We Need Professional Development Now More Than Ever
Professional development for teachers needs to be at the forefront of administration’s minds once the dust settles from Covid-19. Developing and coaching teachers on ways to create material in remote learning needed to start yesterday. Traditional methodologies of teaching in a typical classroom are not going to be needed, at least not for the remainder of this year. Teachers will need assistance in adapting quickly to new methods.
Obviously, teaching remotely is not the same as teaching in the classroom. For many teachers and students, they first need time to grieve the sudden loss of this school year and time to support their own families and loved ones. This must happen before you can expect teachers to set goals supporting their students and promoting their achievement.
Due to social distancing, there are not many ways for teachers to receive professional development, though one of the easiest methods is through video. Teachers need to be self assessing and receiving coaching about their recorded lessons, their presentation skills, and the new ways they provide feedback to students.
The skills needed in an asynchronous environment are different from in-person education. Additionally, while student and parent feedback is vital, educators need to decide what effective distance learning looks like. Student feedback is not the same as professional development. Teachers who work with coaches are able to apply their learning more deeply and consistently than teachers who work alone. Coaching supports teachers to improve their capacity to reflect and apply their learning to their work with students.
There are special considerations for teaching online and while there are not specialized degrees for being an online educator, there are many guides that point out all of the major differences and remind you how important it is to have mastered the needed technology prior to the start of the course. Not many of the districts I have spoken with had any time to master the tech needed to move their students online or to communicate with them remotely. This is an area where coaching and professional development can be so valuable. Utilizing screencasting tools, web recording, live video conferencing and sharing these recordings with technology or instructional coaches will provide actionable feedback that quickly will increase a teachers skills and confidence.
In an excellent blog post about how to coach during a crisis, Stephanie Affino of the University of Albany provides several tips that I think are helpful for everyone, no matter where they are on the PD decision spectrum. These tips are valuable now, and will absolutely be valuable when things go back to normal.
First, make sure teachers are seen and heard. Reach out proactively and offer support and resources. The next step is to build virtual professional learning communities. PLCs are usually comprised of people inside your building or probably at a school geographically close to yours. Now, with everything online, you are not as limited. Go on Twitter and join an #edchat or participate in a Facebook Live event. Watch and chat with other participants in webinars on a subject or a product that you would like to delve into further. Finally, be flexible. Coaching cycles will look different and coaches and teachers alike will need to revise their ‘authentic style’ for online teaching.
Professional development brings people together, increases knowledge, and satisfies our need to be lifelong learners. The connections between teachers and students and the confidence to continue educating during a time of crisis will be reinforced with the support of coaches and administrators providing necessary resources and training. When we emerge from our homes and head back into the classroom, we have the opportunity to have developed another skill and method of reaching students, another way of differentiating and reaching more learners. Let's give our teachers this opportunity.