Professional development helps CTE educators thrive in new education landscape

The COVID-19 pandemic propelled CTE educators and students into new learning spaces. For some, classrooms became virtual for a short while, transitioning to hybrid and eventually back to in-person learning. For others, virtual persists as a primary learning environment. Regardless, a new classroom culture was born.

Amid the pandemic chaos, in addition to learning new, virtual delivery methods, teachers faced a challenge to create inclusive and equitable online classrooms accessible to all students. As a professional development coordinator for the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE), I work closely with teachers. On social media and via email, teachers documented their struggle to provide accessible virtual learning environments in rural locations. They needed innovative ideas for creating a positive classroom culture online. It was raw and vulnerable but also uplifting and motivating. So, naturally, my colleagues and I decided CASE should develop a virtual conference to cultivate digital CTE educators by highlighting teacher innovations and addressing struggles head-on.

And, so, the Thrive Conference emerged.

Thrive is a virtual conference for CTE educators focused on implementing effective CTE programming in a virtual format. Through observations on social media, educator discussions, and various professional development opportunities, we identified four focus areas for Thrive 2020:

  • CTE instruction
  • Best practices
  • Software & apps
  • Digital equity

Thrive presented a mix of synchronous webinars and asynchronous recordings to accommodate teacher schedules. The event was conducted nightly over the course a week, two-and-a-half hours at a time. In collaboration with more than 35 educators, we developed more than 20 hours of interactive content. Participants may access the content for one year to review and implement at their own pace.

CTE instruction

Facilitating CTE content with a hands-on, minds-on approach in a digital learning environment was new territory for many CTE teachers. Teachers asked, loudly, “How do I teach XYZ skill without being in a laboratory, shop or other face-to-face environment?”

Get started:

  • Create a digital notebook. Digital notebooks provide a space for students to manipulate content and take ownership over their learning.
  • Identify interactive virtual field trips available in your content area.
  • Rethink your current work-based learning program structure. Identify which pieces of the program may move to a virtual platform. Then, work with your school district and stakeholders to implement any necessary in-person changes.
  • Develop effective digital assessments and utilize the data to drive your instruction.

Best practices

Throughout the pandemic, we have observed CTE teachers implementing excellent virtual lesson plans and creating positive online classroom culture. Teachers overcame bandwidth and connection issues to develop relationships with their students and maintain a school culture. Regularly incorporating employability skills through games and activities encourages all students to engage and connect on a deeper level. Carol Wright, an agricultural educator in New York, facilitated a live session at Thrive, called “Sneaking in the Soft Skills’”. Wright shared tips and tricks for online student personal development and building virtual connections.

Software & apps

Utilizing software and apps can be overwhelming! However, when used sparingly to facilitate learning, software and apps can create a more engaging, hands-on experience. During Thrive, facilitators explored various software, including Nearpod, Actively Learn Platform, Flipgrid, and G-Suite applications such as Google Draw and Jamboard.

To select technology for your program, consider:

  • What is your purpose for utilizing the platform? Are you streamlining your collection of student work? Or, are you providing an opportunity for students to interact with content?
  • Does the platform sufficiently meet your needs without distracting the student from the content? If the platform is challenging to use, students will focus on learning the platform and not the content.
  • Limit the number of digital programs you use in the classroom to two or three. Introducing too many different programs can be overwhelming for students and teachers.
  • Consider student access. Do students need a login? If so, does the platform offer single sign-on? What are the technology requirements for the platform? Are the student devices and bandwidth sufficient?
  • Always complete at least one sample activity with students from start to finish when introducing a new platform. This process helps students become oriented with the software and provides an opportunity for you to work through potential technical issues in a low-stakes environment.

Digital equity

Digital equity and inclusion took the educational world by storm this year as we navigated the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to traditional inclusion issues, educators were tasked with overcoming limitations related to bandwidth and connectivity, device access, and effective outreach to diverse populations. The mental health of students and teachers came to the forefront as the world watched education turn on a dime.

Kirby Schmidt, a graduate student at Oregon State University studying trauma-sensitive practices in education, facilitated a session titled, ‘Competing for Bandwidth: Equity for Cognitive and Physical Connectivity During Remote Learning’. Kirby challenged participants to consider student mental health and the impact virtual education was having on student learning and relationship building. He also shared resources focused on the impact of bandwidth, equity and mental health in education.


Thrive Conference provided more than 400 CTE educators and stakeholders with access to innovative, turnkey digital lessons, virtual implementation strategies, and the opportunity to connect with digital equity experts. We encourage you to learn more about Thrive 2022. CASE continues to enhance the student learning experience with purposeful technology while exploring how technology can expand student access and equity.

Sara Cobb holds a Master of Science in Education focusing on instructional design and technology from Purdue University. She is a former agricultural educator and currently works for the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education. Cobb is also a board member for the Career and Technical Education Association of New Jersey. She is an IAED mentee in ACTE’s IAED Mentorship Program. Email her.