Rethinking Professional Development at Your School Post Pandemic

This article was originally published on AMISA.us on June 13, 2022.

Coming out of a global pandemic has been a welcome relief for everyone. But for many, it’s changed teaching and learning forever. Will professional development ever be the same?

“I really changed as a teacher. This has forever altered the way I’ll teach my subject matter and I’ve been a seasoned educator for seventeen years!” a teacher exclaimed as she presented her work last week at our ‘show and share’ as a result of a three month series of sprint courses offered by Global Online Academy and delivered through the AMISA and Tri Association organizations.

The event was a beautiful culmination comprising 13 schools across Latin America involving over 200 educators who were dedicated to improving their teaching practice by rethinking gradebook practices, developing non-linear curriculum, building portfolios of learning and creating exhibitions of learning just to name a few of the learning opportunities. The cohort approach allowed teachers at their respective schools to meet and develop projects individually or by department, but also use our online Canvas platform to share these design challenges to get feedback from others in the region and build a professional learning network.

For the first time in a long time, I felt like professional learning was coming back, after so much of our lives had been disrupted by a global pandemic.

Relocating to Latin America During COVID-19

My wife and I came to Peru in July of 2020 to start at our new school in Lima. Since March of that year, Peru had one of the harshest lock-downs in the world with not only mandatory mask mandates but with only 30 minutes of outside time daily for essential services only such as groceries, pharmacy, or going to the bank. Sean Truman, founder of the Truman Group, would later equate our experience as similar to that of incarceration, as the loss of human connection by isolation was so crippling, and what interactions we did have were but a sliver of what meaningful time together used to be.

I myself lost an aunt whose funeral I couldn’t attend. Many lost whole families. Everyone seemed to be touched by the virus as we were continually reminded of its undiscerning reach through yet another morbid Facebook post announcing a family member’s passing. We all seemed to be united in our struggle but paradoxically divided in our response of what to do. Stay in or go out? Get a vaccine or not?

Trying to get to know my new co-workers and students through zoom thumbnails was met with a muted response. Teachers near me and around the world turned to mental health services rather than afternoon workshops. Up till then, leading professional development around the world has generally been an easy ‘sell’ for my line of work as an innovation coach. Since John Hattie’s meta-analysis of student achievement being largely deterministic of collective teacher efficacy, nearly every school and teacher realizes the importance of teacher growth and development (2). Getting teachers out of ‘functional fixedness’ or the notion “This is the way we’ve always done it here” is one of the parts of my job that I’ve enjoyed the most, but if you can’t foster real relationships first, these initiatives can’t grow to fruition.

How Professional Development Changed over the Pandemic

The explosion of tools and asynchronous learning options quadrupled in the years leading up to 2020 accentuated by a digital divide and education leaders predict this trend will continue to grow. It’s no surprise that schools that were more prepared and better funded for online learning with better hardware and staff training saw fewer disruptions to student achievement over the last two years than the ones that were not.

Online learning did have its perks however. Some students thrived as they could move through content at their own pace giving credence to differentiated learning (3). Many students who were bullied on school grounds felt safe at home. Teachers relished ‘work from home’ days where they would teach with their slippers on their feet. Yet, we couldn’t easily ‘see’ each other at work. We couldn’t engage in water cooler type conversations. We couldn’t deprivatize our practice. Maybe we were just afraid to, as many of us were just hanging on by a thread.

We learned that face-to-face conferences were not the only delivery system of teacher learning. There was a proliferation of webinars, online courses and micro-credentials. Even colleges and universities offered online enrollment (4). While everyone was saying there was going to be a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, one prominent education theorist told me that many of these innovations (like hybrid learning) would be here to stay and we should continue offering them to accommodate all learners and these forward thinking schools could take advantage of a market niche that many schools were simply unwilling to accommodate. However, many of these education leaders that have been out of the classroom for years love to preach from their podiums on high, not aware of the hardships of classroom management of two separate groups of students: the ‘roomies’ and the ‘zoomies’. Do they really not know how hard it was to teach two separate groups at the same time? It was hard.

Rethinking the Future of Professional Development at Your School

After nearly two years of online learning, my own school has resumed face to face learning and although we’re not getting back to exactly the ways things were, we are starting what I would call a ‘new normal’. Every country, every school and every teacher has had a different pandemic experience, so approaches to teacher professional development must also be varied to see what is effective for them. There is no ‘one size fits all’ and what works well for one school or region might be incompatible with another. For instance in South America, many local labor laws prohibit keeping teachers after school long after students have left so afternoon time for staff professional development is simply not an option. Consider these approaches:

  • Create, Advertise, Rinse, Repeat: We’ve expanded our workshop offerings and advertise them weekly through our principal’s announcements. Like anything in advertising, when you think that you’ve promoted something to death, someone might be just hearing about it for the first time. Keep promoting professional development in cycles throughout the year.
  • Make It Accessible and Transparent: We have a separate Google Calendar that teachers can subscribe to and see when workshops are happening throughout the day every week. Originally, we offered these only in the afternoon during ‘early release days’ but now divisional time has made attending more difficult. Offering PD throughout the week during teacher prep periods has been enormously successful.
  • Find the ‘Sweet Spot’ of Time Duration: I’m quick to extol the virtues of 1-2 hour workshops, but have found that 40 minutes is the sweet spot for teacher PD time in our school. As our school has 85 and 70 minute blocks in the middle school and high school, 40 minutes is just long enough to be meaningful, but also not take away from valuable prep time.
  • Find a Time that Works: Many site mentors of my Global Online Academy cohort have had to think creatively about when to meet and engage in committee work. Some have met in the morning one day a week before classes and one even met Thursday evening after school as part of a wine and cheese party!
  • Consider “Micro-PD”: In Korea, our director of Technology and Innovation would famously record 1-2 video vignettes as part of a ‘Micro-PD’ series. Some of these would be an overview to IOS updates or previews for upcoming workshops we offered. For people’s very busy schedules, this was a great delivery system. These can also be 2 minute plugs at divisional meetings.
  • Recognize and Engage Internal Experts: Many top-down approaches fail as school leaders have not built sufficient capacity from innovators and early adopters or there is a rotating door of new ‘policy of the year’ initiatives and thus they don’t get much traction or follow through. Many staff members are doing great work behind the scenes and are ‘strategically subversive’ as Daniel Pink notes in his book ‘Drive’ and often organizational change happens when these leaders are frustrated with the status quo (5). Recognize them and figure out ways to scale their efforts.
  • Ride What Works: Many staff have shared that they have enjoyed the merits of earning a micro-credential to bolster their CV. In our case, we expanded our offerings of professional development to contain not just 40 minute workshops but four-part microcredentials done over a period of time either individually or by department. My team developed a ‘Project Based Learning’ module this year and will release a new course offering next year on ‘ESL Strategies for the Classroom Teacher’ developed in conjunction with our high school ESL teachers.
  • Survey the Staff and Hold them Accountable: Our director of teaching and learning surveys the faculty on professional development interests every year which largely influences our workshop content. However, in some cases some faculty who wanted to learn more about XYZ, didn’t sign up for any of the workshops that we offered prompting us to reach out to them and say: “We noticed that you wanted to learn more about ______ but haven't come. We’ve prepared this with you in mind. What would be a good time for us to work together?
  • Emphasize Results: What is the impact of our work? This might be frustrating when only 5 people attend a well-intentioned workshop but these 5 teachers may teach hundreds of students so the effect is far greater than previously thought. Promote these results and statistics in your yearly annual report or letters to the board.

As our current school year comes to a close and we enjoy the much needed respite that a summer break gives, we can only speculate as to what the next school year will bring. Might we be forever pivoting from face-to-face to hybrid to zoom learning at the drop of a hat? Will new variants make our current vaccines obsolete?

Whatever the answer and no matter what this uncertain future brings, we are all the more prepared for it. Yes, this has been hard, but through the hardships we learned to adapt, amend our practice, endure and build resilience.

Because we’ve done it before, it will be that much easier if we have to do it again.

References

  1. "Teachers Are Experiencing a Mental Health Crisis, Too." 25 Jan. 2022, . Accessed 29 May. 2022.
  2. "Collective Teacher Efficacy (CTE) according to John Hattie - Visible ...." 7 Mar. 2018, https://visible-learning.org/2018/03/collective-teacher-efficacy-hattie/. Accessed 29 May. 2022.
  3. "The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever. This is how." 29 Apr. 2020, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/coronavirus-education-global-covid19-online-digital-learning/. Accessed 29 May. 2022.
  4. "New data offer a sense of how COVID expanded online learning." 16 Sep. 2021, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2021/09/16/new-data-offer-sense-how-covid-expanded-online-learning. Accessed 29 May. 2022.
  5. "Daniel H Pink - Drive, the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us ...." http://ce.sharif.edu/courses/97-98/1/ce475-1/resources/root/Daniel_H_Pink_Drive__the_Surprising_Truth.pdf. Accessed 29 May. 2022.

For more, see:

  1. Back-to-School Professional Learning: What Educators Need in 2022/2023
  2. Supporting Teacher Growth: How GOA Approaches Teacher Development
  3. The Power of Collective Purpose in Schools

This post is part of our Shifts in Practice series, which features educator voices from GOA’s network and seeks to share practical strategies that create shifts in educator practice. Are you an educator interested in submitting an article for potential publication on our Insights blog? If so, please email us at hello@globalonlineacademy.org.

GOA serves students, teachers, and leaders and is comprised of member schools from around the world, including independent, international, charter, and public schools. Learn more about Becoming a Member. Our professional learning opportunities are open to any educator or school team. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter. To stay up to date on GOA learning opportunities, sign up for our newsletter.

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