As we settle into month two of the COVID-19 crisis, thousands of schools nationwide remain shuttered. Teachers and administrators have had little lead time — and even less training — to transition to online teaching and learning. With varying degrees of efficacy, schools nationwide have turned the reins over to teachers working from home to keep their students on track. For educators, this was a calamity; for Dr. Nicole Galante, it was an opportunity to help.
Galante is the acting director of Stony Brook University’s Center for Teaching and Learning in Community (CTLC), a new venture from the School of Professional Development (SPD) that was created to provide innovative training and outreach programs for K-12 teachers and administrators. Originally set to launch in July with both on-campus and online professional development courses, Galante rushed to open the Center three months early to deliver online workshops to help teachers manage this transition.
“Though this wasn’t the launch we were planning for the Center, the time for community is now,” said Galante.
Working with just two weeks’ lead time, Galante set out to discover what training or support would be of immediate need to teachers. She used social media channels, emailed surveys and hosted “virtual teachers lounges” to connect with educators. From there, she built a schedule that covered a variety of topics, ranging from the use of specific web-based tools to broader topics such as managing stress and avoiding burnout.
To teach these workshops, she reached out to her network of subject matter experts and asked them to share their knowledge of online teaching — for free.
Galante said, “My colleagues and I wanted to make sure that we could help as many teachers as we could, and we didn’t want cost to be a prohibitive factor. So we decided to offer these workshops for no charge through May 15.” Teachers who need CTLE (continuing education) credit hours are only charged $25 per workshop.
The CTLC catalog includes workshops in content-specific pedagogy, online tools for teaching and learning, and social and emotional learning, all of which, according to Galante, are meant “to guide teachers through the transition of their mindset: teaching and learning from home is different.”
And by “different,” Galante does not mean “less.”
“Online teaching and learning presents us with opportunities to use tools and strategies to guide students to create things they never thought possible,” she said.
The workshop series launched on April 6 with 22 workshops that garnered 300 registrations. By the second week, the numbers had grown dramatically, with 200 workshops and more than 700 registrations. As week three begins, there are 1,750 registrations, and Galante expects the numbers to continue to rise.
“The huge response to this program has been heartwarming, as it reflects our teachers’ commitment to keeping their students learning and engaged,” said Galante.
Dr. Ronald M. Masera, superintendent of the Center Moriches Central School District and president-elect of the Suffolk County Superintendents’ Association, praised the Center and the University in an email: “We are very grateful for this extraordinary partnership…The ability of our teachers to take courses for free and learn directly from experts in distance learning models has been extremely beneficial for our teachers in both level of comfort and efficacy.”
While many teachers have expressed concerns about how to keep students learning during COVID-19, the transition can be particularly daunting for teachers like Robin Paola, an elementary school music teacher who works in the Kings Park Central School District. “I’ve been doing this job for 33 years. This is a horror show for an ‘old’ educator who has singing, dancing and instrument performance in every class.” Ms. Paola signed up for half a dozen workshops to identify online options for her classroom performances, but she also found a side benefit in the camaraderie of her peers. “The Zoom class was great because the room was filled with others just like me. You recognized that we were all, truly, in this together.”
Most workshop attendees are New York educators, but the Center has also received registrations from all across the United States.
“I love connecting with people all over the United States to see what they are doing to respond to the shift to online learning,” says James Richardson, the CTLC’s subject-matter expert in Google Classroom for Elementary Teachers. “Having participants from New York to Hawaii to Texas really helps us all feel like we are pulling together as a community.”