Middle Tennessee State University hosted a free livestreamed training workshop Tuesday, July 14, to help English Language Learner instructors across the state collaborate on best practices and navigate the challenges of virtual instruction in an ongoing pandemic.
Though this was the first all-virtual event, the ELL Collaborative Summer Academy was started in 2017 by Laura Clark, director of the Center for Educational Media and Professional Development and a faculty member in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership.
“I developed what I call a ‘collaborative model’ of professional development which brings together practitioners who discuss and share effective practices, seek ideas from other practitioners to address dilemmas in their own classrooms, and build networks across districts of others who do similar work with English Learners,” Clark said.
A replay of the 2020 ELL Collaborative Virtual Summer Academy can be viewed by going to https://livestream.com/mtsu/events/9171488. The Center for Educational Media also posted a link on its webpage at http://cem.mtsu.edu/ellcollaborative.
Clark said the state of Tennessee and the statewide professional organization TNTESOL, which stands for Tennessee Teachers of Speakers of Others Languages, have been critical contributors toward the success of the event, which has drawn teachers from at least 47 school districts across the state to the MTSU campus.
Clark emphasized that the training session topics are driven by teacher interest and the session presenters are typically ELL teachers that have been recommended by colleagues. “The teachers formulate solutions for problems. And, it is virtually cost-free to them and to us,” she said.
Tuesday’s event included a morning session featuring officials from the Tennessee Department of Education discussing emergency changes prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The session were followed by a 30-minute Q&A.
The afternoon session featured a series of presenters from Bedford County Schools, Lawrence County Schools, Murfreesboro City Schools and Williamson County Schools.
They addressed a variety of topics ranging from virtual learning to parental resources for English as a Second Language, or ESL, students.
Clark said recently retired MTSU College of Education Dean Lana Seivers charged her years ago with developing original professional development opportunities for pre-K-12 teachers, but it was important that the university, which began in 1911 as a normal school to train teachers, find the right training niche so as not to duplicate efforts at the district level.
It soon became clear that training for ELL instructors could be helpful since rural districts in particular may not have the training expertise available. “For us to have the opportunity to build networks across districts and across the state has been very successful and much appreciated, particularly in the rural districts,” she said.
But with the coronavirus pandemic forcing the cancellation of in-person events on campus for the summer, the Center for Educational Media has worked since spring to enhance its livestreaming capacity and its ability to host effective and engaging virtual training. From staff training to technical upgrades, the center has embraced the virtual environment and provides training to presenters in advance to help ensure a high quality virtual session.
Clark noted that such virtual training will likely become more of the norm in the future, although she looks forward to the resumption of face-to-face, in-person interactions that can’t be duplicated in a Zoom session. And she points out that a more robust investment will be needed to ensure internet and technology access for all students from rural to urban areas.
The ELL collaborative was the first step in a broader pre-K-12 collaborative, Clark said. The Center for Educational Media has launched a similar collaborative for school counselors and will host the first meeting of that group in the fall.
For more information about the MTSU Center for Educational Media, go to http://cem.mtsu.edu.
— Jimmy Hart (Jimmy.Hart@mtsu.edu)