5 Simple Ways That Your Tech Coach Can Create Effective District Wide Online Professional Development

Over the course of my last 4+ years focusing on redesigning professional development, I have worked to meet teachers where they are, while giving them the most up-to-date PD offerings that they can choose from an array of workshops, discussions, and more. I am one Coordinator of Staff Development for a 2 high school district. It’s often quite difficult for me to make my rounds between both buildings, while working with 250+ staff (this also includes nurses, administrative assistants, and even security personnel when the task so chooses) as well as being available to join teachers in their classroom to work with students. Not to mention, I still am tasked with coordinating and bringing in outside speakers, managing and rewarding staff PD hours, and working onside projects that run the gamut from district held initiatives to innovative practices. So it comes as no surprise that when my day ends, and with two little ones running around at home, I try to be home right away as often as possible, unless a workshop precludes me. 

This isn’t anything new to my teachers as well. The idea of staying after school for a workshop is difficult for teachers after a long day. So I needed a way to differentiate my PD offerings. And the best differentiator is TIME. So how do I manipulate time while also bridging the gap of ongoing learning and development for my teachers? By designing effective and engaging online PD for my staff, that they can access at anytime, anywhere…

Start With District Goals and Initiatives

One way to make sure your administration is happy while also making sure teachers find value in the time they spend learning online, is to make sure your learning modules coincide with your building/district goals and initiatives. I usually write these down in a Google Doc or Google Keep note and then break them down from there. For example, consider why they were chosen in the first place. Then have a discussion with your admin team about what they want to see or hope to gain from these focus points. This is important and I need you to get this point. It isn’t about the tech. These questions will help you design a more effective and well rounded learning module that gets to the heart of why. 

Bigger ideas are also easier to work with. It gives you more flexibility when coming up with content and designing the learning scenario. Plus, this might open the door to future extensions of the same topic. Consider apps and services your district subscribes to as opportunities to create modules. This accomplishes two things: 1) it vets the apps and services you are using through you and gives you opportunity to keep an eye on what is being used and how often. So any times my teachers don’t know what we pay for and my admin team can’t decide whether or not to continue paying it. Do creating some of these modules I can track who is using what and make that decision with my team at a later date. 2) it gives them a place to learn about the tool AND gives them resources to get up and running. Nothing is worse than the district spending money on so-said app and teachers not having opporutnity to learn about it and feel supported. This gives them a good starting point. It’s like having 100 of me in my district. Then when my teachers need more help or classroom application… POOF… it’s my time to shine and work with them in more detail.

Ask Your Teachers for Topics

This should come as no surprise but you aren’t creating these online modules for you. These are for your teachers and we want to make sure they get a variety to choose from, including topics they deem important. Ask them! Send out a Google Form for ideas. Curate a list of topics and tools that they use or want to learn about. By inviting them in the planning steps you are making this process organic, while also hyping what is to come. My teachers constantly ask me for more online PD opportunities. So look at what they want to learn about, how it can connect to a district goal (another reason why BIG IDEAS are better) and create something they can do on their own time. Have a rhyme and reason for everything that you can point back at to justify.

Some examples of questions I ask…

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A Framework For Learning

When it comes to putting the online PD modules together I am in no way shape or form an instructional designer. But I am a teacher at heart, and like most teachers, I have a knack for and understanding of what a good lesson plan looks like. Now I am not going to try to sell you on why you need to be using a learning management system, but I use one to create and manage my online course, and then utilize BLOOMS , in order to create effective modules that walk my staff through a series of skill-based tasks with content knowledge sprinkled in between. Spend extra time planning out your first module. The key here is coming up with an effective model that you can keep coming back to create NEW modules of learning. I am always asked… “Who creates all of the content that you put up and how much time does it take?” The answer: ME. But the key in all of this is having a few frameworks or models that I keep coming back to, to create the online PD. Blooms does a nice job of spelling this out for you. Some things to keep in mind: Your teachers will need to be able to 1) recall basic concepts, 2) explain these concepts, 3) apply this information in some way, 4) create something with these new learned skills, and 5) evaluate/reflect on what they did. When you put it all together a module might look something like this:

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Note the opening overview from the image above shown below: 

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Or maybe a module for tech tool training looks like this:

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A couple of things to consider:

  1. Start every module with an “Overview” that answers the why. Think Shmoop
  2. Have an introduction to your course and how the online PD will run.
  3. Consider highlighting how many hours each module is worth next to the title.
  4. Include quick assessments after any content knowledge.
  5. Give the opportunity to create and share!

Model Effective Online and Blended Learning

One of the things that often goes unrealized is the potential for you to model what good online and blended learning looks like. A can’t tell you how many times my teachers come up to me and tell me they want to create a self-paced unit of study for their students, or create a gamified classroom experiences similar to what my online PD looks like. When designing your online PD, you are inherently modeling things your teachers can do and should do in their classrooms. So don’t skimp.

If your LMS affords you the ability to embed apps, embed them. Don’t just insert a hyperlink. Make it as interactive and engaging as possible. Ask your teachers to create content, then submit as they would with their students. Include an online discussion, a book talk, an online socratic seminar, etc. Mix physical activities with online ones. The end game is they learn how to use the tech they have to even greater potential. 

Hook Them

So this last tip takes online PD creation a step further. Give your teachers every opportunity to learn, to create, to share, and to discuss. Your goal is to help your teachers learn not just content knowledge or about a pedagogy, but a skill. Have them create something (which in turn answers a key sticking point with admin, “how will you know they get it?” This creation activity gives them time to try it out. Have them post/share it in the module so others to see. Give feedback. Then extend that learning with opportunities to go above and beyond (sort of like extra credit for teachers) and then award them for doing so.

My online PD is gamified, meaning… My teachers are part of an overall leaderboard. Modules are called challenges and every module they complete earns them points and badges. Top point earners also get a prize toward the end of the year. Along the way I highlight their accomplishments by posting on social media, share example creations with our staff, direct teachers to examples from others that they may need to look at, and congratulate them on their work. Just as we need to make our lessons as engaging as possible, PD needs to be engaging too if we want our teachers to keep coming back to it. They need to be “hooked” and find value in the time they are spending doing it. 

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Once you do it right, you have built a platform that mitigates lost time and opportunity for one-and-done workshops, and instead personalizes PD.  Those who are savvy enough will move on to something else. Those who need more help can learn again or seek you out for more hands-on training. See where this is going? It’s buying you time to get in the classrooms while letting the teachers who have gone the extra step a chance to move on to something else. True self-paced mastery and differentiation.


About the author, Nick Amaral

Nick Amaral is a District Staff Development Coordinator in NJ. As a dedicated educator, he is known for implementing technology and differentiating instruction in the classroom. In addition to teaching, he has been responsible for supporting teachers’ understanding and seamless integration of technology in the classroom, as well as designing engaging and thought-provoking professional learning opportunities that meet the needs of all teachers to help to create student-centered learning experiences.

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