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New Strategies for Teacher PD: Exploring Online Professional Development
Educators know that the necessity of professional development (PD) for teachers can disrupt learning time. Closed schools on inservice days, late starts to accommodate early-morning teacher PD, and substitutes covering classes during daytime professional development sessions all compromise time in the classroom.
These challenges are not insurmountable, but they do create enough negative consequences that new strategies for teacher professional development can and should be explored.
Ideal professional development for teachers: Continual, collaborative, and done on the job
Linda Darling-Hammond, the principal researcher in a study commissioned by the National Staff Development Council, notes that the majority of professional development comes in the form of individual workshops and sporadic or “disconnected” learnings. The random nature of this learning often results in low retention of knowledge and skills which does not necessarily improve overall practice.
If educators (and, as a natural consequence, students) are investing time in professional development, the investment must be worth the disruptions to classroom activities. Darling-Hammond concludes that teaching professionals should engage in learning as other professionals (and, interestingly, their own students) do: with education that is continual, collaborative, and on-the-job.
Advantages of online teacher PD
These ideals are echoed in teacher Elizabeth Stein’s Education Week article on teachers who choose to do PD through online learning communities. Stein, who has always kept a notebook to write down her own teaching ideas, says, “But since joining online learning communities, the writing I jot down on discussion forums, blogs, and Twitter, for example, far extend my thinking beyond what’s in my personal notebooks.”
Engaging in the active learning process
Stein articulates a very important aspect of professional development for teaching professionals; pedagogical insight into the needs of active learners can be brought about through participation in the active learning process. Additionally, students who see teachers on the path of continuous improvement can catch some of that fire themselves. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Stein says online professional development leads to strong internet community involvement, which provides a great deal of support when teachers need it the most.
Teachers doing professional development online save time and money
In a time of increasingly limited funds, part of the popularity of professional development online lies in its ability to conserve two key resources: time and money. In an article about online teacher PD, Scholastic describes the advantages of this method, which include convenience for all instructors and availability to teachers in rural areas who might not be able to attend traditional classes.
Scholastic goes on to acknowledge that online learning is limited in a way that will never replace face-to-face learning, but the experience can be exceptionally important to the steadily growing number of teachers who themselves teach classes online.
Online learning communities for teachers help them enrich their practices
One important advantage to teachers choosing online professional development is the creation and maintenance of learning communities that extend the experience into continued communication on practice. This online comfort can lead to teacher participation in blogging communities and consistent interaction with other education bloggers as a reflective practice.
Relationships made during online PD can be easier to maintain through private groups or discussion boards that allow teachers to discuss which actionable items they took from their PD and how they incorporated them into their practice. It also allows for reflection on what worked and community brainstorming and problem-solving when these changes fail.
While this sort of participation may be difficult to translate into professional development credits, it is exactly the sort of practice that engages teaching professionals as active learners, establishes connections between different PD learnings, and encourages collaboration among professionals.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.