Educator professional development is becoming more accessible, flexible and personalized as a result of the pandemic-related need for online training but experts say face-to-face interactions will still be essential to building effective teacher workforces.
On-demand instructional learning, quicker access to best practices and the growing ability to connect with colleagues and experts across the state and country are some of the benefits of online training is enhancing during remote teaching. Those elements, which have the potential to reach greater numbers of educators, should have staying power post pandemic, say teacher workforce development experts.
Having a comprehensive plan for online and in-person teacher training and supports can better boost teacher effectiveness and retention rates, particularly in high-poverty school communities, according to experts. “One thing that is important to remember, though, is that [professional development] still needs to be more than attending a webinar, a one and done situation,” said Meg Kamman, co-director of the CEEDAR Center at the University of Florida, in an email.
Teacher professional development was on the brink of wide-spread reform before the pandemic. All-day in-service learning logistics, irrelevant content and the expense of travel were just a few of complaints of the traditional PD practices. Teachers also said there was limited access to effective PD opportunities, according to research published in 2019 by the Economic Policy Institute that was included in a series about the teacher labor market.
When the pandemic hit last March and student learning suddenly moved online, there was immediate demand for online teacher supports. The field responded with numerous webinars and resources that overwhelmed some educators. The next step education leaders should take is to highlight the best virtual PD resources and add individualized coaching and proven in-person continuous career supports when it is safe to do so, say experts focused on teacher training initiatives.
“There is innovation that can continue to happen,” said Lynn Holdheide, who is senior advisor at the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders as well as co-director of the CEEDAR Center, a technical assistance center supported by the U.S. Education Department.
For example, some PD sessions could occur asynchronously and then be followed by a time to practice those skills and for follow-up coaching. In other words, the online teacher training would be the jumping off point for educators to use the skills they learned and to get deeper-level feedback on their performances, Kamman said in her email.
Practice-based opportunities can even be held through video conferencing where a coach can observe a teacher in action and provide real-time feedback, Holdheide said.
Professional Learning Communities is another strategy schools use to connect networks of teachers who exchange practice ideas, experiment with approaches and offer feedback to each other. While PLCs aren’t a new approach, Holdheide said efforts in the past year have been more intentional and oriented to real-time problem solving.
Giving teachers the ability to access resources for specific issues they face in the moment will likely be an emerging PD trend. Technical assistance centers, such as GLT and CEEDAR, as well as other institutions and organizations, are archiving webinars, documents and other supports so teachers and administrators can retrieve resources as they need them, Holdheide said.