UVA professional development series schools teachers on virtual learning, racial equity

A University of Virginia professional development program is arming teachers with the tools they need to succeed this fall.
Updated: Jul. 30, 2020 at 7:03 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - A University of Virginia professional development program is arming teachers with the tools they need to succeed this fall. The seminars cover a wide range of subjects from racial equity, to mental health, and virtual learning.

UVA’s Equity Center and Youth-Nex at the Curry School of Education hosted the fourth installment of its lunch and learn professional development series, called Returning to School with Equity in Mind. The series is helping teachers in Charlottesville, Albemarle County, and beyond prepare for an online start to the school year.

“This Youth-Nex (professional development) series is going to be instrumental for, I know, educators here locally and probably far beyond the local community,” Albemarle County Public Schools Instructional Coach Vicki Hobson said.

Kimalee Dickerson organized Returning to School with Equity in Mind, a series of hour-long seminars to give teachers the tools they need to succeed in the modern classroom. Past installments centered on making learning spaces more equitable and supporting mental health for students and teachers.

“Educators are facing a lot,” Dickerson said. “Equity is the goal, but there are many barriers and challenges to overcome in terms of being able to ensure equity in a virtual learning environment.”

This week, the focus is on virtual learning, and what they can learn from summer programs like the Charlottesville Freedom School and the STEAM Discovery Academy. The discussion also centered heavily what teachers learned in the spring.

“The initial challenge really was what was on the minds of everyone was access,” Alexis Mason said. “You know, making sure we could literally communicate with every family, every student. I don’t think it’s going to be as big of an issue, but I think that none of us are satisfied when even one child, one family, you know, is not able to be connected with.”

The series has also provided an opportunity for teachers to learn from each other, which is a valuable resource that teachers did not have before making the jump to virtual learning this spring.

“I know many of my colleagues signed up for it because we are all learning still how to do this,” Hobson explained. “I know I didn’t go to graduate school to learn how to be a teacher and teach in a virtual environment and neither did pretty much any other educator that I know.”

Dickserson says that fostering the connection between central Virginia educators, all serving the same community, is one of the most valuable and special things about the series.

“Not just building relationships with students and families but also providing a space for educators to engage with each other as they learn from each other on these important topics,” Dickerson said.

Recordings of all the installments, as well as resources from the seminars, are available on the Youth-Nex website. Dickerson says that if there is a need in the community and a desire for the professional development series to continue, the group will keep the seminar series going.

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