As the nation continues to emerge from the trauma of the pandemic, students, educators, and learning communities need support now more than ever. This June, Educator Preparation Laboratory (EdPrepLab), an initiative led by Bank Street Graduate School of Education and Learning Policy Institute to harness the collective strengths of exemplary preparation programs from across the country, hosted its fourth annual Spring Convening titled, “Voices from the Field: What Early Teachers Need Right Now” to explore how the education ecosystem can support healthy learning environments for students and teachers. The EdPrepLab event was designed to highlight the importance of alignment of teacher preparation programs and their district partners in preparing highly competent and responsive teachers who are supported as they enter the field and throughout their careers.
EdPrepLab members and educators from across the country gathered virtually to explore how to help strengthen the teacher workforce and provide early career teachers with the support they need to enact equity-focused, deeper learning practices in their pre-K-12 classrooms.
“Our convenings create space for EdPrepLab members to connect and engage in productive discussions and workshops around deeper learning and equity,” said Jessica Charles, Senior Director of Research, Effectiveness, and Innovation, Bank Street Graduate School of Education, and Director, Educator Preparation Network, EdPrepLab. “We were pleased to welcome our community for this event and explore critical issues in teacher and leader preparation, share learnings, and plan next steps for collaboration with our colleagues.”
The day began with a panel discussion featuring early career teachers who recently started their work in education to discuss what educators need to enact equitable, meaningful instruction and explore how preparation programs and pre-K–12 schools can partner to support them. The 80-minute discussion was open to both EdPrepLab members and the public.
Panelists included Eberechukwu (Ebere) Nwaneri, Pre-Kindergarten Teacher, Liberty Elementary School, Baltimore City Public Schools, MD; Phi Nguyen, Kindergarten Teacher, Nooksack Elementary School, Nooksack Valley School District, WA; Adriana Rivera, High School Math Teacher, Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School, Los Angeles Unified School District, CA; and Kathrine Grant, High School English Teacher, Manchester High School, CT.
“It is important to highlight the voices of new teachers this year to enable policymakers and preparation programs to hear directly from those who have been navigating the challenges the pandemic has caused across the field of education while at the same time launching a career,” said Jessica Charles as she introduced the panel. “Our hope is to hear what is needed to prepare and support our newest educators at a time of great challenge and a time of great possibility.”
Judith Warren Little, Dean and Professor Emerita, University of California, Berkeley, who moderated the panel discussion, framed the conversation by sharing early findings from a two-year study of 75 teachers across nine states managing the pandemic teaching experience. She noted the challenges of online learning and student engagement, modifications to curricular priorities and instructional strategies, and social-emotional implications for students and teachers, among other findings.
“The sudden pivot to remote teaching, of course, interrupted academic instruction but, in particular, underscored the importance of teachers’ relationships with students and families as teachers worked to sustain a connection from a distance,” shared Little on one of the emerging themes from this research.
Throughout the conversation, panelists spoke about their experiences, including the challenges they faced and the supports they received from their schools and districts, such as designated time for teachers to meet and collaborate and the role of mentorship in the profession. They also reflected on the strengths of preparation programs they attended as students and shared areas that can be improved for the future, including a greater focus on social-emotional learning.
“While I am in my fourth year, in a lot of ways I feel like this is my second year because the only really normal year I had was the first one,” said Nguyen. “I had to navigate a lot of change and a lot of ‘new’ so I haven’t really gotten to feel the consistency of what your average fourth-year teacher might have felt in a more normal circumstance…the only constant is change.”
Soo Hyun Han-Harris, Coordinator, Retention and Employee Development, Oakland Unified School District, CA, tuned in later in the discussion to speak to her role in supporting early career teachers. A former teacher, Han-Harris noted her respect and appreciation for educators in the classroom during this time and emphasized that “the conversation about addressing learning loss has to be had side-by-side with a conversation about the social-emotional needs of teachers.”
Next, EdPrepLab network members tuned in to virtual working group sessions to discuss important topics in the field, such as racial justice in educator preparation, leadership preparation models, early childcare workforce policy and development, and creating and sustaining university and school district partnerships.
Each network member had the opportunity to participate in two working group discussions, which were led by faculty members from partner institutions. Within each session, faculty presented updates on the progress their unique EdPrepLab projects and learning experiences. Participants examined what aspects of the collaboration could be most salient for the field and explored what, if any, aspects of their project should be shared with the public, among other topics.
After the workshops, the EdPrepLab community and other attendees tuned in for a public-facing keynote presentation by Pamela Cantor, Founder and Senior Science Advisor, Turnaround for Children, followed by a fireside chat with education leaders titled “Introducing the Science of Learning and Development (SoLD) Educator Preparation Principles.”
Cantor’s keynote focused on centering brain science in approaches to teaching and learning as preparation programs develop a new generation of educators equipped to help all children thrive.
“The message in the science is clear: we need a new whole child design that is mapped to the way the brain grows and children learn. One that combines positive developmental relationships, environments filled with safety and belonging, meaningful learning experiences…the intentional development of the critical skills, mindsets, and habits that all successful learners have, and, of course, integrated student supports,” said Cantor in her keynote address, which focused on human development and learning science. “The science of learning and development does paint an optimistic picture of what is possible for each and every young person.”
Later, Cantor was joined by Bank Street President Shael Polakow-Suransky, GSE ’00, who moderated the fireside chat, as well as Na’ilah Nasir, President, Spencer Foundation, and President, American Educational Research Association; Jacqueline Rodriguez, Vice President of Research, Policy, and Advocacy, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education; and Kenneth Zeichner, Boeing Professor of Teacher Education Emeritus, University of Washington, Seattle.
Throughout the conversation, panelists discussed various topics on transforming educator preparation, including organizational and institutional structures to advance SoLD in teacher and leader preparation, as well as policies across the local, state, and national levels to support this process.
To view a recording of the early career teacher panel discussion, click here. To view a recording of “Introducing the Science of Learning and Development (SoLD) Educator Preparation Principles,” click here. To learn more about EdPrepLab, visit the EdPrepLab website