Student learning is not the only learning that has suffered from the sudden change to remote learning because of COVID-19. We have all had to do some intense professional learning these past couple of weeks.

As we move forward over the next weeks or months, you may need to consider options for providing professional learning support to faculty and staff in a remote environment. This blog offers some methods and resources to help.

woman sitting behind computer working

Survey your faculty and staff

Before you get started, you need to survey your faculty and staff to better understand the environment they are working in.

The following questions can clarify the context that will help you build professional learning structures and systems.

  1. Do you have reliable access to devices and Internet at home?
  2. How are you communicating with students?
  3. Which aspects of remote learning are you comfortable with, and what is going smoothly?
  4. Which aspects of remote learning are you concerned about, have questions about, or need more information about?

The information collected through these responses will help provide parameters to guide professional learning and will point you toward support that is most needed.

Holding online meetings with faculty

There are several resources making their way around the education world that are fast becoming well-known. Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Facebook Live could all be options for you to hold online meetings with your whole faculty or small faculty groups.

Even if faculty don’t have reliable Internet access, they can still call in to meetings through Zoom or Google Hangouts; they will just need the phone number and code to get in that you receive when you set up the meeting.

Zoom has lifted the 40-minute time limit on free Basic accounts for schools affected by the coronavirus. To get access for your school, visit this page.

If you have questions about using these new tools, please feel free to contact us at nee@missouri.edu. We use Zoom regularly as a platform for our online meetings and we would be happy to help troubleshoot any concerns or issues you may experience.

Asynchronous professional learning

Online meetings are great when you want the whole group to hear information collectively and ask/respond to questions at the same time. But you might also think about offering asynchronous professional learning opportunities.

Asynchronous learning allows teachers to explore material at their convenience, without the need to have everyone together at once. The best asynchronous learning situations are either short bursts of activity through high engagement and challenge, or longer inquiry-based projects with a lot of self-autonomy.

EdHub professional learning library

For NEE school districts, this is a great opportunity to tap into the resources that are available to you in the EdHub professional learning library. Within EdHub, there are almost 400 modules at your fingertips around a variety of education topics, including student engagement, critical thinking, and assessment. Teachers can complete EdHub modules at their own pace, and they can submit a journal entry to you that includes self-reflection about what they learned and how it applies to their instruction.

One idea for this spring might be to focus on the modules that correspond to some of your district-identified indicators with the twist of how to apply them within the remote learning environment. For instance, teachers can share their ideas and reflections on how to incorporate critical thinking for NEE Indicator 4.2 or cognitively engage students for NEE Indicator 1.2 while teaching students remotely.

To access EdHub, log in to the NEE Data Tool and click EdHub on the left-side menu.

Creating short bursts of activity for professional learning

Resources such as Kahoot, Google Forms, Google Classroom, and others that you may be familiar with can be great tools for creating online activities. Additionally, if you want to record something on your screen that teachers can watch at any time, one free tool available is Loom. As of March 12, 2020, Loom Pro is free to all verified teachers and students at K-12 schools, universities or educational institutions.

When you create materials, think of ways to make them interactive and stimulating with corresponding multiple-choice questions, guided notes, or other challenges. These types of short bursts of activity are great for:

  • Delivering new information
  • Reinforcing information through repetition
  • Collecting data

Offline activities

If you need offline activities for your teachers, sharing reprints of articles, old-fashioned quizzes, and worksheets that are well-designed and engaging can also provide learning opportunities.

One activity that can be done either online or offline is the creation of a SMART goal or short-term professional development plan that can be used in this new environment.

Here is a suggested process for documenting professional goals and professional learning:

  1. Ask teachers to go through a self-audit, listing their strengths and challenges with the new resources, strategies, and technologies they will be using. After completion of the self-audit, have teachers create a SMART goal they know they can master.
  2. Provide teachers the room to practice and experiment with the resources, strategies, and techniques they are using. You might consider teaming teachers to harness the strength of crowdsourcing as they plan materials for students and support families in continuing learning. If, for example, the packet/online lessons are sent out by the whole grade level, the teachers’ individual strengths combine to make for a better product.
  3. Observe teaching in whatever capacity available to you – recorded video, joining video sessions, accessing online materials, collecting copies of hard-copy materials, etc.
  4. After a couple of weeks, meet with the teacher around the SMART goal they set and the evidence you have collected about the learning accomplished.
  5. Provide specific praise around the learning and what you noticed. Encourage positivity and growth by focusing on what is being done well in working towards the goal.
  6. Find an area to target. Focus on errors/omissions of new learning strategies or techniques in a non-critical way. Assume the teacher was doing their best with their new skills, and then let them know the pieces you noticed as needing to be strengthened, offering space for how to incorporate those.
  7. Collaborate to develop the skills that could be incorporated and how they could be successfully implemented during future learning.

The work that teachers do through this process leads to professional learning and growth.

Inquiry-based projects

Professional learning may also take on self-directed, inquiry-based projects. Teachers are currently experimenting and challenged in their work in multiple ways. Honor that exploration and the trials teachers are experiencing.

You can use the SMART goal process outlined above to provide structure around inquiry-based projects.

Building community and support through professional development

An important aspect of professional development during this time is continuing your school community and building structure for teachers to get support from you and from each other. Below are some ideas for how to build community in a remote environment. These may be ideas you could try on your own, or bring small groups of educators together and brainstorm and enact other ideas as well.

Content area or grade level meetings

Small faculty groups can meet together online. In these meetings, teachers can share their experiences, what’s working in their remote learning environments, and lean on each other for support. As we move forward, teams can also brainstorm and problem-solve about how to bring students back and might even start minor planning for next school year.

Volunteer activities

This is a difficult time for everyone, so think of any way you can generate smiles and laughter. Add fun to any food pick-up or delivery you provide for students. Dress in costumes, blare dance music, develop different themes for each week, etc.

Get in touch with local organizations and find out what supports they may need. Reach out to interested faculty/staff members (or even students/parents) and get a team together for participation. Even if you can’t help in-person, you can likely find ways to lend support remotely.

Neighborhood check-ins

Make use of bus routes and attendance area maps. Show up on a different part of a bus route with impromptu activities. Bring sidewalk chalk for art, music for a dance party, freeze pops, or any other small activity where you can maintain social distancing guidelines. Invite different faculty and staff, and have fun.

Broaden your social media presence

Some of us aren’t naturally inclined to promote ourselves or even to use social media often, but right now is a good time to start posting to build community and communicate the good news. Post pictures from old yearbooks you may have available, highlight your favorite parts of school, or favorite things that each teacher does that you may not get to call out on a regular basis.

Communicate with local TV stations, radio stations, and newspapers

Celebrate the work your faculty and students are doing during this time. News is rough right now, so provide journalists with the opportunity to talk about good news, and pitch story ideas to them.

This situation calls upon all of us to get a little creative, but there are still many activities you can engage in to encourage professional learning and community-building.

If you need someone to brainstorm with during this time, feel free to contact us. We are happy to be your sounding board or to connect you with other school leaders for ideas. Email us at nee@missouri.edu or call 844-793-4357.

For more COVID-19 support and resources for school leaders, please visit our blog page devoted to this topic.

The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.