Best practices for implementing online professional development (PD) in your school.
GUEST COLUMN | by Joseph Sanfilippo
Providing professional development for teachers is a key responsibility for school administrators. Choosing the appropriate resources to prepare your teachers to drive school initiatives that pertain to pedagogy, procedures, and technology can be a daunting task. Many schools have turned to online professional development to meet their PD needs for the following reasons:
- Online PD is on-demand and fits easily into a teacher’s busy schedule
- A plethora of options gives teachers the ability to learn what they want, based on their individual needs and skill levels
Establish a plan with clearly defined expectations and support it with a learning community comprised of in-person instruction and online resources.
Successfully deploying online professional development in a school is not always as easy as it seems. Here are four key steps to consider when launching online professional development in your school:
- Make a plan for onboarding – The first step to a successful online professional development program is making sure your teachers have created accounts and know how to use the online platform. Combining an online PD launch with a live training session can help get this started on the right foot. It is a small commitment that will drive long term utilization by your teachers, helping to get the most out of your professional development investment. Make sure there is a clear support system where teachers can find technical support and get any questions answered. Monitor use of the platform over the first few weeks to identify any roadblocks and ensure that your teachers are having a good experience.
- Set expectations – All successful professional development programs start with the end in mind. This is no different when using an online PD platform. Let your teachers know about your overall plans for technology, instruction, and professional development. Identify courses and resources that support these plans. While a big part of eLearning is the freedom teachers have to design their own curriculum, you should define specific courses that support the big-picture goals.
- Encourage a blended approach to professional development – eLearning platforms are a perfect complement to the onsite professional development plan you may already have in place, creating a blended learning model that supports the needs of your teachers. Online PD courses and content can serve as a resource for teachers attending similar in-person professional development sessions, both before and after the scheduled in-person training.
By utilizing the online PD platform before in-person PD sessions, teachers can bring a stronger baseline of knowledge on the subject to that session. This fosters a deeper level of professional learning, driving richer questions and reducing time spent introducing basics. To reinforce and expand on what was taught during the in-person session, the instructor can recommend additional online PD courses and resources that your teachers can use.
- Participate in the online community – Within your online PD platform, there can be several places for members to communicate with their peers to further discuss their newly learned skills. They can share lesson ideas or educational resources, and if they need help with a certain technology or technique, they can turn to the online community for assistance. This ongoing participation will strengthen a teacher’s ability to use the new technologies and strategies, making them more likely to put these new skills to use in the classroom.
In the end, teachers must be engaged in the professional development to be effective. If you establish a plan with clearly defined expectations and support it with a learning community comprised of in-person instruction and online resources, your teachers will receive a personalized professional learning experience that fosters growth and performance in the 21st century classroom.
Joseph Sanfilippo is Director of eLearning for Teq, a leading professional development and educational technology firm. During his three years at Teq, Joseph Sanfilippo has been instrumental in launching the Teq Online PD (professional development) platform. Before his promotion, Mr. Sanfilippo held several positions at Teq, including eLearning Specialist and Instructional Technologist. Prior to Teq, he was Vocation and Technology Coordinator for the Center for Developmental Disabilities. He holds a Masters in Special Education and Training and a B.A. from Wagner College, in Staten Island, NY.