What Does Remote Professional Development Look Like for Online Teachers?
During the hasty and haphazard transition to remote instruction, helping students and families has been the first and foremost priority for many schools and districts. But what about supporting educators who are tasked with delivering instruction and a modicum of normalcy in an entirely new medium, using online tools they may be trying for the first time?
“All of our jobs have shifted so much,” says Michele Eaton, director of virtual and blended learning at the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indianapolis. “A message that we can’t overlook, and which is really important in all of my communications with teachers, is that you’re doing enough. Whatever you’re doing right now, you’re doing enough.”
Eaton shared those comments at the latest installment in our EdSurge-ISTE webinar series, focused on how school leaders and teachers can tend to their own personal and professional needs.
While there’s a tendency to rush to make remote instruction work, it’s important to tell teachers that it’s okay to take things one step at a time, says Sophia Mendoza, the director of instructional technology at Los Angeles Unified School District.
“Educators, for the most part, want to come in and start learning the points and where to click right away,” Mendoza adds. “But we’ve taken the approach of ‘let’s slow down first and ask, where are you right now in your learning curve?’ before we even think about implementing this with your students.’”
With students learning from home, educators should recognize that most parents now play an even closer role in their children’s learning. And providing guidance to families in how they can support educational activities can take some of the load off of teachers, says Dominic Caguioa, the instructional leadership support coordinator at Los Angeles Unified School District.
“What LA Unified is currently doing, side by side with our professional development plan for educators, is engaging parents and families and helping them be part of the overall plan in the education of our students, especially as the school closures continue,” says Caguioa. “It might not be formalized education, but it’s still important to have parents know what is going on with the kids and their teachers.”
Doing so, he adds, “can also help address issues like language barriers and socioeconomic barriers at home” that teachers may previously not have known about.
Conversations that used to occur serendipitously in the teachers’ lounge or in the hallways are now taking place over FaceTime and Zoom, says Kyair Butts, a sixth-grade literacy teacher and the 2019-2020 Baltimore City Schools Teacher of the Year. Instead of talking shop and sharing tips in person, Butts says he and his colleagues have organized and shared links to resources in Google Drive folders that they can all access.
That sort of tactic was endorsed by Eaton. “We have worked across departments to centralize as much information as possible. Because there is so much information that is constantly changing, we go back to our remote learning plan—a working document that houses everything,” she says. Eaton says this approach has helped her curriculum, instruction and assessment departments collaborate with their colleagues on the social-emotional learning team, and distribute the workload of designing and preparing materials.
“This is absolutely not an ideal situation, but I think we are building so much capacity within our staff and our students in a way that would not have been possible without this situation,” Eaton notes. She later adds: “I’ve always firmly believed that we can teach just as well online as we can in a traditional setting. And I think that goes for adults, too.”
Beyond instructional resources, Butts underscores that “the big topic when I talk to colleagues is making sure that they are mentally well.” He asks the same questions of his fellow teachers as he does with his students: “How are you doing mentally? How are you doing emotionally? It’s about making sure that we’re all reassuring each other that we’re all here to provide support.”
While students and teachers miss in-person interactions and the routines of a physical school environment, Butts hopes that the disruption “also gives folks an opportunity to step back and say, ‘What do we really want our education to look like when we go back? When we go back to a brick-and-mortar edifice that is a school building, what should education look like?”
As teachers connect virtually with students, educators may get a closer look at what their kids’ lives are like in their homes. For Butts, “there’s an opportunity for all of us as educators to throw our hat in. There are all these equity issues that we’ve always known about, but the building hides that. But remote instruction has surfaced them to light. Now’s a good time to understand, who is benefiting from the current system, and who has been left behind historically.”
This is a brief recap of the conversation. To hear the rest, listen to the episode in the player on this page. You can also find the EdSurge Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts.