Professional development (PD) for teachers is an ongoing process. After all, a bachelor’s degree in education doesn’t prepare someone for every situation. How to power through a difficult parent-teacher meeting comes to mind, but there are many challenges that teachers learn how to handle in time.
The PD that is offered by districts or schools can therefore be invaluable for advancing their careers, teaching strategies, and overall satisfaction with their jobs. At the same time, it’s not easy to offer a quality training program. After all, teachers have varying degrees of experience and knowledge about the subjects that they are teaching.
That is why school leaders or instructors have to carefully consider what are the final goals of teacher training, and whether it really helps teachers achieve better results in class. Making more use of online PD can be the solution to a more efficient program. It can help schools create an active learning environment that is sustainable, collaborative, coherent, focused on specific subjects, and that allows for educators to learn throughout the year.
Here are a few guidelines to help you create successful online PD for teachers:
Establish what teachers need
Educators need a set of skills to successfully teach and manage their classrooms. However, each of them encounter specific issues on a daily basis. That is why cookie cutter PD does little to actually help them develop professionally. A good program starts with a needs assessment, which is a way to figure out what teachers really need from their training.
You can do this by gathering a focus group of teachers from a district or school, by handing out surveys or by observing them while they work.
In this way, the training will be highly relevant to them and you won’t be trying to solve problems that are really unsolvable through PD. For example, if schools want teachers to manage their time better, they should try to reduce the admin work before creating online courses on time management.
Provide opportunities to practice
The idea of demonstrating instead of lecturing in PD is not new. Online training for teachers is the perfect opportunity to also train them to use edtech and other online tools. Don’t get me wrong, offline training is just as good. However, if you want them to use the school LMS or other online tools while you are not using it at all, why should they do that? It really sends the wrong message to teachers.
Plus, it’s easy to create multimedia presentations that teachers will actually enjoy or make use of webinars and videos. Even better, encourage them to submit their lessons online and receive constructive feedback on an ongoing basis.
Offer content specific PD
In PD, there are specific themes that deserve more attention, such as dealing with off-task behavior. Nonetheless, teachers say that subject-specific training is what they need the most.
Offering highly relevant online training that they can do at their own pace is better than offline learning that’s crammed into a few days. It also means more opportunities to offer training that is tailored for a specific discipline or grade level. This type of learning focuses on lesson content as well as instructional strategies that work best in each context.
Open the way to communication
A survey of 755 teachers in the US found that they value the immediate feedback they get on Twitter. In fact, they find much more than tips and tricks online, they find a veritable support system.
Schools might be concerned about the lack of interaction in online learning. And they do make a valid point, except that what actually happens in practice is the complete opposite. Hundreds of teachers are interacting daily through Twitter, Reddit, Quora etc. building a personal learning network online.
With online training you can use social media or discussion forums that are more private to build the district/school’s own personal learning network.
Give timely feedback
Online learning is not about absorbing information in front of a screen. In fact, you can double its value by offering feedback as teachers begin to implement what they’ve learned. This can be as complicated as following a new curriculum, or as simple as giving feedback on new assessments.
Even better, to save time on asking each peer what they think of a new classroom activity, teachers can submit their ideas online and receive suggestions for improvement. Again, some teachers already do this on their own, but others need some encouragement first. After all, it’s important for them to see how exactly they can implement what they’ve learned.
Plan PD throughout the year
Some schools have a hard time offering quality PD due to budget constraints, a lack of personnel and many other factors. They solve this by offering PD days, which tend to be long days filled with workshops. This is not bad in itself, but you would not teach students in the same way, would you?
That is because teachers rarely have the time to take in all the information in one day and also implement new things. Online learning helps you offer ongoing training, throughout the year, planned around a teacher’s hectic schedule. One way to do this is by offering micro learning, which are shorter modules focused on specific topics. Webinars are also popular among teachers.
Choose the right tech
Needless to say, choosing the right tech tools can make a world of a difference in online PD. First of all, there should be a centralized hub for all activities, including online courses, discussion forums, webinars and the ability to schedule events such as workshops.
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It’s even better if it’s something that they normally use every day to teach students, or if they can use it on the go, on their mobile devices. Plus, if one of the goals is for them to learn how to use the tech appropriately, integrate this into the PD program. For example, if the school is switching to using mostly iPads for flipped learning, have them use the devices themselves as much as possible.
PD never ends
It’s true that learning never ends for anyone, but it’s especially true for teachers. Schools should follow the example of companies, and offer teachers more opportunities for PD. They should also diversify the method of delivering training, whether it is face to face, blended, or online.
Online training is a convenient way for teachers to learn at their own pace, throughout the school year, and a way for them to expand their personal learning network. Ultimately, the final goal should be to provide teachers with relevant training that can really help them become better professionals, more confident in their work, and more motivated to make a difference.