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Lessons learned from a year of training teachers remotely


Over the past year, Education Technology (EdTech) professional development (PD) needs soared. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, using EdTech tools became a necessity for educators--whether they were ready or not.

Our SMART training team has facilitated more than 750 days of PD for K-12 schools across North America. The vast majority of this PD has been remote when it otherwise would have been face-to-face, and just like teachers all over the world, we had to adjust our practice seemingly overnight. We had to quickly figure out how we were going to teach teachers remotely how to teach remotely with our technology. Follow that? It’s tricky, so we came up with two overarching, guiding principles: relevance and flexibility.

Relevance

As SMART PD Specialists, we customize each training based on participants’ needs. With the shift to full-time remote training, we had to consider teachers’ unique situations for every PD session. Were they in their classrooms while students were remote? Did they have some face-to-face students and some remote at the same time? Were some teachers joining the session from the school building while others joined from home? The possibilities seemed infinite! However, just because we were remote didn’t mean we reverted to a ‘sit and get’ PD style.

Once we learned what situation our participants were dealing with, we tried to mimic that situation in our sessions.

We designed PD that actively put teachers in students’ ‘digital shoes’, used the same EdTech that teachers were expected to use, provided content-specific curriculum examples, and gave teachers a chance to actively build lessons or aticvely try things during the session.

Our practice of using a ‘student experience’ to put teachers in students’ digital shoes along with the how-to ‘teacher experience’ received rave reviews. You don’t have to take our word for it; according to one teacher, “This was amazing! Very well presented and I liked the hands-on aspect. Thank you for showing us both the student and teacher side.”

Flexibility

During the past year, teachers’ work situations were in constant flux: from emergency remote teaching back to face-to-face, from face-to-face to hybrid, from all students in the classroom to all students at home, and so on. 

Because of these constant changes, we learned that being flexible is key. So, what does being a flexible PD Specialist look like? 

  • While participants are joining your session, ask where they are and what their current teaching situation looks like. Are they in the classroom or at home? Do students come to school or join lessons remotely? Do all students have devices? This information will help you modify your session as needed.
  • Have multiple content examples ready to show (or even build on-the-fly). Teachers will appreciate you coming prepared to address their specific content concerns.

 

The EdTech that makes it happen

Of curse, training teachers on EdTech remotely requires the use of EdTech itself. We luckily had access to a range of options and based on our experiences over the past year, we adopted a few best practices we can pass along: 

  1. Use an agenda! Every. Single. Time. Even if your session is only 30 minutes long, an agenda is hugely beneficial. It keeps the PD on topic, provides a centralized place to put resource links, and keeps everyone organized. Teachers don’t like to attend a workshop during which a flurry of links is distributed in the chat, and an agenda avoids the link storm entirely by serving as a ‘home base’.
  2. A moderator is a must, especially with sessions that have more than 20 participants. You don’t want to come off as a lonely podcaster. After all, you want the session to be as interactive as possible, right? A moderator can help you make that happen by answering questions in the chat, typing out directions as you are giving them, and adding additional instructional ideas to the conversation. 
  3. If you are facilitating a PD session on a SMART Board interactive display, use the available Zoom app. With the Zoom app, you can clearly show everything you are doing on the SMART board (inking on a website, running a SMART Learning Suite Online lesson, creating a lesson with the Whiteboard app, or anything else!). The alternative is, of course, pointing your laptop or cell phone camera at the board--it is not anywhere near as clear (trust us--we’ve tried that, too). 
Whatever you do as a PD provider, keep in mind that teachers’ situations will vary. Create PD that is relevant to their needs and be flexible with last-minute changes. You’ll win them over every time. 

Looking for more? Get all the details of our recent PD implementation with Florence 1 schools in South Carolina: 

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