Not to state the obvious, but education is in a time of dynamic change. This change will affect not just this school year, but long into the future of what education may be for our children and grandchildren. It is important, then, to rethink how administrators, teachers, and parents/guardians prepare for each school year so that students can still meet, or exceed, learning goals and objectives. Beyond what can be seen on paper, education also supports a child’s need to experience, explore, and apply learning to real-life now and in the future. To do this successfully, teachers who are now dealing with a virtual classroom environment must adjust their teaching practices. Why? Because remote learning requires specific skills such as conducting classes using video conferencing, sharing content in different ways, and providing feedback on student assignments and projects.
It was clear that from school closures in the spring, for many, there was a definite gap between tech and teachers. Those unfamiliar with platforms such as Google Classroom struggled with following through on instructional plans, besides having to deal with challenges such as lack of tech resources for students, decreased student communication and participation, and balancing home and work responsibilities. Educational leadership has accelerated its search for teacher training that can help them use technology effectively and possibly for the long term. Certainly, there are many questions that need to be answered regarding remote learning before undertaking such a search such as those outlined for teachers, administrators, parents, and legislators in the article Pandemic Pedagogy: Some Questions About Being “Successful” and Getting it “Right”. Questions to consider include:
- What is essential for your students to learn, in terms of content and skills?
- What content needs to be delivered asynchronously, and what needs to be modeled or coached synchronously?
- What have you learned about yourself, your teaching style, and what you really value as an educator?
- What worked best for communicating with your staff?
- For online meetings with colleagues, what norms did you establish and how did these facilitate communication and teamwork?
- What successes should be celebrated?
How can teacher professional development fill in any skills gaps? There are a number of features that effective teacher PD should incorporate:
- Active learning that facilitates opportunities for teachers to practice the strategies and skills learned, considering that these new skills will be expected of their students. For example, if the new skill is responding to student assignments via an application or LMS, students should be taught to use the same/similar skill for commenting on classmate work.
- Feedback and time for reflection are essential for helping teachers progress and see themselves successfully moving beyond ‘basics’ towards expert levels of the skills. Just like providing students in a classroom with feedback, giving teachers input on what they’re understanding and having them zero in on what needs improvement is vital.
- Ample time to learn, practice, and implement the new skills and strategies is necessary, especially considering the different levels of tech knowledge that teachers and students have. This would mean that unlike a typical teacher PD of 2- to 4-hour blocks of learning, teachers can learn over an adequate block of time so that their confidence grows with new the skills. Not only is confidence developed but overall instructional practice is strengthened.
- Including students in the learning process – collaborative teacher-student PD – could be a powerful strategy in fostering and maintaining classroom relationships. For example, as teachers learn to use a video conferencing app, students can learn alongside their teachers so that all can actively participate in lessons.
- Knowledgeable support and coaching that is focused on teachers’ needs. With the move to remote learning and the possibility that this becomes the avenue of instruction for an extended length of time, many teachers are developing and growing tech skills. Regular support is valuable for building and maintaining confidence, as well as imparting that same confidence to students.
Besides helping teachers manage tech platforms and applications, it should also be stressed that flexibility is called for regarding student task completion and engagement. Students are also going through the same ‘learning curve’ and require adjustments with remote education due to factors such as preferred learning style, not having adequate tech access or resources, and lack of support such as someone at home who can answer questions or resolve tech issues. Teacher PD or coaching that addresses these concerns is beneficial.
With all of this said and done, what can teacher PD look like in this time of remote learning? Districts may opt for providing teachers with online training options that they can pick and choose from. This allows teachers to select courses that meet their needs without having to hold others ‘back’ from advancing their skills. Providing options also prevents “PD overload” so that teachers can take the courses they need, when they need them. Ultimately, professional development should be designed to support students as they apply and master 21st century skills such as collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.
To learn about Boxlight-EOS professional development for teachers, go to mimio.boxlight.com/professional-development-teachers.