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When it came to supporting student teachers, COVID couldn’t stop Ashley Bartley

Ashley Bartley and her family at home

By Lilia Ortiz

Ashley Bartley, an associate dean for the College of Education at University of Phoenix (UOPX), has a saying she lives by: “First things first.” To her, that means keeping the most important things important, including her family and the student teachers who had to rapidly adapt to virtual teaching.

According to College of Education dean Pamela Roggeman, after K-12 schools across the country shut down overnight during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bartley and her team held office hours, sometimes working 12-hour days to handle the logistics of new accommodations and alternative assignments to help students finish their programs.

Additionally, Bartley's expertise in elementary education was a priceless resource for student teachers, not only when it came to their coursework but also when it came to managing their responsibilities as students with young children at home.

Her firsthand experience as a mother of two helped her support students who were also parents. “When the pandemic hit, my entire routine changed,” Bartley shares. “I didn't know what I was capable of until I was pushed out of my comfort zone.”

Roggeman says Bartley would often talk about the strategies she was implementing to balance her job, help her son navigate online kindergarten and keep her toddler daughter active and engaged.

Roggeman adds, “Her unique expertise helped us keep the struggle that our College of Education students were facing in mind as we created new policies and practices for virtual teaching. She was quick to point out if our ideas were unrealistic or unreasonable.”

Incredibly, Bartley did all this even after contracting COVID herself. Bartley, Roggeman says, is “a constant source of a ‘can do/practical' attitude and positivity for moving forward and being able to compartmentalize setbacks and recognize how temporary some struggles are.”

Given the vital role Bartley played in supporting UOPX students’ transition to virtual teaching during the pandemic, we wanted to learn more about what it takes to stay committed to your priorities, even in the middle of personal and global crises. Here’s what she had to say.

Can you tell us about your background in education?

My undergrad is in elementary education, and I wanted to be a third-grade teacher. As I went through that process, I learned a lot, but I was at a time in my life when I wasn't sure if I wanted to have my own classroom. It was a little overwhelming for me.

At the same time, I also got married, and I didn't know if I could be married and be a teacher, so I joined University of Phoenix in 2007 and became an academic counselor. In that role, I worked with students to help them progress through their educational journeys and meet their goals.

After doing that for eight months, I joined the instructional design and development team at the University. I was an instructional developer for two years, and then I joined the College of Education at UOPX, where I oversee all the programs and the coursework. Additionally, I'm responsible for state licensure approvals and standard alignment, which varies by state. I've also been a faculty member since 2010 and teach introductory-level courses.

How did the pandemic change the way you supported students?

In my role as associate dean, student teachers were directly impacted by the pandemic since schools were temporarily shut down, and we had hundreds of student teachers across the U.S. who were supposed to graduate in May.

Our students were concerned about being able to graduate. Those first few weeks during the pandemic were about figuring things out for these students and having all hands on deck at the College of Education to brainstorm solutions.

In 2020 we reached out to many different state agencies in states where we offer teacher preparation programs to determine if they were supporting accommodations for student teachers or recent graduates seeking a teaching license in their state. A lot of states were flexible and accommodating to ensure that student teachers taught enough hours to be eligible to apply for a teaching license. And we worked with students to ensure they met the requirements.

How were these students set up for success when it came to virtual teaching?

We have an online portal called College of Ed Central for our student teachers, so we created a whole COVID resources library that included things they would need to know about virtual field experience or student teaching experience alternatives. We also created a virtual school with case studies.

This all came out in maybe four to six weeks, and we really came together and got it all out there. I felt like we were making decisions in real-time. We had to help students over the finish line and graduate.

The expectations for student teachers had to be reworked to still be authentic in a virtual environment. We can't penalize our students for having to do virtual student teaching, because that is the only option at the time.

How did you remain committed to your students even while battling COVID?

I ended up contracting COVID at the beginning of July. I didn't have to go to the hospital, but I was useless for like 10 days.

Meanwhile, we had a lot of projects still going on to prepare for our fall student teachers. But that's where having regular communication helped because my co-worker and associate dean Lisa Ghormley and my boss, Pam, knew exactly where everything was and could pick up where I left off right away.

It was really a team approach. The way we communicate and having regular check-in meetings kept us informed since there were so many moving parts and new information daily. It was about everybody being able to understand what was going on.

How did you balance your role as a mom during this time?

Everything changed in March. Everything was so upended. The hardest part was that every day was like the last. I'd go to bed at night, and I'd realize I get to do it all again tomorrow. My husband and I had to try to figure out what our new normal was.

My son was 4, and my daughter was 1 when the pandemic hit. Kids thrive on routine, so I aimed to build some predictability into our lives. I'd do activities with them, like going on scavenger hunts around our neighborhood. As a working mom pre-COVID, I always found myself longing for more time with my children. So, as much as I was overwhelmed during the day while working from home, I realized this was a blessing. It was hard, but at the same time, I've gotten to spend more time with them.

I would say that trying to carve out time in the day for myself, even if it was just for five minutes, really helped. My husband and I would also organize our schedules and tag-team, so whoever had a meeting would be upstairs in our office, and the other would be downstairs with the two kids. There was a lot of working after hours, so a lot of things that didn't have to be done right away I would do during naptime or after bedtime.

Interested in a career in education? Do you want to have the chance to make a difference in students' lives as Ashley Bartley does? Take a look at University of Phoenix's online education degrees to learn more.

Inspired by Ashley Bartley's story? Find out how you can earn a Master of Arts in Education/Curriculum and Instruction and develop your knowledge and skills to make learning come alive for students.

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