The California State University system trains about six thousand new Kindergarten through 12th grade teachers a year, but this summer the focus expanded to help existing teachers sharpen their skills as online instructors. Now San Jose State is making those lessons available for free online.
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The program is called the K-12 Online Teaching Academy. It is a series of 23 webinars taught by experienced instructors from all over California.
The first webinar in the series is led by George Barcenas from the Bellevue Union School District in Sonoma County. He starts by showing himself with a series of crazy emoji heads.
"In this whole online learning thing ... I want you to have fun and I want you to enjoy it" Barcenas tells teachers. "If we aren't having fun, how are the students feeling?"
"You can't just take the lesson that you would normally teach face to face and put it into an online environment. There often need to be significant changes" said Dean Heather Lattimer of San Jose State's Lurie of College of Education.
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"There are a lot of challenges, everything from managing the classroom and the needs of your students to balancing your own life because many of our teachers have families of their own at home" Lattimer added.
The webinars are packed full of instruction about digital tools and techniques to keep students engaged and help teachers cope with the demands of a changing workplace.
"I'm not tech savvy at all!" confessed Carol Emerson, a middle school resource teacher at Luther Burbank School in San Jose. Emerson said the webinar academy is just what she needed. "They did a really, really good job of really diversifying and pulling in different experts in their field."
One of those experts is Lisa DeLapo with the Union School District in San Jose and Los Gatos. LeLapo's webinar shows how to use video clips to get students to explore for themselves rather than just listening to lectures.
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"We have to be able to present it so it's engaging because now we're competing against the Xbox and the PlayStations and sleep. We are competing against other priorities because students are not in the classroom where you can manage them a little bit better" DeLapo said.
Teacher Eric Cross leads a webinar about using tech tools for culturally responsive teaching. He points teachers to a wide range of free resources including apps such as called "Talking Points. "
"It lets you text message parents, but then it translates the text message into their native language in real time" he explained.
In addition to the specifics about working with technology, the core of Cross's lesson is using online tools to develop strong relationships with students even when they are not in the classroom together.
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He encourages teachers to focus on "How do we create empathy? How do we create connection so that we build bridges instead of burn them?"
Cross suggests teachers reach out to parents early with reports on good things their students are doing so, if they do need to talk about problems in the future, they have a positive start to the relationship.
All the expert teachers we talked with told us that even though quality online teaching has some benefits, they still want to get back to the classroom as soon as it is safe.
The webinars are aimed at teachers, but are also a great resource for parents who want to learn what is possible in the world of distance learning.
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