By Margaret King
Pandemic-weary teachers are getting a much-needed assist from a new statewide initiative called Leading Forward, which brings together practical and timely education resources, including free online courses from UC San Diego Extension on how to help students thrive in uncertain times.
Spearheading the initiative is the California Collective for Educational Excellence (CCEE), a state agency that advises and assists school districts. Through Leading Forward, the agency shares courses, presentations, podcasts and other free resources that guide educators on how to counter pandemic-related learning losses while also promoting equity and well-being among students.
Sujie Shin, deputy executive director of CCEE, said the emphasis is on real-world solutions. “We’re not interested in high-level theoretical approaches,” she said. “We have been focusing on who the target audience is and what the tools and resources are that they can take and use tomorrow and next week to really move forward on student outcomes.”
The need for these resources is pressing, said Morgan Appel, Extension’s assistant dean of Education and Community Outreach. “Over the past year, California educators have faced unprecedented challenges that test the very limits of our resilience,” he said. “In providing just-in-time practical resources and opportunities for meaningful discourse around core issues, Leading Forward will play an essential role in redefining education for the foreseeable future.”
The Extension courses and other resources are designed to fit the needs of time-pressed educators, said Dr. Nicole Assisi, a partner in the consulting firm Copernicus Solutions, which helps implement the initiative. “The material is completely free, and it’s high quality,” she said. “Teachers can access courses when they want to. This is the time to provide flexibility and let educators choose their own professional learning adventures.”
Lessons from the pandemic
Leading Forward grew out of the struggles and successes of California schools during the pandemic, Shin said.
“We have been doing a lot of checking in with school district leaders to find out what the need is,” she said. “How do we keep students engaged and coming back? How do we create opportunities for children to engage with each other? And what are the lessons we can take from schools that have been able to overcome some of these challenges?”
To provide high-quality courses, CCEE turned to UC San Diego Extension, which has offered a certificate program in online teaching for more than 15 years. “It seemed like an easy decision to bring Extension to the table as a partner,” Assisi said. “They are internationally renowned for their adult professional development.”
Leading Forward offers Extension courses in an asynchronous format, with no real-time instructional sessions. For each course completed, educators receive a digital badge (or micro-credential) and a certificate of completion. There is a fee for those who want to receive transcripts for credit that can be applied to salary scales.
Appel said Extension welcomes the chance to help educators at a difficult time. “As part of a public research university with a service mission, we could not be happier to support this effort by providing a delivery framework and opportunities for practitioners to earn credit for their work in this area,” he said.
Educators who register on the Leading Forward website can choose from five courses:
- Teaching Online Essentials: The course shares Extension’s proven strategies and tools for effective online delivery of lessons in both synchronous and asynchronous environments.
- Developing and Implementing an Acceleration Plan: Educators will explore how to provide challenging, engaging school experiences to accelerate students back to grade level in the current unprecedented conditions.
- Distance and Blended Learning for Vulnerable Groups: The switch to distance learning has been particularly difficult for students who are learning English, grappling with a disability or navigating challenges in their home life. The course shares strategies for meeting the needs of these vulnerable students.
- Engaging Parents and Families to Support Distance and Hybrid Learning: Educators will learn how to extend support and partnership to parents and families, who play a key role in setting students up for success in distance learning.
- Leading for Equity in Rural Settings: This course incorporates research, case studies and lessons learned from leaders in rural education to address the challenges of providing equitable learning experiences for students in rural communities.
The five courses represent a first step, Assisi noted; more courses will be added later. “We don’t think every educator needs every one of these courses, but we want to make sure every educator can find the courses they need to address the problems that are right in front of them,” she said.
National and global dialogue
Part of the mission of Leading Forward is to connect educators with others who are tackling the same issues. Because CCEE is a state-funded agency, Shin said, the focus is on California schools. But, she added, “We also want to learn from folks across the country and across the world, so if we can share the tools people have developed and what we’ve learned from them, that’s wonderful. That’s part of our mission.”
Shin emphasized that Leading Forward aims to help teachers not just with accelerating learning but also with promoting social and emotional learning and addressing the inequities that have been magnified by remote learning. “How do we continue to focus on expanding equity? We’re really keeping that at the center of what we do,” she said.
While addressing immediate needs, Leading Forward is also looking to the post-pandemic future, Assisi said. She noted that the website features talks by some of the nation’s leading voices on the future of education. “They are the best folks out there, and they are at your fingertips whenever you need them,” she said.
“Educators have this amazing moment to rethink the way they do things,” she added. “Leading Forward is helping educators dream and envision what might be and how we can meet the needs of our students, especially the most vulnerable ones. It’s a moment when we’re preparing to move forward. This is the critical time to provide resources and support.”
Are you a teacher looking for educational resources during the pandemic and beyond? Let us know what other topics you would like to see in the CCEE course offerings in the comments.