Friday Institute’s Commitment to Educators, Students Continues Amidst Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak

During the uncertainty of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, schools across the country were closing to prevent its spread. Digital and remote teaching and learning have become priorities as educators scramble to adjust lesson plans and classroom activities, and credible tools and resources to make this transition are more important than ever. The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation has continued its commitment to supporting educators, collaborating with its community and providing resources for teaching and learning while educators and students are at home. Since the outbreak started, the Friday Institute has served around 45,820 educator participants.

“The Friday Institute is committed to being one of the many helpers during this challenging time of COVID-19,” said Hiller Spires, Ph.D., executive director of the Friday Institute and associate dean at the NC State College of Education. “I am inspired by the people and organizations that are supporting each other; this is humanity at its best. Our talented staff and faculty at the Friday Institute are providing customized services to schools and educators in North Carolina and beyond. Having support to implement best practices for online learning as well as navigate the many available resources is essential for educators at this time.” 

Partnership with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

The Friday Institute has partnered with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and its Digital Teaching & Learning (DTL) team to provide remote teaching and learning resources and ways for North Carolina educators to connect and learn with colleagues. Friday Institute staff have co-developed a webinar for district leaders and conducted analysis and provided support for DPI in identifying and filling the gaps in broadband connectivity and device access for students in districts that are transitioning to remote learning experiences. Friday Institute staff support the DTL’s system and districts daily in the logistics of implementing remote learning, including assembling resources and best practices. On April 7, the partnership announced a series of live webinars they will be hosting, called Remote Learning to Support NC Educators, to support educator implementation of remote learning during the COVID-19 crisis. As of May 15, the team had facilitated more than 40 sessions attended by more than 13,000 registrants. On April 15, the partnership released two resources to provide guidance for remote learning across North Carolina, “Instructional Principles for Remote Teaching & Learning” and “Recommendations for Instructional Leaders.”

“During unprecedented times to support emergency remote learning, the Friday Institute’s standing partnership with NCDPI Digital Teaching and Learning has been an invaluable resource as we provide supports and guidance to educators, school systems and charter schools,” said Vanessa Wrenn, Ed.D., director of digital teaching and learning at DPI. “ The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the way we view many things, and in this uncertain time, having the Friday Institute support and partnership to implement best practices in remote learning has been essential.  We are fortunate to have a committed ally and thought partner in N.C.” 

FI Connects

Maintaining connectedness and supporting educators remains the Friday Institute’s top priority. Within 24 hours of North Carolina’s public schools closing, the Friday Institute’s Professional Learning and Leading Collaborative (PLLC) developed and promoted a series of weekly discussion- and solution-based Zoom webinars for teachers, coaches, principals and district leaders called FI Connects: Learn, Share, and Be Together. To keep educators connected, the PLLC leads role-alike discussions for principals, district leaders and coaches on Tuesdays and for district leaders and elementary, middle and high school teachers on Wednesdays. 

“Most educators across our state and the country are working to change how they design teaching and learning opportunities for students to a new context in challenging times,” said Mary Ann Wolf, Ph.D., senior director of the PLLC at the time. “They shared with us that they needed a space to meet with educators in their roles; to come together and share challenges, ideas and solutions. Based upon their input, our team created the forum and resources for our amazing educators to learn from and build upon the work of each other. The agendas are based upon their input and focus almost all of the time on allowing them to work together for their students.”

During its first session on March 18, FI Connects had 158 educators participate. The foundation of much of the discussion focused around a recent PLLC blog post, 7 Essentials to Support Your Distance Instruction. Educators voiced their biggest concerns, which included communication with students and parents, access and connectivity for all students and balancing learning with life at home.

“The most meaningful part of the session was collaborating with other educators and discussing what is helpful during this transition period of online learning,” said Pattie Simmons, FI Connects participant and a seventh grade teacher at Corriher-Lipe Middle School.

The PLLC team continues to tailor these sessions to meet educator needs and will adjust their offerings based on feedback. After the first week of sessions, they began partnering with other organizations in order to have a greater impact and reach. During the second week of FI Connects sessions, the North Carolina Principals & Assistant Principals’ Association began co-hosting a breakout session for principals. During the week of March 30, Wellness for Educators shared self-care tips including breathing techniques and ways to model self-care for students using the hashtag #FIConnects. 

Online Professional Learning for Educators

While some districts make decisions around the equity of distance and remote learning, some educators are being told to dedicate their time to professional development while working remotely. Since 2013, the Friday Institute’s free massive open online courses for educators (MOOC-Eds) have been providing research-based methods for self-directed, peer-supported and job-embedded learning to more than 60,000 educators from all 50 states and over 160 countries. Providing online professional development was a strategic way the Friday Institute could support educators around the world during this time. 

“Extending the deadline for completion of the MOOCs was an obvious first step — many of our participants had much bigger issues to deal with than completing our course, and we wanted to ensure that they could deal with those and then get back to the course when they are ready,” said Mark Samberg, Ed.D., director of technology programs at the Friday Institute. 

All registration dates and deadlines for currently running courses were extended last week, and a past course, Teaching Mathematics with Technology, was updated and reopened to assist math teachers who are searching for meaningful material to support online instruction.

Since Monday, March 16, there have been more than 18,000 new enrollments worldwide including over 4,800 enrollments in North Carolina alone. Record course participation numbers surged across all currently open courses, including more than 6,900 participants for the Teaching Foundational Reading Skills course and about 8,600 participants for the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) for Educators course. Since the newly created Teaching Remotely: A Practical Guide course opened in late June, more than 8,000 registrants have signed up for the course so far.

“We need this course now more than ever so that when we do go back to school, we are able to help our students adjust back into school life,” said Kara Fetsko, a current SEL course participant and second grade teacher at Harrowgate Elementary School. 

Friday Institute staff will continue to work and find ways to support educators, and this story will be updated as those efforts grow and develop. Last updated July 27.

The Friday Institute brings together researchers, practitioners and policymakers to lead the transition to next-generation education systems that will prepare students for success in the digital-age world. It conducts research, develops educational resources, provides professional development programs for educators, advocates to improve teaching and learning, and helps inform policy-making. The Friday Institute is a part of the NC State College of Education. Visit fi.ncsu.edu to learn more.