What Did We Learn From The First Virtual Summer Institute

Teach For Bulgaria’s Summer Institute is an integral part of our program “A New Way to Teaching”. It lays the foundation for our participants’ work as teachers over the next two years. The six-and-a-half-week institute has a theoretical and practical part.

The practical part involves teaching actual students during the so-called Summer Academy. Participants learn how to create a vision for the success of their students, set goals, create and execute assessments, plan lessons, manage their classrooms, implement specific teaching methods, work with all required school administration and national standards of education, etc. The Summer Institute is a full-time commitment and all participants must complete it in order to start the school year. 

Because of the COVID pandemic both the Summer Institute and the Summer Academy were entirely online this year. The dynamic nature of this situation drove us to make lots of changes during the training including organizing a virtual academy for over 400 students from all over Bulgaria after we had already recruited students for in-person classes at three schools in Sofia.  

Here we present our main lessons learned, conclusions, and observations regarding the training and preparation of the new teachers. 

What did we learn about the training and support of our new teachers?

  • A separate website for the organization of all training materials and resources – it provides better structure, visualization, and accessibility (we used Google Sites which is easy and intuitive even for people with no prior experience in web design);
  • We used Google Classroom for tasks and products – it allowed us to send every participant’s assignments easily and individually; we were able to set up and track deadlines quicker; we took advantage of the opportunity to give written feedback and track any discussions in the documents;
  • We used a variety of activities and resources during the training which allowed for a more effective learning process. The materials and activities are structured in a way which allows for a variety of presentation formats, respects the different styles of learning, and strikes a good balance between individual and group work. (Some examples are: small group discussions, individual work, individual consultations, interviews with teach For Bulgaria alumni, data analyses, conversations with parents, reflections, rehearsals.) These activities help participants develop skills such as independence, time management, self-regulation, technical skills, self-organization (in the form of class meetings, alignment, consultations).

Modeling effective strategies during training sessions and activities

  • Adapting to an entirely online training format is just as effective in terms of skill development and teaching method implementation (Our data and observations show that 80% of all teachers perform at the desired level during their classes at the Summer Academy);
  • The fact that the participants had to be trained with the help of various distance learning platforms and softwares helped them integrate these tools in their own teaching practice later on.

Intensity and stress

  • The participants report average stress levels at the end of each training day. The high intensity of the training and the large amount of new information which has to be covered in a short period of time contribute to the high level of stress
  • The long hours of screen time this year contribute to the discomfort, but our purposeful effort helped prevent critical peak stress levels.
  • Other key factors for stress alleviation are good resource management, clear instructions, active, open, and regular communication.

    What did we learn about the participants

    Community building

    • The virtual training did not prevent any bonding and sense of community in this year’s class of participants. The purposeful effort to create a community spirit paid off. At the end of the Summer Institute participants rate the community spirit with 4.49 out of 5.00. These results are comparable to the data collected in previous years;
    • The participants had a special facebook group where they could ask for help or engage in informal communication and talk about their everyday lives beyond the training. There was time allotted for informal meetings, lunches, and daily challenges with the purpose of bonding and building strong community relationships;
    • We also created small groups for collaboration and mutual assistance for the participants. This helped them build relationships of trust and they took advantage of these groups throughout the entire training;
    • The training experiences we planned for the participants also had them work in teams on different tasks such as preparing for the parent-teacher conferences, aligning and agreeing on a common approach towards students, etc.

    Quality of the training products and their practical implementation in the classroom

    • Written feedback is one of the most effective methods for improving the quality of our participants’ written assignments and products (30% improvement on average). However, it requires a lot of time and effort;
    • Individual meetings with subject matter experts and consultations with experienced colleagues provide a more individualized approach and meet every participant’s individual needs (30-minute slots for planning and consultations);
    • Individual reflections with coordinators after classroom observations help participants draw basic next steps and successful practices. They also help teachers learn how to analyze their own work.
    • Self-reflections of video recordings from the virtual classroom help participants notice some major trends, data, and areas of improvement.
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