How Online PD Eased A New York District’s Transition to Remote Learning
How did a mid-sized New York school district solve some of its most pressing professional development (PD) issues with one tool? It took teamwork, perspective sharing and a widely-adopted PD platform.
Dr. Don Murphy, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Technology at Hauppauge Public Schools, which serves almost 4,000 students, says his district faced the same struggles as many others. It was tough to find time slots that work with teachers' schedules and space to accommodate PD sessions. Then there were the costs: travel and meal expenses for offsite meetings, substitute teachers and the price of the actual training sessions themselves.
But with SMART Boards in almost every classroom, one-to-one iPad programs in grades 4 through 8 and the district’s investment in Google's ecosystem of classroom tools, digital literacy skills were becoming increasingly crucial for Hauppauge teachers.
When online professional development came up as an option, Murphy's initial reaction was, "This is awesome. We should just do this!" But knowing educators often cringe at yet another top-down directive from "the district," he decided to create a working group—including himself, the director of technology (Dr. Tim McCarthy), teachers and their union president—to examine the idea in greater detail.
Through their work, Murphy and his team discovered that online learning solved many of their PD challenges, and allowed them to quickly build capacity for remote learning. So, they searched for providers and ultimately chose OTIS for Educators, a state-approved online professional development platform aligned to ISTE standards. Dr. McCarthy in particular took the lead in working with TEQ (Provider) and their team, setting up our own video channel within the platform, and organizing the necessary collaborative efforts with colleagues.
Here, Murphy shares his unique approach to implementing online professional development and the specific challenges it solved for his teachers and the entire district.
EdSurge: Why was it necessary to involve teachers in the decision-making process around a move to online PD?
We heard comments like…‘It would be incredible if I could do it from home.’ or ‘When you keep me after school to do PD, I’m missing my son’s soccer match.’
Murphy: Over my career, I've learned that taking a top-down approach to implementation without acknowledging other perspectives and inviting key stakeholders leads to failure—no matter how fantastic your initiative is.
Any district goal, initiative, or anything worthwhile, requires collaboration or partnership.
We learned about teacher pain points and what PD would look like if they could be the architects of their own learning. We heard comments like, 'I would love to just do it from my own classroom.’ or ‘It would be incredible if I could do it from home.' Or, 'When you keep me after school to do PD, I'm missing my son's soccer match. I'd love to do it after soccer.'
You learn about their limits around time, logistics and space. And sometimes teachers miss what was said during PD, so it would be great if sessions were recorded so teachers could rewind. Learning these things made it pretty clear that a platform like OTIS would work well for us.
Why was online PD the right approach for Hauppauge teachers and staff?
One of our district goals is to help teachers develop digital literacy skills. When we rolled out OTIS, there was so much positive feedback from teachers about how simple it is to use. After just one course, teachers told us there really isn't a learning curve. They love that they don't lose time with their students and can access learning on their own terms.
And it's teacher-created content; that's enormous credibility-wise. There's no better PD than teacher-to-teacher PD.
What does online PD look like at Hauppauge now?
We did a full rollout of OTIS for the 2018-2019 school year, and now we have around 400 teachers and teaching assistants on the platform. That increases to 600 when you add in clerical staff, security guards and custodians who access relevant OTIS content. The partnership with TEQ is funded through the district budget. We are very fortunate in Hauppauge as our Board of Education has always supported our technology and Professional Development initiatives and efforts.
With OTIS, we can provide curated playlists that include district-mandated courses. In the beginning, many of those related to Google and Google Classroom but now include social-emotional learning, working with students with disabilities, working with English language learners and physical education.
We ask teachers to spend at least five of their mandated 25 hours of PD time on the platform, but it could be all 25 hours for some.
...it’s teacher-created content; that’s enormous credibility-wise. There’s no better PD than teacher-to-teacher PD.
Last summer, we had some teachers do 50 to 60 courses on OTIS. That is just awesome! That's something we wouldn't have been able to facilitate without this platform. It's so powerful. And it's benefiting kids because now we've got these experts growing their skills.
What kind of impact has online PD had during school closures?
We'd already been using OTIS for over a year with a heavy focus on Google Classroom, so when schools closed, we had a common platform all teachers were connected to and familiar with. They could quickly connect with their students, and then we could begin building on that.
Now teachers are all over OTIS because of the quick move to remote learning. It's helped them quickly get up to speed during this paradigm shift. Many of them are using OTIS to learn how to use tools like Screencastify, Kami or others. They're basically learning how to create digital content.
Were there any unexpected benefits to choosing an online PD platform?
We can create our own content. That's changed the way we do business, in small and big ways. For instance, we needed to introduce a new copier fleet across the district, so we created a video and shared it through OTIS.
Also, our teachers can create content on their own time. Of course, we pay them for that, but the cost is less than having someone come onsite. And the content lives forever, so teachers can go back to it over and over again.
Murphy’s Favorite PD Leaders and Resources
- James Gallagher, Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute
- John Hattie, Visible Learning
- Research for Better Teaching
- Kasey Bell, @ShakeUpLearning
- Every Kid Needs a Champion, TED Ed
We had a middle school teacher create a course for incorporating Google Drawings in lesson plans and upload it to OTIS. A second grade teacher in another building watched the video and created a fantastic lesson plan for an observation. The teachers had never met. These opportunities would never happen without this platform.
With thoughtful planning and teacher buy-in, Hauppauge was successful in building a PD culture that was able to support them in the rapid move to remote learning. Their educators now have a strong technology foundation and the digital literacy to be successful as they plan for the upcoming school year.