Educators at all levels of the school system are working hard to address the current challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, trying to keep students and staff safe while also supporting student learning. They do not need to work alone. Partnerships of all kinds are available to support these efforts.
The guiding questions in this chapter are intended to help education practitioners consider how this volume’s four foundational principles—in particular, Principle 3—can be applied to supporting collaborations and partnerships among educators and among school systems and other community members.
Teachers, like students, need opportunities to learn over time and to get feedback that helps them grow professionally.1 In spring 2020, very few school systems had the time to set up ways for administrators to support teachers by observing their virtual classes or providing feedback on their lesson plans, but more schools and districts are making plans to incorporate these kinds of opportunities in the coming months, with a focus on teacher learning rather than teacher evaluation. In addition, joint planning time2 and professional learning communities (PLCs) can be an invaluable resource for educators when they are given time and space—even remotely—to learn from one another, facilitated by teacher
leaders or instructional coaches.3 Participating in PLCs can be a way for teachers to share their learning about students’ cultural backgrounds and phenomena that connect closely to community interests and to collaboratively look at student work to help figure out how to help students progress toward three-dimensional learning goals.
Box 7-1 describes how teachers who met remotely in a PLC were able to share feedback to help each other strengthen their understanding of science and engineering practices.
3 See https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1OZQJuiYxvB8Hi_a3zfjNftiZ-bQ9_MqO15nxXPwf04k/edit#slide=id.g78195a4180_1_42; also see Science Teachers’ Learning: Enhancing Opportunities, Creating Supportive Contexts. Available: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/21836/science-teachers-learning-enhancingopportunities-creating-supportive-contexts; and Guide to Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards. Available: https://www.nap.edu/read/18802/chapter/6#40.
This story highlights not only the benefits of collaborative learning, but also the time required for building understanding of new ways of teaching and learning—which is true for both students and teachers. The teachers in the vTLC did not transform their teaching after just one meeting. They spent time over many weeks deepening their understanding and working together to figure out what application of high-quality learning and teaching principles could look like in their remote classrooms.
In addition to PLCs, teachers will need multiple, ongoing opportunities for professional learning to help them support an effective transition to the new demands of changing instructional models for remote, hybrid, and other new school models. As mentioned throughout this volume, those opportunities need to include strategies for:
- incorporating students’ background, culture, and perspectives in meaningful ways in instruction;
- adopting self-care techniques for health and well-being;
- identifying students who are struggling with trauma;
- providing explicit instruction to students on social and emotional skills, habits, and mindsets;
- using new technological tools for instruction;
- facilitating student discourse to help the students feel that they are driving learning toward sense-making or problem solving;
- integrating content from multiple disciplines; and
- providing constructive feedback to students in remote settings.
When locally provided professional development opportunities in all these topics is not available, it can be helpful to make use of resources from organizations, such as the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA), to help bolster teacher learning. It is important to note that the professional learning needs of teachers in different grade bands are likely to be different. For example, teachers in elementary grades are more likely to need more time to engage in professional learning related to several different academic disciplines than middle and high school teachers.
Teacher professional learning in the near future will be conducted remotely, giving teachers the opportunity to experience instruction in the ways their students have been experiencing it.4 WestEd’s K–12 Alliance5 did virtual professional learning for teachers in summer 2020 and found that many of the same principles about how to engage students virtually (see Chapter 4) also apply to adult learners. For example, the K–12 Alliance found that it is important to be strategic in divvying up synchronous versus asynchronous activities. Professional learning providers found that the time one can expect to have productive synchronous participation in an online environment is much more limited than during face-to-face professional learning. However, they also noticed a benefit associated with
community building. When their teachers already had close working relationships, their online meetings could be productive for a much longer stretch of time than when people were working together for the first time. The group worked to further build communities between the teachers by keeping the same participants in breakout groups for several sessions, although they also found that eventually it was helpful to change breakout groups to ensure equitable participation.
As noted in Chapter 5, the COVID-19 pandemic is a national challenge that is clarifying opportunities for communities to work together across schools, districts, and states.6 In addition to collaborating on modifying instructional materials, communities are also finding many ways to collaborate to support science and engineering education through joint development and collection of strategies for effective online, virtual learning.7 For example, the New Jersey Science Education Leadership Association (NJSELA)8 recently held a virtual session that brought together district leaders from throughout the state, allowing them to share their strategies for supporting science education in the upcoming school year. In Colorado, the Colorado Science Education Network, the Colorado Association of Science Teachers, and the Colorado Department of Education Science Specialist convened to develop a common set of tools for use for remote science education across the state. Across states, members of the Council for State Science Supervisors (CSSS) worked with NSTA and NSELA to produce a series of brief guidance documents to aid science education practitioners in their planning.9
Similarly, teachers throughout the country have been connecting regularly to share ideas and resources related to teaching science and engineering during the pandemic environment through both synchronous and asynchronous Twitter chats at #NGSSchat and #NGSSslowchat. A recent study of the #NGSSchat activity
found that participants had opportunities to transform their professional practice through the online conversations.10
Box 7-2 shows examples of tweets that include types of ideas exchanged in the community through these chats.
10 See Rosenberg, J., Reid, J., Dyer, E., Koehler, M., Fischer, C., and McKenna, T. Idle Chatter or Compelling Conversation? The Potential of the Social Media-Based #ngsschat Network for Supporting Science Education Reform Efforts. Available: https://doi.org/10.31219/osf.io/uwza6.
In their twitter chats, educators gain access to ideas, strategies, and resources shared by other practitioners throughout the country. They also have the opportunity to be a part of a community that is larger than their own district or state, and to see that teachers like them are struggling with similar issues and figuring out solutions to common problems.
Most school systems throughout the country are currently working to implement Framework-based standards, so there are likely many shared goals and shared measures of success that can facilitate collaborations.11 Sharing ideas
across district and state boundaries can be especially helpful when implementing science and engineering education, because there are often fewer school and district personnel with expertise in science- and engineering-specific pedagogy than with expertise in language arts and mathematics, and there may be less local infrastructure to support science and engineering.12 State, district, and school leaders can support this kind of idea sharing, reducing the isolation13 educators may feel during the pandemic in many ways, including14
- identifying opportunities for cross-district and cross-state collaborations, for example, by making connections between science educators in different small rural communities to share ideas about effective science and engineering learning in remote and virtual environments;
- acknowledging that educators and leaders need time to participate in these collaborations on an ongoing basis and then providing that time;
- celebrating educators and leaders who participate in collaborations, for example, by sharing their story in a newsletter;
- disseminating lessons learned from the collaborations; and
- modifying district pandemic response plans based on the lessons learned from collaborations.
Education benefits the entire community. Many school systems have established partnerships over many years with community members and organizations, such as local employers, museums, science centers, and aquaria, and these relationships have resulted in curriculum materials, donations of supplies, scholarships, student internships, space, and advice. During the COVID-19 pandemic, various kinds of support opportunities are being provided across the country, and
the Association for Science and Technology Centers is collecting a list of many of the opportunities available.15
While schools and districts focus on managing the day-to-day work of adapting systems to function during the pandemic, it can be helpful to bring community partners into the conversation to help think about solutions and share resources. Although this takes time and effort, the results can more than compensate for the work involved. For example, Thorne Nature Experience16 is providing child care and support for small groups of 1st- to 5th-grade students enrolled in Boulder Valley School District to help them with their remote learning activities. The site is working with the school district to identify low-income and high-needs students to participate, and the organization will provide access to wireless internet, food, and school support for students.
These types of partnerships can extend across the K–16 system. Many schools are facing teacher shortages in science and engineering at a time when students need one-on-one attention more than ever. At the same time, university students in preservice preparation programs may not have the same level of access to K–12 classrooms that they have had traditionally.
Box 7-3 describes how one university used a one-to-one pairing of its preservice teachers with K–12 students to support the young students and to provide valuable teaching experience for the preservice teachers.
Both the 5th-grade student and the preservice teacher in this story made large learning gains after only five meetings together. This highlights the mutual benefits that can come from community partnerships when all parties have their needs met.
Another effective model is that of community schools,17 which leverage community partnerships to organize relationships and resources between a school and its community, promoting equitable outcomes in health, education, and employment. During the pandemic, these kinds of partnerships have focused on opening channels of communications between families and schools, gathering data on family needs, helping connect families with food, broadband access, and
computers, and positioning family members of traditionally underserved students as leaders in their local communities.
If schools and community members have not already created partnerships, it can be helpful to begin the long-term process of establishing these kinds of relationships, either formally or informally, fostering sustainability of education programs and student support structures.18 There are many possible partners, including libraries, afterschool programs, public broadcast stations, museums, environmental education organizations, city government offices, higher education institutions, park associations, churches, and local businesses, many of whom are adversely affected by student mobility and have a stake in the long-term well-being of the community’s students. In addition, many of these partners can contribute to instructional activities to help deepen student knowledge of science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas by connecting content to real-world phenomena and problems.19
Some families and community organizations might not immediately understand how they can be helpful to schools, and they may have been historically discounted by school systems. They might need targeted, personal communications and invitations to share their expertise. These partnerships need to be developed collaboratively, with each partner contributing to the discussions about existing challenges, opportunities, roles they could play, and ways they could all benefit. If schools drive these conversations alone, just asking for what they assume each partner can contribute—such as funding—the partners may not have a chance to contribute to the thinking and innovation necessary to address ongoing community challenges during the pandemic. Instead, if educators share their problems with the personnel from these different partnership institutions, they can help find solutions. For example, librarians might know where to locate a 3D printer or how to get books to all the students, and park rangers might know the best place to observe a particular phenomenon in the local area.
More detail about long-term sustainability and structure of partnerships is described in the Guide to Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards.20
- Create strategies and mechanisms for teachers to collaborate with and support each other.
- Plan for providing ongoing professional learning opportunities for teachers to support their changing instructional practices, including:
- identifying productive ways teachers can receive feedback; and
- identifying regional, state, or national science and engineering teacher networks that can provide professional learning resources or support.
- Leverage networks that connect schools, districts, and states.
- Share information with educators and other decision makers about ways they can collaborate across schools, districts, and states.
- Look for opportunities to partner with institutions and organizations in the community and beyond.
- Highlight examples of existing, successful partnerships to showcase examples for the field.
- Invite community partners to help brainstorm and implement solutions to challenges in the school system.