Blended learning is proven as an effective way to teach students by offering them choice and ownership over their learning. This strategy would also be effective when added to professional development for teachers. Incorporating online, on-demand professional development can complement traditional sessions and create individualized learning options for teachers.
Build in Flexibility: Give Teachers Choice and Extended Timetables
As a teacher, I understand the struggle to find time to complete our ever-growing list of duties, and adding in traditional staff development puts even more of a strain on what little time we have. The thought that professional development is something that must be synchronous and in person seems outdated when we look at how many students are learning successfully in asynchronous and blended environments. It’s time to break away from traditional professional development and adopt a more modern format.
Online professional development sessions can be added to traditional sessions and may help ease some of the demand on teachers by giving them freedom to choose when they complete the online elements. Extending the timetable for completing online professional development sessions is another possibility. This would give teachers a choice in when they completed their required sessions, allow for sessions that could be broken up over time, and create flexibility for teachers to put together a schedule that worked best for them.
Long-Term Support Allows Implementation of New Learning
Professional development is most effective when there is time for teachers to practice new learning and continued support for them to implement new strategies. I've attended many workshops over the years, and though I walked away with good ideas, having new information was generally not enough for me to adopt the strategies into my teaching practice. Most of these workshops lacked long-term support for teachers to practice and implement new learning.
Adding support to a traditional professional development session along with example lessons and ready-to-use templates can create an environment where teachers feel more comfortable trying out new strategies. Creating opportunities for teachers to work through new learning and share ideas through discussion sessions with other teachers and within their professional learning communities promotes a higher level of collaboration and support.
Professional development helps teachers identify areas of need for their students and learn the most effective ways to meet them. Using a blended format provides flexibility and support that allows teachers to get more out of their training.
Online Sessions Can Offset Costs
Professional development can be costly for school districts. Expenses, including the cost of facilities and materials, can add up quickly. Increasing online professional development offerings can reduce the need to use meeting facilities. Teachers can instead attend at their campuses or from home.
If materials are provided online, teachers can pick what’s relevant to them and either print it or save it. I can think of countless meeting agenda papers and other printed materials that I’ve thrown in the trash over the years. Making these items available online not only reduces costs but also reduces waste.
What about the cost of speakers who present at professional development sessions? They have fees for speaking, and in many cases, the districts also pay for their travel expenses. Seeking out speakers who offer lower rates for virtual presentations can further cut costs.
Platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams offer virtual meeting spaces. There are also several platforms that provide virtual meeting spaces and have breakout session capabilities for Q&A sessions and participant discussions. The technology for virtual meetings can support professional development while helping cut costs.
Reducing the need for in-person attendance at professional development meetings by increasing online offerings and bringing speakers in virtually can help reduce overall costs for districts while still meeting teachers’ needs.
How to ADD Blended Learning to Professional Development
1. Start with the teachers in mind when planning professional development. Giving teachers a voice in planning professional development and creating a session based on their needs and the needs of their students can establish a collaborative relationship between administration and faculty. One way to do this is to survey the teachers about their professional development needs. Administrators can use the collected information to make training relevant to teachers and target the needs of their students.
2. Consider the types of professional development that would work well in a blended format, and start small. Seek out opportunities to add online elements to standard meetings, and look for workshops or professional development that is already in a blended format. Sites like BetterLesson, ed2go, and Learners Edge are helpful options.
3. Create a library of professional development tools and resources. This can be added to a learning management system as a course or group for teachers. An easily accessible library of professional development is a good resource for teachers to go to as needed and can be used for new hires as well.
4. Support learning with follow-up in-person and online lessons. Professional development works best when there is a chance for teachers to put their learning into practice and have ongoing support. Providing opportunities for practice and support can lead to teachers successfully implementing what they’ve learned in their classrooms.