Teachers have had to navigate extraordinary challenges this past year, forcing schools to reevaluate and reprioritize training programs to include a larger focus on education technology to deliver lessons remotely. As classrooms shift to a hybrid learning environment this focus remains a priority and the need to improve skills and techniques for facilitating lessons in all learning environments is critical. Teachers have certainly amped up their strategies for boosting student engagement and enhancing interactive learning even without the benefit of being in the same classroom at the same time. They have responded, as have educational leaders, together working to provide meaningful, relevant, and job-embedded Professional Development programming for teachers.
edWeb, an award-winning professional learning network that serves the global education community, regularly hosts Professional Learning edLeader panels with industry experts for Pre-K-12 educators in all roles. Boxlight-EOS Education sponsored and participated in the edWeb Leader Panel series on February 23, 2021 which brought together our Professional Development division and district partners to discuss the future of training in our evolving school systems. Boxlight-EOS Education is in its seventh year of PD programming with Phoenix Union High School District (AZ) and going into the fourth year of programming with Clayton County Public schools (GA). Panel participants were April Mayo, Director of Instructional Technology with Clayton County Public Schools (GA); Katie Hansen, a National Board Certified Teacher and Staff Development Specialist, and Bernadette Moreno, Professional Development Specialist from Phoenix Union High School District (AZ); Dr. Alex Leis, CEO of Boxlight-EOS Education; and myself, Professional Development Program Manager, also with Boxlight-EOS Education.
What have we learned from the past year and what are the essential take-aways from the panel discussion? “Relationships have been essential,” said Hansen. “The importance of having partners to work with and align with the mission, language, and on-going strategies from the District to the schools to the teachers to the classrooms and beyond has allowed us to design trainings that are flexible and adaptable and the cornerstone to delivering successful PD.” Relationships are critical when building a strong foundation for future professional development programs.
Another hot topic was what has happened in this past year. Districts relied heavily on internal and external partners to meet the needs of the school communities. What has been the result? Digital fluency has increased for both teachers and students. School closures forced educators to reconstruct the traditional classroom which ultimately provided opportunities to improve flexible learning paths, promote differentiated instruction, and place an emphasis on teacher skill development with supports at each level.
As we address the challenges that teachers faced after school closures last spring such as technology infrastructure, student home environment, teacher working conditions, standards and best practices for virtual teaching and learning, and technology skills, we now begin to look forward. Dr. Leis commented, “The pandemic is an opportunity to reimagine schooling to be more flexible, connected, authentic, and appropriately challenging.”
What was it about the approach these education leaders used that worked?
Focused – Prioritized – Relevant – Balanced – Flexible
“By prioritizing the elements of teaching and learning that are most important, we were able to avoid overloading teachers with ‘nice to haves’ and focus on relevant, meaningful, and adaptable PD regardless of the learning environment,” said Moreno. Effective professional development is content-focused, incorporates active learning and adult learning theory, supports collaboration, models effective practices, offers opportunities for feedback and reflection, and is sustained. Education technology professional development is evolving – it is not just about technology and resources but includes learning strategies, sound pedagogy, and inclusive practices.
Mayo commented, “From the District to the principals to the campuses, we have promoted compassion over content, compassion over curriculum, providing grace and understanding as we worked through this extraordinary experience together. In Clayton County we had wonderful partnerships, like that with Boxlight-EOS Education, and we called on them for support and we went into action together.”
What has Boxlight-EOS Education done for school districts, especially during school closures and quickly changing circumstances?
Boxlight-EOS Education provided training and on-going support for the development and growth of teachers, administration, and students by ensuring best practices and authentic use of the District’s supported technology platforms. EOS Education modified the program to support teachers and students in the transition to remote and hybrid learning, aligning with each District’s unique initiatives. With dedicated Digital Learning Specialists for each District, educators received customized trainings to meet their specific needs. Professional development included:
- 1:1 Virtual Coaching for teachers
- Virtual Learning Labs and Virtual Playgrounds that provided teachers an opportunity to practice new skills, ask questions, and collaborate
- Classroom Support to assist students with foundational technology skills
- Customized trainings on classroom technology including best practices, learning strategies, and pedagogy
- Online courses to upskill teachers quickly, providing on demand and self-paced options
- Creation of practical training guides, videos, resources, and materials for students
- On-going support to empower teachers to help their students stay motivated and engaged, and most importantly, stay connected
Mayo continued, “It was overwhelming at the start, but we have now found a flow and a process. Our teachers, students, and families know where and how to access information and know that they have the support every step of the way.”
Another take-away from the panel is how different instruction looks now than pre-pandemic. As we look to the next school year, we know that there is a concentrated push towards essential issues such as student-centered practices and implementation, equity and access being a priority, and customized professional development that will support teachers and students.
The panel participants recognize the impact this past year has had on every stakeholder but with that knowledge, we collectively look forward to meeting the ongoing needs of those served in education. It is our goal collectively to reimagine our professional development models to meet the ‘New Normal’ and continue to work together to bridge the technology available with effective instructional practices and build inclusive classrooms together.
The future may look different, but the future is bright for Professional Development.
To view a recording of the edLeader panel discussion, click here – Tomorrow’s New Normal: What It Means for Professional Development.
To learn about Boxlight-EOS Professional Development courses, including customized options to better suit your school and district needs, go to boxlight.com/professional-development-teachers.