Clemson’s College of Education will partner with Florence 1 Schools to provide a full cohort of the school district’s teachers its certificate of online teaching. The certificate program addresses concepts such as instructional design, strategies to enhance engagement and the evaluation of student learning in online formats.

Florence 1’s initial cohort will be made up of 20 teachers. The four-course program will also allow the teachers to apply to the South Carolina State Department of Education for an add-on endorsement in online teaching.

According to Jeff Marshall, the College of Education’s associate dean for research and graduate studies, the sudden need for educators to transition to online formats during the COVID-19 pandemic has made continuing education programs focused on online and hybrid delivery especially attractive to school districts.

“The situation that all districts, schools and educators faced in March of this year was a wake-up call,” Marshall said. “I think that teachers realized they need to be prepared to deliver both online and face-to-face instruction, just as schools and districts realized this sort of professional development needed to be a priority if it wasn’t already.”

Luckily, preparing teachers for online instruction was already front of mind for Richard O’Malley, superintendent of Florence 1.

Richard O'Malley

Dr. Richard O’Malley serves as superintendent of Florence 1 Schools.
Image Credit: College of Education

“If there’s a silver lining coming from this pandemic, it’s that any questions people might have had about the preparation we were throwing behind online learning went away on day one of online instruction,” O’Malley said. “That Monday at 8 a.m. there wasn’t a question about internet connections or what teachers would assign.”

However, as prepared as the district was for online delivery, the gaps in online instruction for teachers became more apparent as the school year came to a close, according to O’Malley. He said many weaknesses showed themselves in the area of special education, where individual contacts with teachers and assistants could be improved.

He said the district also underestimated its K-2 population; it quickly became clear to teachers that the students were ready to ditch packets and go completely digital, so after spring break these grades were utilizing Chromebooks almost exclusively. In general, ensuring that all teachers moved at the same pace in an online setting was also challenging.

“We as a district were moving quickly to a blended learning approach already, so what looked like ‘Star Trek’ prior to mid-March is now the new normal,” O’Malley said. “How we most effectively put online and face-to-face instruction together is the question now, and this certificate program begins the process of fine tuning things so that our teachers and students benefit.”

O’Malley said the district learned a great deal about how to better approach the coming school year. He said that going forward he doesn’t want the district worried about obstacles but focused on opportunities, and putting a large number of teachers in Clemson’s certificate program accelerates those opportunities.

According to O’Malley, the district is paying 100 percent of the fees associated with the online certificate using a combination of the district’s professional development and Title II funding.

George J. Petersen

George J. Petersen is founding dean of the Clemson University College of Education.
Image Credit: College of Education

George J. Petersen, founding dean of Clemson’s College of Education, said the approach that O’Malley and Florence 1 are taking to professional development is wise because it increases the likelihood of success across the district.

Petersen said sending 20 teachers—all from the same school district—through the program at once will enrich course materials for the cohort and allow each educator to more easily apply lessons learned to their specific school. He said teachers will also bring the lessons they learn to fellow teachers throughout the fall, which will better prepare the next cohort of teachers from Florence 1, which is already being planned for a future semester.

“We are so thrilled by this ‘Upstate to Pee Dee’ partnership,” Petersen said. “[Dr. O’Malley] is prioritizing online and hybrid approaches to teaching because he correctly sees it as key to effective teaching in the future. The College of Education’s best-in-class faculty sees this as a prime opportunity to reach across the state to improve teaching and learning in a rural district that benefits from his visionary leadership.”

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