Teacher engaging with student with laptop
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An unprecedented spring and summer, filled with COVID fears and cancellations, made it clear that the upcoming school year would be far from business as usual. The University of Illinois Extension 4-H educators Judy Schmidt and Emily Schoenfelder generally work within the sphere of non-formal education. However, anticipating the pivots that would be needed, these youth development professionals offered training sessions geared towards classroom teachers in a special summer edition of the Teacher Tuesdays program.

The virtual nature of these sessions allowed Illinois Extension in Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties to engage new and broader populations of teachers. Without the geographic and logistical constraints of previous, in-person Teacher Tuesdays sessions, the reach of these important programs expanded drastically. Over 165 individuals registered to join the trainings live and the recordings of the sessions have reached an additional 70 people through YouTube.

Furthermore, the respective foci on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) career exploration, developmental relationships, and science inquiry brought new knowledge and skills that teachers need. According to follow-up feedback forms, 100% of respondents indicated that they intended to take something they learned in the sessions and apply it to their classroom, while 95% said the content was relevant to their professional role. Additionally, 100% of respondents improved their confidence, abilities, and/or understanding in some or all of the content learning objectives. Examples of these objectives included: strategies to engage students in career exploration; intentional efforts to incorporate all characteristics of developmental relations in interactions with students; and adaptation of lesson plans to include more science inquiry.

Great effort was made to ensure that the trainings—though virtual— were interactive, offering plenty of opportunity for input, discussion, and connection. This effort paid off. When asked about the most useful part of the sessions, many respondents pointed to the intentional interaction as demonstrated by quotes such as, “the breakout discussion session,” “Q and A from the participants in the chatbox,” and, “being able to discuss with other educators.” Indeed, 100% of respondents indicated the sessions were engaging, the presenters were knowledgeable, and the content was presented at an appropriate level.

As we all rise to new and unforeseen challenges in education, Illinois 4-H and Extension are honored to be offering support to our teachers. Teacher professional development is a vital step to ensuring that today’s youth receive the learning and support they need to be successful in the future. These professional development efforts will continue into the fall with another virtual Teacher Tuesdays series, go.illinois.edu/TeacherTuesdays.

 

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MEET THE AUTHOR

Emily Schoenfelder joined the Illinois 4-H team in 2017. Prior to this, she began her work in positive youth development with California 4-H and the YMCA. She specializes in STEM engagement, social-emotional development, and educator professional development.

She received a master of science degree in recreation, park, and tourism administration from Western Illinois University.  

When she is not leading a training, writing curriculum, or developing new partnerships, you may find Emily sitting on the floor of her office, building marshmallow catapults out of popsicle sticks or designing mazes for robots for her next STEM program.

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