This post originally appeared on Abeo School Change’s blog, an education design and implementation group that partners with schools and systems to make powerful learning a reality for every student. View Original >
At the iNACOL conference this last fall, I encountered many professionals asking the same question. “What does Professional Development for online teachers look like?” Many sessions addressed the topic, but most of it was around processes that were in place to train and evaluate teachers. These were great sessions and highlighted many ways to create effective systems, but many participants were disappointed. They wanted to see content. What were teachers being trained in? What do online teachers do when they participate in professional development? Great questions all. They were looking for modules to take back to their schools and districts. iNACOL recently put out a report around professional development and it too gives great indications of what online teachers need. Since we lack a plethora of content to distribute, we need to think about ways to create an effective professional development program for online teachers. As a teacher and teacher trainer in the online education world, here are some important steps I believe one must take in order to create an effective professional development.
1) Identify what good online teachers do – Take time with teachers to identify and discuss with them what online teachers do. You will hear comments like “They are in constant contact with their teachers,” or “They give useful feedback in a timely matter.” You will end up with many topics to cover.
2) Identify critical components of the school framework – Schools have a vision, and this vision is articulated in its framework which includes, of course, structures and curriculum. Perhaps your school has an iRTI structure. Perhaps you focus on PBL. Perhaps you focus on competency –based pathways. Regardless, teachers will need coaching in these areas of the school framework.
3) Analyze what teachers need – Through both feedback from teachers and things noticed while “walking the halls,” identify what teachers need to know. There is no use in covering everything, and frankly, there is not enough time. You may find that only some teachers need a certain topic, while other content will need to be pushed out to all teachers.
4) Create modules or trainings based on each of these needs – Use a competency-based pathway model to create modules based on needs the teachers. Some of these modules will call for synchronous and asynchronous learning. On a side note, ensure that if a PD session is synchronous, keep it sacred. Don’t crowd it with logistics, announcements or other pieces that might distract from focused, deep learning.
5) Show teachers what it “looks like.” – Teachers, like students, need specific models and examples. If they need help with effective communication with students, play them a recording of a model phone call. Have teachers look at a model welcome email. Show them paragraphs of ideal feedback for student work. Again, examples and models speak volumes.
6) Continue to monitor and set goals with teachers – Be authentic and transparent with teachers with the quality indicators for evaluation. Don’t do “drive by” evaluations, but instead, create a culture of continuous feedback and improvement. Partner with teachers to set goals and improve.
While all of these pieces may seem obvious to many, I see many professionals skip to step 4. Professional development should come from authentic needs and quality characteristics of online teachers. This is just a starting point in the conversation around professional development for online teachers. A major next step in this world of professional for online teacher is to create open source training resources. Although there will specific components unique to individual schools that teachers must be trained and coached in, there are some common pieces all teachers will need in the future.