In the midst of remote learning, teachers are working to fill in the gaps of incomplete online professional development programs. Many teachers are volunteering to help less tech-savvy educators learn the basics about virtual learning tools when their schools or districts can’t provide adequate training.
Despite their good intentions, teachers simply aren’t equipped to provide comprehensive online PD for their colleagues. Remote instruction requires teachers to learn a wide range of new skills; and they need a well-planned, evidence-based PD program to succeed.
Why Aren’t External Teacher Development Resources Enough?
EdTech Magazine notes that “[m]ost state education departments and school districts have their own hub of resources” for teachers to explore as they develop remote learning lesson plans. For example, the Colorado Department of Education’s Office of Blended and Online Learning hosts a webpage with links to professional development resources, research reports, and other related tools. Other organizations, such as ISTE and EdSurge, have compiled lists of free tools, articles, webinars, and other resources for teachers to browse for virtual instruction ideas.
Unfortunately, these hubs and lists quickly become overwhelming for teachers. Many educators already struggle to balance their regular responsibilities (like lesson planning, grading, and communicating with students and caregivers) while working from home. They rarely have time to also sift through countless online trainings to find the ones that are relevant for their individual knowledge level and their students’ needs.
There’s another major downside to these disconnected, piecemeal trainings: The free resources teachers find online do not provide clear, focused direction for remote instructors.
A teacher may be able to read an article with tips for communicating with students during asynchronous instruction, or watch a webinar about how to use a single virtual learning tool. However, school leaders can’t expect teachers to find and stitch together online resources that will provide the comprehensive training, feedback, accountability, and other supports they need for remote learning.
A Better Way: Online Professional Development at the School or District Level
Instead of pointing teachers to lists of online development resources, school and district leaders should plan evidence-based professional development for remote instruction. In our recent article “Virtual Learning Professional Development for Teachers”, we highlight the benefits of a well-planned development program:
- Educators learn how to teach online through online instruction. School leaders can model how teachers should plan and host online instruction for their students. In real-time, teachers can learn from PD facilitators as they moderate chat rooms and discussion boards, lead interactive virtual activities, and send teachers into videoconferencing breakout rooms for small group activities.
- All teachers learn to use your school or district’s chosen virtual learning tools. Teachers aren’t the only ones facing a steep learning curve with remote learning; students are too. When you plan school- or district-wide PD, teachers can be trained to all use the same small handful of virtual learning tools with all students. This prevents students from having to learn how to use a dozen new technologies before they can even start learning from the curriculum.
- Differentiated and individualized supports help teachers implement what they’ve learned. High-quality online PD begins with an assessment of teachers’ current knowledge and skills related to virtual instruction. These pre-assessments help school leaders differentiate PD that meets teachers where they are. Direct instructional training is then supplemented with individualized supports, including teacher coaching, evaluation, and feedback.
By mandating consistent, frequent development, school leaders provide teachers with adequate support to implement remote instructional strategies. Learn how to plan evidence-based online PD for your teachers.
How to Set the Tone for Online Teacher Development
Teacher buy-in is key for any professional development program, but it may feel daunting to try and win teachers over through an online program. Here are three key tips for engaging teachers in an online environment:
1. Establish virtual community norms and expectations.
In a recent article about online development, Edutopia explains that facilitators must earn teachers’ buy-in by creating an inclusive, collaborative community from the outset of training. They can start by outlining norms that promote a positive culture. For example, facilitators may:
- Explain how to test technology before meetings to respect everyone’s time.
- Outline best practices to ensure audio clarity, such as using an external microphone and using the mute button if you aren’t speaking.
- Teach participants how to use a neutral background so they feel comfortable turning on their cameras when working from home.
- Ask that teachers do not multi-task during meetings.
- Develop an organized system to give everyone a chance to contribute to the conversation.
- Assign roles so that different people can take notes during meetings, provide troubleshooting support if technical issues arise, and meet other common needs.
Facilitators should communicate these norms before and/or at the beginning of each meeting to remind participants of the expectations for their behavior.
2. Take teachers’ professional experiences into consideration.
Your team is likely made up of teachers with diverse professional backgrounds in terms of their tenure in teaching, past professional development experiences, and comfortability with new technologies. Although some training topics may be relevant to your entire faculty, some parts of your PD program should be differentiated based on teachers’ individual knowledge and skills.
Before assigning online PD, school leaders should have teachers complete a pre-assessment to measure their abilities with virtual learning technology. One tool you may like to use is the Massachusetts Technology Self-Assessment Tool.
Based on pre-assessment results, you can differentiate PD by:
- Breaking teachers into groups to learn with colleagues who have similar knowledge and skills
- Providing teachers with options of different topics to learn about so they can choose PD based on their personal interests
- Incorporating self-directed learning activities
PD should also include one-on-one coaching to further personalize learning for teachers. Coaches can give every teacher individualized feedback about their instruction.
3. Build in “offline” development activities.
Have you heard of “Zoom fatigue”? As many of us work exclusively from home, online development is certainly convenient. But your teachers also need breaks from their screens so they have time and energy to digest the material they’ve learned.
Also, Edutopia shares a reminder that high-quality professional development includes reflective practice. Facilitators should incorporate screen-free activities that guide teachers through a reflection of how they can improve instruction based on what they’ve learned.
Professional Development Consulting Solutions
Do you need a consultant or mentor to guide your professional development planning? The Center for Student Achievement Solutions matches experienced consultants with you and other administrators at your school or district to provide support exactly where you need it.
We believe that principals and district leaders are the experts about their faculty and students. We begin every mentoring relationship by listening to your insight about your team’s strengths and needs. From there, we can craft a custom, evidence-based PD plan to promote school improvement.