Supporting K-12 Teachers during COVID-19: Observations for Environmental Education Providers
As K-12 school districts continue to face uncertainties for safely reopening amidst COVID-19 disruptions, environmental education (EE) organizations are also challenged to adapt their own programming, including professional development (PD) offerings, to support K-12 classroom teachers preparing for modified in-person, physically-distanced, and virtual learning environments.
A major goal of environmental education professional development is preparing educators to design and implement high-quality environmental education learning opportunities.1 According to a survey done by Project WET2 in April 2020, 61% of educators responding received no training on conducting distance learning in the face of COVID-19, and only six percent were provided adequate teaching resources.
A PD survey conducted by the Wisconsin K-12 Energy Education Program (KEEP) before the COVID-19 crisis revealed teacher preferences that can help inform EE providers developing effective support for current recommended shifts3,4 toward outdoor, at-home, and virtual learning.
In February 2020, KEEP surveyed educators who had recently participated in KEEP energy education workshops to evaluate their energy and environmental education PD needs and preferences. Of 69 respondents, the majority were formal K-12 classroom teachers (82%) followed by non-formal (9%) environmental educators.
Thirty-nine percent of the educators surveyed revealed a desire for more energy education professional development. Preferences for additional support beyond PD workshops included modelling of energy lessons and increased planning time for integration of concepts and teaching methods into their curriculum.
Of respondents who indicated a desire for additional support (27%), 58% identified interest in model teaching by KEEP staff in their classroom (in-person or virtually), followed by one-on-one consultation (23%) and additional resources (23%).
Of respondents who indicated a continued need for energy lessons (22%), 63% indicated the greatest barrier to integrating energy concepts into their curriculum was time (whether during PD or on their own) to review and integrate lessons. Other barriers included lessons that required too much preparation time or too many supplies, or lessons that were too long.
Regarding location of professional development offerings, the majority of educators indicated a preference for virtual learning (both synchronous and asynchronous), followed closely by a desire for in-person PD held off-campus (such as at a nature center).
Overall, the survey found KEEP professional development experiences and resources increased educators’ utilization of environmental education techniques including inquiry-based and engineering design practices, outdoor spaces and community-based resources. Middle school teachers revealed the greatest integration of energy lessons and EE teaching practices. Elementary school teachers were most likely to indicate a need for more PD or additional support and those least likely were any educator who had participated in three or more KEEP PD offerings.
Design professional development opportunities for K-12 educators that are virtual using asynchronous or a hybrid blend of asynchronous and synchronous learning.
Model environmental education activities and teaching methods compatible with virtual and physically distanced learning, utilizing outdoor and at-home learning spaces.
Provide intentional time together with teachers to explore resources and develop a plan for integrating environmental education within their curriculum.
Adapt existing environmental education activities and instructional materials to support teachers juggling instruction across multiple learning environments.
Compile ready-to-use activities adaptable to COVID learning that require few supplies and little preparation.