New Teachers, Eager to Connect and Collaborate

by Tom Hanlon  /   Aug 31, 2020

news item picture

The Illinois New Teacher Collaborative’s annual conference for beginning teachers had to make an abrupt transition from face-to-face to online late in the game—and ended up reaching more teachers than ever.

The 11th annual Beginning Teacher Conference, hosted this June by the Illinois New Teacher Collaborative, had a fresh twist this year: It went virtual, thanks to COVID-19.

Appropriately, the conference’s theme was on “teaching with compassion and resilience”—something every teacher across the state learned more about this past spring, as learning went remote, and compassion and resilience was in strong demand.

Karla McAdam“Our advisory board revisited some of the content areas after we moved into the COVID era,” says Karla McAdam, who is the director for both the conference and for the Illinois New Teacher Collaborative (INTC), an organization that provides professional networking and learning opportunities for teachers across Illinois.

Much of the content remained the same, she says, as it was relevant to preservice and new teachers (those with three or fewer years of service) whether the teaching occurred in the classroom or online. But the delivery system—using the University of Illinois’ Zoom Pro platform—was, of course, new.

“Our conference usually runs two full days,” McAdam says, “but knowing people’s duration for learning online, we had to rethink the design of the conference. We stayed with two days, but we made them half days, with three hours at a time.”

Even with that, the conference was still able to offer interactive keynotes, breakout sessions, platform polls, chats, and other Zoom-enabled features.

Something else that remained the same: the goal of connecting new teachers across the state to network with and learn from each other.

“Making that collaborative connection can be so important for teachers,” McAdam says. “Especially for rural or small-school teachers, who might be the only ones who teach their subject in their school or even their district.

“We want people to share what they’ve learned, to give them platforms to have that network with the hopes that it goes beyond what we provide. It’s an avenue for continued professional and personal growth for these new teachers.”

The INTC lived out its theme of resilience and compassion, shifting gears quickly to transform to a remote conference just six weeks before the conference was to be held, and offering it free this year, knowing that many districts had frozen requests for professional learning funds.

As a result, the conference had more registrants than ever, as 300-plus new and preservice teachers signed up to take advantage of the free offerings.

“To be honest, I wasn’t sure if people were going to register, because they’ve been under so much stress. I thought a lot of people might want to step away for a bit. But there was an overwhelming response, one that far exceeded my expectations,” McAdam says.

Attendee expectations were apparently exceeded as well, as McAdam reports consistently positive comments about the conference. “It’s clear from those who presented and from reading the chats that there was excitement and energy in the room,” she says. “It’s not quite the energy you have in a face-to-face setting, but it was a pleasant surprise. People were hungry to learn from, and network with, each other.”

The conference, sponsored by the State Farm Foundation and the College of Education, illustrates the INTC’s commitment to providing networking and learning opportunities for teachers, McAdam says. “We’re always thinking about ways to convene teachers, resources, communities, and organizations around the current research and innovations in teaching and learning,” she says. “The Beginning Teacher Conference is just one avenue to provide such services to this targeted group.

“We don’t want to be that ‘one-and-done-see-you-next-year’ deal. So, the week after the conference, for example, we offered two webinars, and our plan is to offer more webinars as we move forward. We’re also looking into creating podcasts.

“We want to build an online presence of professional learning to offer for those preservice and beginning teachers.”

To register for free beginning teacher webinars, listen to available podcasts, and check out other great teacher resources, visit the INTC website.