Best Practices Around Virtual Professional Development

virtual professional development
(Image credit: Future)

As part of Tech & Learning’s Virtual Summit this past July, educators shared strategies around meaningful virtual professional development. The panelists included Knikole Taylor, Ellen Belastock, and Dr. Matthew X. Joseph  

Making Lemonade out of Lemons

As a teacher, I experienced firsthand the issues that arise from teaching remotely. Keeping students engaged while maintaining balance with increased time on screens is a challenge for many teachers who struggle with integrating technology. 

That being said, teachers who are now forced into blended and remote learning have seen several opportunities to help personalize instruction with their students. The challenge is getting teachers the tools and help they need when they need it.

While this session centered around providing virtual professional learning for staff, one thing that was mentioned universally by the panel and participants was the need for increased support for our teachers. From 1-on-1 chats to on-demand video tutorials, much like our students, professional development needs to be personalized and flexible for adult learners. 

As you’ll find with many of their suggestions, these best practices should exist in both virtual and in-person settings.

Watch the full session:

Ask for Feedback

Getting feedback as an administrator or professional learning provider can be a double-edged sword. Teachers will tell you ways to improve your support in ways that you can’t fully provide right away. However, by taking their feedback, you can also adjust course and quickly adapt how you provide assistance and training. Sorting feedback into larger buckets make it more manageable to overcome and gives your staff a sense of empowerment and feeling listened to. The graphic below details some of the most common issues that teachers are facing as they try to provide remote learning.

virtual professional development

(Image credit: Knicole Taylor)

Differentiate Instruction

Taking that feedback and turning it into action can also be a tricky balance. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to training teachers and staff. Ellen Belastock mentioned during her presentation that just like our students, we need to support teachers with different learning styles. Each person has a different expectation and unique way that they learn best. Providing a step-set of instructions might work well for one teacher while others prefer video tutorials. Some teachers like to be self-paced while others like to follow along, step-by-step. When creating your training materials, consider providing a variety of options for your adult learners. 

Provide Choice

virtual professional development

(Image credit: Knicole Taylor)

A part of the differentiated instruction is providing teachers with a choice on the path they want to take. Knikole Taylor is an instructional coach who tries to find many different ways for teachers to access professional learning. She uses tools such as Personalizing PD to devise strategies to create choice throughout a PD session. Teachers can have the option to work at their own pace or have more guidance. They can learn individually or with a group. Giving teachers these options energizes their learning, particularly when they realize it’s not just another “sit and get” session. 

Focus on Relationships

Relationships and trust are a necessary stepping stone to success when it comes to adult learning, said Dr. Matthew X. Joseph. You shouldn’t dive straight into content without first building those relationships through either an in-person or virtual format. 

Part of that relationship building is having teachers self-evaluate their own current performance versus their desired expectation and outcome. Oftentimes teachers are their own harshest critics and can set higher expectations when they feel the support and trust of their school leaders. Professional learning shouldn’t be a one-time thing, Joseph said. It should be constant, consistent and aligned with long-term district goals. 

Simplify the Tools

Once remote learning started across the country, teachers and leaders were bombarded with an array of free edtech tools. As Dr. Joseph and others panelists suggested, don’t overload teachers with virtual tools. Standardize certain tools (such as LMS and video conferencing software) to simplify training and allow some room for customization of others (such as polling software or quizzing tools). Encouraging and supporting staff on a core group of tools when it comes to virtual teaching and learning will help reduce frustration and confusion. 

Goals for Professional Learning

Many of the strategies offered can be used in either remote or in-person settings. Professional learning needs to have both short-term goals that affect the classroom immediately and long-term goals that align with the district vision and mission. 

No matter which format you choose, keep these five ideas in mind when planning and executing professional learning for your staff:

1. Have fun. Yes learning can be fun, even for adults.

2. Meet educators where they are. Never assume pre-existing knowledge or understanding about a tool or platform. Vary the content to account for those who are beginners and those that are experts.

3. Do not over plan. We have all had our fill of virtual meetings and planning committees. Perfection is the enemy of done. Make an outline for your professional learning and then execute.

4. Use participant’s experiences. Schools have many rock star teachers who have utilized the very platforms and tools you are showcasing. Have them share their strategies as well as pitfalls to avoid.

5. Celebrate. Teachers have been through a lot during this pandemic. While many put their head down and barrel forward, be sure to take some time during professional learning to celebrate where they have come from as learners and what they have accomplished.

Deploying some of these strategies shared by the talented educators on this panel will help make your next professional learning experience much more engaging and successful. Having tools and ideas that teachers can turn around and use effectively in their classroom will not only help build their confidence but also help engage their students in learning. Which should ultimately be the goal of any professional learning experience. 

Carl Hooker has spent the past 20+ years in education as a teacher and administrator focused on the thoughtful integration of technology and innovation. He consults for multiple districts across the country and is a frequent speaker at state and national events. In his free time he's an author, DJ, podcast host, Poetry Slammer, and Trivia Night MC. He's the co-founder of the social platform Check out his latest book Ready Set FAIL! Now available for order here:  Read more of his blogs at Hooked on Innovation.