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Wolfpack WORKS Continues to Support Beginning Teachers, Help Kids Improve Literacy Skills From Home During COVID-19

Teacher Helping a Student Read

Literacy coaches with the NC State College of Education’s Wolfpack WORKS literacy initiative have always used a blended professional development approach, including a variety of technological tools, to support beginning teachers. Now, that approach is helping coaches continue to provide support as educators are forced to work from home during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Supported by more than $18 million in grant funding from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, Wolfpack WORKS (Ways to Optimize Reading/Writing for Kids Statewide) provides intensive, literacy-specific induction support to first-, second- and third-year K-2 teachers in 16 high-need school districts.

Since the program began in 2018, Wolfpack WORKS coaches have used a hybrid model to efficiently meet the needs of the more than 200 teachers they serve. Teachers supported by Wolfpack WORKS coaches have already used digital tools including Zoom and GoReact — a tool for teaching performance-based skills online — during professional development sessions.

That foundation, and the fact that a digital infrastructure has been well established for the program, has helped coaches continue supporting teachers who have been working remotely since public schools closed in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Professional development workshops, online modules, literacy coaching and intervention support have all continued and coaches have been able to provide resources to teachers at home.

“At the same time, we are being responsive to teachers’ needs. Many are balancing family responsibilities with learning to teach online, and facing additional challenges such as connectivity issues in rural counties. We are being flexible to provide individual teachers with what they need to continue literacy learning for students in their communities,” said Wolfpack WORKS’ principal investigator and Assistant Professor Jill Grifenhagen, Ph.D.

Coaches said they have remained in contact with beginning teachers through phone calls, text messages and Zoom meetings, not only to provide professional development, but to check-in on their wellbeing and understand what they are experiencing during this rapid shift to remote learning.

“We are letting our beginning teachers guide our support during this unprecedented time because they are chartering new territory with the transition to remote learning,” said Wolfpack WORKS Coach Dana Melton.

Although coaches said that their teachers reported feeling more confident with the transition to remote learning because of the experience they’ve gained using digital tools through Wolfpack WORKS, many teachers have requested support with utilizing digital resources that are differentiated and can give students choices in their at-home learning.

In addition, since many of Wolfpack WORKS’ partner schools are located in high-need areas, coaches have supported beginning teachers in developing paper-and-pencil packets and other offline work that can be used with students who do not have adequate internet access.

Coach Nicole Fensel said she has not only shared resources with beginning teachers, but worked with them to understand the features and navigation of different digital tools and brainstormed ways each tool could be used to enhance instruction online. She and other coaches have also created how-to videos for specific digital tools that teachers have requested more information about.

“The work we engaged in this year is informed by effective literacy practices. As we transition to online-only learning for students, we refer to these best practices and figure out the best way to use digital tools to continue to provide high-quality learning experiences for students,” Fensel said. “Our continued support will provide our beginning teachers with the opportunity to problem solve, in real-time, how to use specific tools to connect students to high-quality instruction.”

While Wolfpack WORKS coaches continue to support beginning teachers, those teachers are using the skills they have learned to guide parents who are helping children complete assignments at home.

Coach Tonia Percy said she had been working since January with Waynetta Shabazz, a lateral-entry, second grade teacher at Gaston Elementary School in Northampton County, on explicit, differentiated, assessment-based phonics instruction. Using interventions modeled by Percy, Shabazz had made great strides with a group of students who had been struggling with literacy development, and she did not want those students to lose ground once they were no longer able to be in her classroom each day.

To help her students, Shabazz has called their parents weekly to talk them through the necessary steps to help them continue her classroom literacy interventions at home.

“There’s been phenomenal feedback concerning academic packets and [parents’] day-to-day conversations with their child on what they have learned thus far,” Shabazz said. “They’re proud and continuously working with them on phonics and comprehension skills for ultimate growth.”

Because of the success reported by that group of parents, Percy said she is now working with Shabazz to record instructional videos in which she explains and models literacy interventions to be shared with any parents looking to support their children’s literacy growth at home.

As Shabazz extends at-home support to parents, Wolfpack WORKS is also extending their professional development models to educators working from home.

Wolfpack WORKS’ online professional development modules, which focus on 10 evidence-based, K-2 literacy practices, were initially only available to teachers participating in the program, although Grifenhagen explained that the goal was to eventually make them available for free to educators statewide. Working with the Department of Public Instruction’s Digital Teaching and Learning Department, they were able to expedite this process and make the modules available online in early April.

“We had been really pushing for this, in the last few weeks, as there is a strong need for online professional development,” Grifenhagen said. “Now, all North Carolina educators can access these modules for their professional learning in early literacy and to earn credits for continuing education units (CEUs).”