Online teacher-prep resources available to model best practices during COVID-19

Jennifer Johnson
Jennifer Johnson

As students of all levels return to class this fall while the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the format for delivery varies from town to town, district to district and school to school.

Some are online only. Some are strictly face-to-face. Some are a hybrid of both, with students given the option to choose this path. Some are posting teachers in their actual classrooms, regardless if students are physically joining them in those spaces.

For teacher preparation programs, the unexpected challenge of the spring has returned.

How can licensure candidates receive the practical experiences they need when those P-12 classrooms aren’t operating for business as normal?

“Teaching and learning in field experiences right now is tricky. The delivery may be different, but the challenges are also opportunities for our candidates,” says Jennifer Johnson, director of Teacher Preparation and Development for the NIU College of education.

“But our candidates who participate in field experiences, from the very beginning all the way through student-teaching, are still getting really authentic, engaged learning experiences,” she adds. “Curricula is not changing. Nothing is being eliminated. Nothing is being taken off the table or pulled. We have not pulled our early fields.”

Johnson sits on a statewide committee of colleagues in her role at other Illinois public institutions of higher education.

Members of the group have met weekly since March “to talk about, ‘How we can support our candidates? How can we provide opportunities to demonstrate proficiencies? How can we prepare them to become teachers in this world that they’re going to be teaching in?’ ” she says.

“To that end, we have come up with some really unique, equitable alternatives to what we used to do in the field,” she adds, “and we are providing our students with engaging opportunities that don’t necessarily mean stepping into a classroom.”

One way is through ATLAS (Accomplished Teaching, Learning and Schools), a product of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Its toolkit of downloadable resources supplies what the company calls “a powerful and authentic window into the classrooms and thinking of accomplished teachers.”

Users will find more than 1,300 video “cases” that include the unedited lessons, teacher commentaries on those lessons and related instructional materials. Each case reflects “a consistent vision of accomplished practice across a teacher’s career” and is indexed to common teacher frameworks, such as the edTPA.

ATLAS is available free-of-charge through the fall of 2021 for NIU early clinical students, student-teachers and faculty, instructors and university supervisors involved in field experiences.

“What a great resource,” Johnson says. “We still want to prepare our students in meaningful ways, and this is exposing them to best practices. You can really practice teaching without being in a classroom, and you’re able to observe these highly qualified, nationally board-certified teachers in their practice, so that’s exciting.”

Videos included in the Discover ATLAS toolkit are “an eye in a classroom,” she adds, with many possibilities for application.

“We don’t want to just say, ‘Here are some videos. Look at them,’ ” Johnson says.

We want to say, ‘Let’s look at these together. Let’s talk about what we’ve read. What is the research? What is your supporting coursework telling you about that theory? Let’s observe this teacher practicing that theory we just learned about, and now let’s reflect on that: What might you do?’ ”

Johnson also encourages NIU College of Education licensure candidates and their faculty, instructors and supervisors to explore Sanford Inspire.

Offering more than 70 free, on-demand courses to support educator professional development, Sanford Inspire “celebrates and develops inspirational educators through free on-demand courses and resources designed to support social emotional learning and inspirational instruction in the PK-12 classroom and at our partner universities.”

NIU users will find the greatest benefit through the Harmony and Inspire portals, Johnson says.

Highlights of Harmony include resources supporting social emotional learning for PK-6, a virtual instruction toolkit, digital resources to create virtual goals to foster supportive community for learners and recommendations to enhance a sense of connection, motivation and shared responsibility.

Inspire highlights include resources supporting candidates growing in their practice for PK-12 and strategies for classroom management, learning environment, professional practice and family focus.

For more information on either product, contact Johnson at

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