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Helping Adults Change Careers with a Pathway to Practice

The EvoLLLution | Helping Adults Change Careers with a Pathway to Practice
Personalizing the student experience—using tools as simple as email reminders—keeps learners engaged and focused on completing their program despite the daily challenges of their professional lives.

In some states and municipalities, teachers are in high demand but low supply. As a result, states like North Carolina have adopted emergency teacher certification approaches to help fast-track completion of teaching credentials for professionals who want to change careers. North Carolina State University launched Pathway to Practice North Carolina (P2PNC) to bridge the gap and leverage CBE models to support the acceleration. In 2017, The EvoLLLution ran an interview with Alison Winzeler discussing the impending launch of P2PNC. In this interview, Winzeler reflects on P2PNC’s progress and the lessons learned since its launch.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): How has the P2PNC performed since its launch in 2017?

Alison Winzeler (AW): To complete the program, students must pass the competencies for seven modules, achieve a passing score on the edTPA, pass all licensure examinations, and teach full-time on an emergency license for at least one year.

Since we launched in 2017, Pathway to Practice has enrolled over 120 students from 32 different counties in North Carolina, and as of December 2019 we have 14 completers.

Evo: To circle back on the philosophy behind P2PNC, why is the competency-based model ideal for programming designed to help adults change careers?

AW: Pathway to Practice supports and prepares emergency-licensed teachers by providing a flexible, research-driven and standards-based licensure program. We recognize that first-year teachers face enormous demands and stress. It is no small feat to also pursue a licensure program while teaching. The CBE nature of P2P provides flexibility and individualized feedback, allowing these candidates to develop as educators and be successful by achieving full licensure.

Our teacher candidates are currently teaching full-time and taking these modules while they are in the classroom. Therefore, the competency-based curriculum allows our teachers the opportunity to apply their day-to-day teaching contexts to their coursework. They demonstrate mastery of a competency by describing what they already do, why they do what they do, and how they can change what they do. As a profession, teaching is already a highly reflective practice.

Evo: What are a few key lessons you’ve learned since the program launched?

AW: One key lesson we’ve learned is about the importance of looking at our candidate performance data to revise curriculum. For example, we look at the engagement metrics to see where candidates tend to bottleneck or take longer. We ask questions like, is the curriculum too challenging? Is it appropriate? Does it make sense? Sometimes, we simply need to rephrase some directions or change the order of an assignment. The willingness to look at the details and change something that isn’t working is definitely key.

We’ve also learned about the importance of communication, nudging and pacing. Since we are a self-paced program, we run into the issue of students not engaging with the curriculum for long stretches of time. Through experience, we’ve learned to expect these lapses and find ways to reach out to them to keep up the momentum. Our facilitators will conduct monthly Zoom meetings with their smaller groups or send out individual emails at key times. By personalizing the experience for our candidates, we have had success in engaging students in the curriculum and helping them to finish and earn their license.

Evo: What was an unanticipated challenge you encountered after launching? How did you address it?

AW: One unanticipated challenge was how to motivate students to keep a strong momentum. Since our students are teaching full-time, it is common for them to put their coursework off until they have a lull in teaching. However, the teachers’ busy schedule rarely gives them a break—there are always lessons to plan, papers to grade, conferences and meetings to conduct. If our candidates waited until their schedules at school died down a little, they could potentially put their coursework off for weeks. Our facilitators are ready and willing to help coach and give them substantive feedback. However, when candidates don’t engage in the material for weeks, the facilitators look for ways to get them working at a steady pace.

We decided to address this head-on. We discussed these behaviors with our candidates at our orientation and in our introductory materials.

First, we empathize with their challenging schedules and communicated that procrastination is very normal. We discuss the importance of momentum and progress—and how completing a little every day is less stressful than putting it off and finishing all the work at once. Then we give them tools to help them succeed, such as pacing guides and planning calendars. This is something that our candidates still struggle with.

We are hoping that creating online facilitator-led Zoom meetings with small groups in 2020 will help with accountability and motivation.

Evo: How do you hope to see this model evolve and expand over the coming years?

AW: Over the past year we were able to partner with State Employees Credit Union and Burroughs Wellcome for grants to offer tuition support for candidates in higher-needs counties and to expand curriculum areas. Establishing, building and maintaining these partnerships is essential to supporting teacher education in North Carolina. It is our hope to continue to build relationships with districts and institutions. We also hope to reach all areas of the state and show representation from each district.

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