Our CSTA chapters are the pulse, the heartbeat of the organization. Supported and sustained by a network of incredible chapter leaders, our chapters convene, network, and provide a strong local community of practice. Whether it is through regular chapter meetings, special events such as CSPD Week, or even informal ‘happy hours,’ chapters are the lifeline for CS teachers who are seeking community and a way to grow their CS content and practice. With the onset of the pandemic and even our CSTA conference going virtual, I had to wonder -how are chapters doing it? How are they continuing to support their communities? In Arizona and New Mexico, plans were underway for a second CSPD week during the month of June. To pivot to a virtual format required communication, collaboration, and flexibility from chapter leaders and the partner-providers. How did they do this all? To get answers to these questions, I interviewed three chapter leaders and could not be more honored to take this opportunity to amplify their voices in this blog post – Lauren Bricker, CSTA Puget Sound; Paige Prescott & Yolanda Lozano, CSTA New Mexico, and Daniel Schneider, CSTA Arizona. There is no better time to elevate the message that we are in this together and by leaning into one another as our community, our chapters will continue to thrive, learn, and grow.
How has your chapter pivoted to support teachers during this time of Covid?
The Chapter Leadership Summit was super helpful for getting some ideas. We’ve already hosted three leadership meetings and three member meetings. We’re also looking to have a virtual meeting to talk about the State of the State for the membership of all four chapters in WA state. We’re also trying to coordinate a rotation where each chapter could host a different activity per month – leveraging the other chapter leaders so not everything falls on a few people every month. We’ve also tried using Gather.town to see if we could have a more natural, organic meet up.
This has been tough and we’re not doing a stellar job at the moment. We hosted a virtual meetup for teachers in September, but no one registered. We’ve tried to be more active on Twitter and Facebook to keep reaching out, but those mediums don’t reach everyone. In these times, asking teachers to take one “just one more thing” in any capacity feels like too much, even attending a virtual meeting. We’ve been a resource to members who’ve reached out for advice and we send our monthly newsletters, but members have a ton on their plate that finding how we fit in is a problem we haven’t solved yet.
Paige & Yolanda:
The CSTA-NM has hosted two happy hours to connect with teachers from across the state. These were informal, virtual events that were meant to keep the connection going without overwhelming teachers. We are currently planning a one-day CS Ed Summit that will also be virtual, scheduled for October 17. We have over 100 teachers registered and are building on our prior success and lessons learned to create an experience that will be both informative for growing their CS education knowledge but also keeping the community strong. We were inspired by the awesome swag boxes from the CSTA annual conference and will be sending out a swag box to our CS Ed Summit participants.
What is your top lesson learned?
Schedule the time and have the meeting anyway, even if only a handful of people show up each time. This is true for leadership meetings as well as membership meetings.
Based on our experience with going virtual for CSPD week that turned into a month, make sure to clarify with your provider partners who will be in charge of communicating calendar invites & meeting links to participants. We got our wires crossed with one of our providers where teachers had registered for a workshop, but no one sent them the Zoom link the day before. Everyone was very graceful about it, but definitely something we avoided going forward.
What do you see as the greatest need for CS teachers at this time?
Right now CS teachers need time – time to adjust to the ever-changing landscape of their teaching practice. And they also need camaraderie and companionship, the social time to share what’s working and what’s not. I think it’s important for teachers to make time to meet with others in their group, even if it’s an hour a month.
Paige & Yolanda:
Overall we feel that our community of educators is overwhelmed with an oscillating set of teaching criteria from their districts. We are trying to be helpful without overwhelming them with too many requests or emails. Everyone talks about their email inboxes exploding so we try to keep the communication to the barest, most effective minimum.
How was the transition to going remote with CSPD week? What were the plusses/deltas/lessons learned?
CSPD week turned into CSPD month. Going remote opened a lot more opportunities since providers + participants could be more flexible. For example, Girls Who Code had initially offered to do a single workshop during our week-long event – but, in going virtual, they instead offered 4 webinars once-per-week throughout July. It also provided more flexibility for who could attend our events – many of our AZ teachers attended virtual workshops around the nation, and many folks from outside AZ registered for some of our events. Even though it doesn’t have the same feeling as an in-person event and we lose some of the community-building, going virtual definitely opened up more opportunities for teachers.
Paige & Yolanda:
Going from in-person PD to fully remote presented many challenges and opportunities. In mid-March, we decided to stick to our original timeframe for the 1st week of June. It caused us to really accelerate onboarding facilitators to get used to delivery via Zoom and how to engage their audience. Remember when Zoom breakout rooms were a novelty?! We gave out guidelines to the facilitators and tried to glean as much as we could from organizations both in NM and nationally. Some other organizations were doing similar CS PD work but a little later in June, so we were trying to share as much as possible. For instance, SCOE/CSTA-Sacramento held a Summer of CS and we got looped into some meetings to share ideas. One thing that we wanted to do was to add as much value for our teachers as possible beyond just CS content. By pivoting to a virtual, online PD teachers got to experience what it was like as a learner in the online space. We tried to incorporate relevant educational technology tools and show best practices for online synchronous and asynchronous learning. We created a Flipgrid channel, hosted a session on digital tools for engagement (Ed Campos & Mariana Hernandez from CA presenting on PearDeck and Flipgrid) in CS education, and used Zoom features such as polls, breakout rooms, and chats to get audience participation. Now that we are well into the school year, much of these ed-tech tools seem familiar already but in May, they weren’t as pervasive and we knew we’d need to help our teachers with tools for success. By having it virtually, we were able to bring in presenters and keynotes from around the country like NCWIT’s team for Counselor 4 Computing and Cyber.org and our teachers were participating from a variety of locations too.
Looking into the etymology of the word “advocate,” I found that one of its origins meant “champion. That is what I think our chapter leaders are – advocate-champions for our teachers. Throughout the past seven months, they have continued to work tirelessly, creatively, and resourcefully in ways that awesomely inspire us to do the same. To all of our chapter leaders – thank you for all you do to lead and support the community in the most challenging of times. To all of our CSTA members – thank you for all you do each and every day and your commitment to teaching, learning, and engaging with our CSTA family.