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The Power of Partnerships to Collectively Navigate the Pandemic Learning Environment

By Jason Lane, Professor and Dean, UAlbany School of Education, and Cheryl Dozier, Associate Professor and Associate Dean, Literacy Teaching & Learning, UAlbany School of Education

As the Capital Region’s public, research university, partnerships are at the heart of our work and a critical component of how we do our work. This important and meaningful work takes time, effort, and clear communication. As we listen to and learn with our partners, we build relationships and explore ways to collectively move forward in our pursuit of mutually beneficial goals.

Over the last several months, the pandemic has brought to the forefront the importance and resiliency of partnerships as we collectively work to navigate the effects of COVID-19 on the local learning environment. The start of the fall semester offers an opportune time to reflect on these relationships, their enduring importance for the future, and the ways in which P-12 and higher education can continue to collaborate to build a more robust, engaged, and transformative learning ecosystem for the Capital Region.

UAlbany has long had a mission of preparing outstanding educators and serving the state as New York’s first public teacher’s college. Over the last 175 years, we have evolved into one of the nation’s leading graduate schools of education and have expanded our focus to prepare teachers, leaders, policy makers, researchers, and mental health practitioners.

Just over 70 years ago, our faculty worked with local school leaders to create the Capital Area School Development Association (CASDA). Now a separate entity jointly governed by the University and local superintendents, CASDA represents an important collaborative resource supporting schools, leaders, and teachers throughout our region. CASDA plays a vital role bridging research and practice – and continues to serve as a conduit between the University and practitioners we serve. We are excited CASDA has joined us in our new home in the Catskill Building on the uptown campus, and look forward to continuing to collaborate to learn from and support our colleagues in P-12 education in navigating this new environment.

CASDA is one example of our many strong partnerships in the Capital Region. Some of our efforts specifically focus on maintaining dialogue among the sectors. The Campus Teacher Education Network (C-TEN), for example, brings together local superintendents, BOCES administrators, teachers, and SOE faculty, students, and alumni to explore educational policy and teacher preparation issues across the region. This has been an important forum for sharing with each other about the challenges brought on by the pandemic.

Other partnerships provide service to the region. For more than 20 years, Capital District Writing Project has brought together teachers and professors to use writing as a tool to advance professional practice and student learning. This summer, CDWP hosted their annual Young Writers Workshops working with dozens of students at all grade levels to create their own worlds and craft the college essay. In partnership with NYS Master Teachers, we expanded our summer camp offerings to include online STEM camps such as Kitchen Chemistry and a Coding Boot Camp.

Since 2004, Know Your Schools~for NY Kids (NYKids), exemplifying community-engaged scholarship, has conducted studies of odds-beating schools to identify promising practices. This project, which began as a partnership with the Business Council of New York State and the New York State Education Department, helps schools identify best practices to close learning gaps and improve the school environment and, ultimately, learn from one another. They are now examining how schools are responding to COVID-19 and how those responses may affect educational outcomes.

This past year, the Academy for the Advancement of Teaching, Leadership, and Schools (AATLAS) was created as a way to leverage the academic resources of the School to support the future development of teachers in the K-12 schools. To ensure offerings are aligned with the needs of the field, we created an advisory board of community members, which is chaired by Tim Backus, the Assistant Superintendent for Instruction in South Colonie.

In response to COVID-19, the School of Education drew on faculty members and graduate students to develop a website to support educators and families/community members to navigate remote learning experiences. The website continues to evolve with ongoing support and guidance from partners across the region, and now includes over 1500 curated online resources for the K-12 community and families. We also created a space for community members to come together on Wednesday afternoons through our RemoteED Community Conversations series. These conversations, attended by over 1000 people, have focused on effective remote learning strategies, trauma informed educational practices, mental health practices, and supporting students with special education needs among others.

The pandemic brings challenges and opportunities. It has made more apparent the flaws in the current system and provided opportunities for educators to rethink the educational system – from how we deliver the education to how we assess learning, to how teachers, families, and students interact with each other. Our commitment is to continue to strengthen the collaborations between the P-12 and higher education sectors so that we can collectively create improved educational opportunities for all students in the Capital Region.

The University at Albany’s School of Education was created 175 years ago to serve as a catalyst for change to improve education at all levels across the state. From collaborative research to practicum-based experiences and internships in local schools and mental health sites, we learn from and are enriched by our community partnerships. Together, through our communities of practice, we are better.

Dr. Jason E. Lane is Dean of the School of Education and Professor of Educational Policy & Leadership at the State University of New York at Albany. He is also a member of CASDA’s Executive Committee.

Dr. Cheryl L. Dozier is the Associate Dean of the School of Education and Associate Professor of Literacy Teaching & Learning at the State University of New York at Albany. She is also a member of CASDA’s Executive Committee.


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