- When creating a virtual professional development event, school leaders should design it to fit its unique intended purpose and not expect it to look the same as an in-person event, according to an Edutopia article by Katie Novak, an education consultant and University of Pennsylvania graduate instructor, and Katie Martin, chief impact officer at Altitude Learning and author of "Learner-Centered Innovation."
- Among questions to consider during the design process for virtual PD are: What is the desired outcome? What should educators get from the sessions? And what is the role of both the facilitator and the participants?
- When holding the sessions, leaders should also ask participants to focus on what is going well in their current teaching environment. Novak and Martin also suggest making breakout rooms optional since they can create awkward situations for participants, using participant-selected music to transition between sessions, providing frequent five-minute breaks, and encouraging communication through chat functions to increase engagement.
The pandemic shifted both classroom and professional learning to fully remote models practically overnight. While it has taken some time to tweak PD offerings to fit that environment, enrichment courses had already been trending away from traditional "sit and get" models long before everyone was forced to transition online in an effort to offer teachers more PD opportunities custom-fit to their specific needs and areas of interest.
Regardless of whether PD is in-person or virtual, both formats will likely still share many traits. According to a report from the Council of Great City Schools, high-quality professional development focuses on:
- Support for collaboration.
- Opportunities for feedback and reflection.
- Personalized coaching and support.
The most common problems identified with PD in the report were a lack of focus on deep content, too little differentiation between options, lack of coaching and not enough alignment between course offerings.
Many districts are planning revamped professional development offerings for this summer and fall using federal relief funding. Expected areas of focus include ed tech, social-emotional learning, equity and inclusion, and instructional strategies. Administrators are also expecting to strategically focus the PD to balance instructional needs with educators’ preferences for personal and flexible PD options.
The U.S. Department of Education’s COVID-19 Handbook Vol. 2 also recommends offering PD that helps staff identify students experiencing homelessness or disabilities, as well as on improving instructional design and the effective use of ed tech to support learning.