In my last post, Online Professional Development—Why Bother?, I discussed the benefits of online learning for effective teacher professional development.
But what barriers exist to implementing technology as part of a professional development plan and how can they be addressed?
Teachers are already pretty isolated from their peers. Think about it. In a “traditional” office, colleagues gather around the water cooler, taking convenient breaks and setting up meetings whenever necessary. Even today’s telecommuter has this benefit, with the ability to virtually meet, phone, or email peers at the drop of a hat. But most teachers can’t just leave the classroom when there is a behavioral issue they need advice about, or when they simply need a break. Even though children surround them every day, they are isolated from their peers. Putting their professional development hours behind a computer screen can add to the problem of teacher isolation.
Online learning can be collaborative and encourage communities of practice, but certain expectations must be in place for this to happen. First, there must be organization-wide commitment to professional development. Consider the difference between just one teacher participating in an online course and a group of teachers participating in the same course. In the group scenario, the teachers might do the online work independently, but they also have something in common to discuss during morning set up, lunch breaks, and intentionally planned times to meet. This sort of blended approach to online learning is ideal. Second, some online content is equipped with group questions, activities, and discussion mechanisms. Organizations should take advantage of these tools to enhance group experiences and minimize teacher isolation.
Teachers are busy and some of them have previously negative experiences with one-off professional development workshops or online programs that are slow, long, and boring. So it can be difficult to motivate teachers, particularly those that are already skeptical about online professional development. And if teachers are not motivated, then it doesn’t matter how good the resource is—they won’t get anything out of it if they don’t engage in it.
Sure, it can help to offer compensation for professional development completion, but let’s face it—most early education budgets don’t allow for that, and even if they did, rewards will only motivate people as long as they are they are being rewarded. When the reward goes away, so will the teacher’s motivation. I’d suggest focusing on emotions—why do teachers teach anyway? Get at the heart of that and provide them with engaging PD experiences that are actually relevant to their feelings about children and how to improve outcomes for them. There are many effective ways to motivate people and this article from Time magazine offers some great insights into this topic.
If you expect teachers (or anyone!) to spend extra time during extra work, and then make that work difficult to access or confusing to use—you can pretty much count on one thing—you’ve wasted time and money.
Online professional development resources hold great promise, but they have to be user-friendly and intuitive. Learners’ brain power should be spent on engaging with the program and follow-up activities with peers and coaches, not on trying to figure out how to log in, play a video, or start a chat thread.
Technology holds great promise for the future of early childhood education, but it must be done right. Acknowledging barriers to online learning success, thinking through solutions, and gaining organization-wide support for professional development initiatives will go a long way toward “getting it right” and supporting teachers and the children they impact.
This post covers just a few common barriers and solutions to implementing online professional development—share your challenges and strategies for addressing them below!
In the wake of the widespread civil unrest after the killing of George Floyd, the national conversation about the inequities in the educational opportunities provided white students and students of color has been amplified. Due to racial and socioeconomic segregation, Black students, and other students of color, are more likely to attend poorly funded schools. EdBuild, a non-profit focused on fair and equitable school funding, reports that high poverty school districts that predominantly enroll children of color receive on average, $1,600 less per student than the national average. By their calculations, there is a $23,000,000,000 gap between funding for schools that primarily serve high poverty Black students and those that predominantly serve white students. Schools that predominantly serve high poverty white students, only receive $1440 less per student (EdBuild, 2019).
When I first learned about CLASS Group Coaching—a training for early childhood professionals about building relationships with children—I was more than a little interested. This, I thought. This is what teaching is all about. It seems to be an obvious concept, but once we dig deeper, we are able to identify the whys and hows of our interactions. CLASS Group Coaching allows us to identify the benefits of our classroom relationships with our students and helps us be intentional in our daily practices. It allows us to utilize each moment we have with our students to deepen our understanding of their perspectives and genuinely connect with them as people. It helps us see the world from their view and guide their learning in a way that is relevant to them.
CLASS allows us to quantify the quality of teacher-child interactions—and that is a powerful thing. But improving child outcomes takes more than just data collection; it’s what you do with the data that really matters.
Here are 4 things you should know about using data to improve student outcomes.
A few years into teaching early childhood, I applied to work at a school that does incredible work in the local community. I was thrilled to get an interview but realized very quickly that, even though the environment was supportive and the students were wonderful young people, I was much too intimidated to work there.