The New to the NWT Educators’ Conference (N2NEC), an annual event held by the Department of Education, Culture and Employment to greet new educators looked a bit different this year due to Covid-19.
The conference every year provides new incoming, teacher hires with three days and four nights of both a formal welcoming and a cultural education on the Northern experience.
Last year the event was held at the Kalemi Dene School in Ndilo in a face-to-face setting. Close to 70 educators participated at that time.
Because of the 115 participants expected to attend this year, a similar event could not be held because of the group capacity limits of 25 indoor and 50 outdoors set by the Chief Public Health Officer.
Instead, a virtual conference was held as incoming teachers were in their two-week self-isolation process in anticipation of heading off to their communities.
“The goal over the last five years, has been to better support new hires that are coming into brand new communities to teach in schools,” said Colleen Eckert, co-ordinator of professional development. “By supporting them, in turn, that’s better for for the students that they teach.”
Of those, about 30 to 35 per cent of the 115 come with little to no teaching experience, according to department.
Eckert pointed out that entering new places from down south can be a culture shock and that any new experience can bring about anxiety. The Covid-19 pandemic add to some of that anxiety and the department and school board want to offer supports as best as it can.
“My heart always lies with those brand new teachers that have no experience teaching elsewhere,” Eckert said. “I want to make sure that they’re supported and that they have contact, and that they are on that beginning journey to be contextualized to NWT and NWT education.”
Options had been considered to hold the event three times as an option, but it was felt by organizers that it was easier to hold everybody together in the same online format, Eckert said.
“It was an additional burden to try to hold on to them and bring them together in Yellowknife for three days and four nights,” she said.
“It was too much time and we needed people to be on their way to doing their the jobs that they were hired for after self isolation. Doing it three different times was just a bit too difficult and probably more expensive.”
Danielle Couture, education certification and learning management co-ordinator, was among the department organizers who had to prepare an e-learning platform with content that included eight different modules, with discussion forums to allow participants to connect. In total, there were 19 live webinars that provided question and answer sessions, different presentations and discussion sessions involving education curriculum by region.
Couture said she was able to collaborate with other department and agencies in some situations, such as around content in the conference involving health and wellness.
“I thought this conference came together so beautifully as a wonderful collaboration between the different divisions, and even interdepartmental,” Couture said. “We actually collaborated with the Department of Health for one of the modules, where we were promoting student support and wellness. So we talked a bit about how pandemics and covid might affect trauma informed practices and also how there is a history of pandemics in the territory.”
The conference is laid out with a welcoming and an introduction to the NWT education system on the first day, followed by the second day which focuses on the history and legacy of residential schools and which includes live presentations from survivors.
The second day is in fact what the department tries to especially ensure resonate with participants.
“We wanted to make sure it was live to give that opportunity for the educators to take in,” Couture explained. “Because it is very heavy content to discuss what’s going on, how they interpret it is important. To have somebody there and have a support team available.
“We were fortunate enough to have three different people, in a room ready to receive calls from any educators if they ever had any difficulties within the information that they were receiving from this screening.”
Most of the content from the sessions will be archived so that participants, people in the process of being hired or new hires later this school year can access the information for support.
Looking ahead, like many aspects of the cultural change from Covid-19, organizers admit that the conference in virtual form may be the new normal.
“It’s going to be incumbent upon us at the department and the education bodies to be able to continue to nimbly provide this (conference) virtually indefinitely or until a vaccine is available or it becomes more safe to use it in the normal, perhaps, old school way,” Eckert said, adding that future conferences may entail a combination of face-to-face meetings with virtual content to assist educators.