect with someone to help alleviate that stress. Teachers need PD tailored to those concerns, Mount Holyoke College Professor Megan Allen wrote for Edutopia in June.

With the new remote learning landscape requiring frequent check-ins with teachers, Los Angeles Unified School District’s comprehensive instructional technology program, which was in place prior to the pandemic, can serve as an example to consider. When the shift happened, the district revamped its 130 ed tech programs to make them more suitable for distance learning.

“Right now, it’s critical that educators have a person to connect with, even if it is on a computer screen, and ask questions to and get immediate responses to help them as they set up their virtual classroom,” Sophia Mendoza, the executive director for the district’s instructional technology initiative, told Education Dive previously. “But we’re not just converting 130 sessions, we’re being very intentional on which ones are most relevant to today’s [educator].” 

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