In March, education in North Carolina changed drastically and swiftly for both students and educators. During an unprecedented time, support for students and teachers would be paramount.
In a tweet of advice, University of Colorado at Denver Professor and Author Sean Michael Morris shared, “Online doesn’t mean you need to change how you teach.
You are still just as human, and so are the students on the other side of your screen. Email, text messages, phone calls—these are all ways to sustain a human connection.” This phrase has since served as a guide for our North Carolina New Teacher Support Program.
Traditionally, UNC Pembroke’s North Carolina New Teacher Support Program centers around intense face-to-face coaching for beginning teachers. These weekly meetings are supported with phone calls, text messages, emails, and virtual sessions. Professional development sessions were a collaborative effort with our school district partners. Coaches observed, co-taught and modeled; they provided resources and helped beginning teachers understand school data. Coaches developed relationships with beginning teachers and district partners that focused on what is best for students’ cognitive and social-emotional needs—all focused on the human condition.
But we, like everyone else knew the widespread effects of COVID-19 meant we needed to regroup to provide more support than ever before. While support may look a little different, its importance hasn’t changed. In the first few days, we listened and talked with teachers about their anxieties as conversations about virtual learning became louder and the possibility of those teachers not seeing their students became stronger. Our support then shifted to providing teachers and district personnel with resources and strategies as virtual learning became the new normal. As the weeks have passed, we have found new coaching structures that focus on virtual strategies and collaborations to support the students’ needs and education, while remaining focused on the human condition.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging, but the resilience of our region’s teachers has not faltered. Carrie Brewington, an instructional coach in Bladen County, surmised, “Because the transition to remote learning was unexpected, many of my teachers initially felt unprepared to deliver instruction in a virtual format. But as the weeks passed, they continued to surprise themselves as they met each challenge with optimism and perseverance. Though I haven’t been able to meet each teacher face-to-face, our communication remains consistent and meaningful.” So many of our coaches across the region echo the same sentiment, and that determination should make us proud of our educators.
While COVID-19 has put the world on pause, it has not hindered the work we do each day to support beginning teachers in Southeastern North Carolina. Teachers who participate in the North Carolina New Teacher Support Program are 80% more likely to return to their same districts the next year. Given the uncertainty surrounding schools for next year, these beginning teachers returning to their same districts will be such an important factor to the success of our children providing continuity so important for supporting student growth and development.
It’s the human condition of caring for those in your community that matters.
Whatever comes next, we’ll be here, ready to collaborate and support the region’s beginning teachers—because the children they inspire will need us all.
Dr. Karen Granger is an assistant professor in the School of Education at UNC Pembroke.