This year’s Mississippi Association of Career and Technical Education’s (MS ACTE’s) summer conference was expected to be a unique event. Organizers chose “navigating the future” as its theme as educators charted a new course for CTE under the new requirements of Perkins V, and the conference itself moved to Biloxi for the first time.
In March, however, the theme took on a new meaning as teachers and administrators had to navigate distance learning and the uncertainty facing them for the 2020-2021 academic year. Thanks to MS ACTE 2020 and New Teacher Induction (NTI) training, both new and veteran educators received tools to help prepare them for challenges brought on by COVID-19.
MS ACTE Goes From Beach to Screen
When it became clear in April that the pandemic would alter plans for the MS ACTE conference, its planning committee began exploring options for safely providing a quality event. By mid-May, the committee decided to move the conference online.
With two months to plan, the group not only had to coordinate the logistics of simultaneously hosting more than 1,000 participants and 25 breakout sessions online, but it also had to address how to prepare educators to step back into their schools in the fall, whether through face-to-face, virtual or blended instruction.
Committee members decided it was critical to orient more sessions toward providing support for distance learning.
While sessions focusing on curriculum updates and pathway-specific guidance were held, organizers developed numerous sessions that enveloped various pathways to cover Canvas, technology tools for teachers, introductions to online platforms and distance learning in CTE.
Erik Shows, the CTE director at Forrest County Agricultural High School, said he and his teachers gathered at their center both days and enjoyed the sessions, especially those focused on distance learning.
“Nothing’s going to 100% prepare them for what we’re going through, but [the sessions] did a good job helping us get where we need to be to teach our students in person and virtual,” he said.
Shows highlighted two sessions — one on new Perkins V requirements led by Aimee Brown, the statewide CTE director for the Mississippi Department of Education — and another on Edpuzzle, Flipgrid and other educational technology tools led by project managers at the Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit. Lenora Hogan, the CTE director at the Millsaps Career and Technology Center in the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District, also said the technology tools session was “so good and so needed. The session really helped my teachers feel more comfortable with using the platforms that were shared.”
For Hogan, Brooks Harper’s keynote speech and his book, 7 Skills to Make Mill$, also struck a chord with her. She said his message serves as a reminder that no matter the method of educational instruction, the main goal of educators should be making sure students are prepared for college or career.
“A lot of times we get so caught up in the logistics that we forget our main task is to produce kids who are ready for the workforce or college or whatever it may be,” she said.
NTI Cohort Becomes Virtual Learners
In the summer of 2019, the RCU's NTI began training more than 80 new CTE teachers to lead their classrooms after previously working as industry professionals.
Little did they know, the in-depth training would prove beneficial months later as their young teaching careers faced the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t know how I would have been expected to do my job efficiently without the resources they provided during our trainings,” said Bill Johnson, who completed his first year teaching sports medicine at the Choctaw County Career and Technical Center in the Choctaw County School District.
Hannah Patrick, a first-year health, nutrition and wellness, child development, family dynamics and human anatomy and physiology instructor at Rankin County School District's McLaurin High School, also said NTI staff prepared them for a move to distance learning.
“They made sure that even though we were virtual, we could still get a successful lesson done,” she said. “You can still have the assignments and the hands-on stuff, even if the kids are doing it in front of a camera in their house.”
While some of NTI’s hands-on, kinesthetic-based methods and strategies became more challenging in a virtual setting, NTI coordinator Jenny Campbell said its staff remained dedicated to providing the same intentional instruction despite format changes that included moving teachers’ final classroom demonstrations, pathway field trips and graduation online.
As part of their commencement, the group was treated to guidance and well-wishes from Marcia Tate, the author of the cohort’s book study Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites.
In the virtual gathering, Tate expounded on her 20 strategies for comprehending and retaining information and provided educators valuable insights they can use with their students online or face-to-face. Johnson and Patrick said they have incorporated some of Tate’s strategies into their own classrooms.
“As a physical therapist, I want tools that work. Dr. Tate’s book works,” Johnson said. “There are all kinds of different instructional strategies — including games, humor, mnemonics and role-playing — that I use. They stick.”
“Getting to hear her stories and how someone who’s successful said that she’s struggled just like we all do was very humbling and rewarding in the sense that I don’t feel I’m doing something wrong,” Patrick added.
New teachers and veterans alike have seen the struggles of educating students in the face of a pandemic. Thanks to how many outlets and organizers of professional development programs in Mississippi have adapted to the ongoing crisis, educators will be prepared to navigate the future, regardless of how that might look.