Google “online professional development” and you’ll find scads of articles about taking online PD courses. That’s great (we believe online courses can play a big role in meeting teachers’ needs — more on that later), but we’re thinking bigger.
If you’re a large district with thousands of employees, using an online system to manage professional learning is almost mandatory: stuffed binders and overflowing file cabinets just won’t cut it. But even if your school system is small, there are still powerful reasons to use a professional development management system to run your program.
1. Get more buy-in, engagement, voice and choice.
Since every teacher is unique — with varied backgrounds and experiences, strengths and needs, gifts and areas of interest — assuming that everyone needs the same professional development is a mistake. Nothing new here: despite the ubiquity of large-group workshops, educators know that this format is generally less-than-optimal.
An online professional development management system allows teachers to create their own individual growth plans, set goals and propose learning opportunities. And although providing individualized PD certainly requires more than simply having a plan in place, that plan is the place to start.
Some systems can also be purchased with libraries of online courses. By allowing courses to be taken in bite-sized chunks, such content can be useful in meeting individual teacher needs. And when teachers are able to engage in learning that supports them toward their goals, it can help increase buy-in as well. But note: if the program is to be successful, the importance of providing district support to teachers as they take such courses cannot be overstated.
2. Tie professional learning to classroom observations and evaluations.
As school systems shift from seeing evaluations as a way to score a teacher’s performance (and by extension, to determine salaries, promotions and the like) and move toward a more collaborative process aimed at improving instructional practice, the close connection between observations and professional learning has come to the fore.
At Frontline, we call this the “Learning Loop” — where each teacher’s needs and strengths are highlighted, and appropriate learning opportunities can be recommended to address them. A system that melds professional learning and evaluations together can help people find the right learning opportunities and provide visibility into each teacher’s growth journey, increasing transparency in the process. And it’s a tangible way school districts can take steps toward meeting the Every Student Succeeds Act’s criteria for data-driven professional learning — learning that’s based upon and responsive to real-time information about the needs of teachers and students.
3. See exactly where you are (so you know exactly where you’re going).
Professional learning represents a significant investment districts make in equipping teachers. But does it make an impact on the classroom? Does it help to improve teaching? Does student achievement climb?
These are questions a professional learning management system can help answer by letting teachers log their changes to classroom practice and provide feedback after learning activities, so you can see if those activities are making a difference.
Beyond that, an online system can help track the data points needed to show progress toward professional learning objectives, school improvement plans and individual, building, district or state-level goals. Are your teachers required to take 100 hours of professional learning every five years? Suddenly, it becomes easy to see where each one is in hitting that target.
4. Keep the learning going, even after the activity ends.
You’ve been there: you attend a conference, workshop or team meeting, and come away with great ideas and new strategies to implement. But somehow, they never take flight. Sound familiar?
We all know learning should be ongoing, and the best way for that to happen is by collaborating with other educators. Some online systems can provide an environment for teachers and PLCs to connect, discuss and collaborate after the formal activity has ended. Better yet, they can help you monitor how coaching, mentoring and peer collaboration are supporting educator growth and impacting practice, and include them as part of each individual’s learning history.
And many educators have discovered just how useful video is for coaching, mentoring and self-reflection. Managing professional learning online enables you to track these learning formats, and some tools even give you the ability to upload your own videos to watch and self-reflect, or to share with a colleague and invite feedback.
5. Save time and money.
Who can’t get behind more efficiency and bigger bang for your buck? Online professional development management systems mean less time pushing paper, less time pulling data together from different places, less time searching for that file that got sandwiched somewhere on your desk and less time moving different spreadsheets and Google Docs around your screen.
Still creating a paper catalog of PD opportunities? Save on printing costs — and make sure it’s always up-to-date — with a digital catalog instead. Have a backlog of emails to return, proposals to approve and PD reimbursements to process? Consider a system with customizable workflows to speed things along. Struggling to manage schedules, track registration and attendance at professional learning events? Those are all things that a cloud-based system can handle, freeing you up to start tackling items on your “Someday” list.