Covid-19 has had a major impact in many facets of education from instructional delivery to providing student services. With many stakeholders affected by the rapid shift from traditional, face-to-face operations, it is important to leverage virtual learning environments and video conferencing tools, such as Microsoft Teamsit’sLearning, Google Classroom, Zoom or Google Meet, to provide continuous professional development (PD). 

Prior to Covid-19, many schools and districts had adopted platforms and applications in place, and due to the impact of Covid-19, they have had to extensively lean on these platforms for facilitation of organizational needs such as instructional learning, school and departmental meetings, personal learning communities (PLC’s) and so much more. With the heavy increase in use of these tools to support instructional systems in place, it is essential for leaders and professional development staff to leverage these platforms to professionally develop teachers, instructional and administrative leaders, as well as other essential educational staff for this new normal of working virtually.

Not only is providing opportunities for virtual professional development (PD) a key component in developing educational stakeholders, it is also important to structure and design PD to leverage various features when using the above mentioned learning environments and applications to increase participant engagement. Here are some best practices to consider when planning virtual PD:

Best Practice #1: Leverage Multiple Facilitators

Depending on the design on the PD, it can be challenging to present, manage conversations, and implement interactive components, especially if there is a large number of participants. If possible, have multiple people to help facilitate the video conference meetings or webinars. This will support you in maximizing time and efficiency, as well as any unplanned occurrences that may require troubleshooting for you as the presenter and participants.

Best Practice #2: Set Context & Norms for the PD 

Attending live and online PD may be new for many of your participants. Therefore, it is important to set the context and expected norms of the professional learning that is to take place to provide guidance to your participants. This will allow them to receive, process, and anticipate outcomes. In addition, your design and expected outcomes will also determine various factors that will support their learning no matter whether the PD is designed for synchronous or asynchronous learning.

Provide a Brief Overview– Provide a brief overview and expectations for learning
State Session Norms Create a set of professional Guidelines and courtesy to support participants in getting the most out of their time during your session. 
Example Norms for Video Conferencing PD Sessions
  • Mute audio when not speaking
  • Use Camera to increase interaction during conversation when speaking.
  • Be mindful of time. (This is especially important for breakout activities or sharing airtime)
  • Engage in the session or participate in activities for better outcomes (This will professionally support and remind participants to stay on task) 
  • Use the “Raise your Hand” feature if you have a question or use the chat/conversation box for any questions or comments
Set Activity Expectations – Consider the following when planning your session
  1. What type of interactions will take place? Does it require virtual movement ? (Breakouts sessions, accessing materials, resources, or using an external application to support engagement)
  2. What is it that your participants need to have or be ready to do to maximize their learning experience?
  3.  Will there be any transitions to external applications during the training that may impact times?
  4. Will there be any products or tasks for participants to complete?

Any of the considerations above may affect the participant’s virtual learning experience. Therefore, it is important to think through what they may need to have in place to minimize disruptions and optimize the learning.  Here are some examples and possible suggestion to mention at the start of your session:

  • Using Multiple Tabs
  • Leverage Splitting the Screen (reduces going back and forth between windows, tabs or documents)
  • Navigation to Built-In Applications (Exp: Microsoft Teams video meetings has an interactive whiteboard  app and Poll feature that is built into the video conference)
  • Application Login (Exp: FlipGrid uses Microsoft or Google Integrations for login;  Participants may need to setup or create an account)

Best Practice #3: Avoid Lengthy Lectures

“Sit and Get” style PD has often been a monotonous experience for participants. Many times when the presenter has minimal interactions that require participant engagement, some participants may be naturally inclined to venture off to work on other work related tasks they may feel is more important to them or even personal matters during the session. There are other participants that are following the presentation but are passively engaged and are just being compliant. 

Remember, you want outcomes not compliance. It may be uneasy at first to shift gears from face-to-face engagement where a “turn and talk” or table discussion could easily support the professional learning. However, it is essential for you to think through planning opportunities for  engagement even if you are not comfortable with technology. As educators we are continuous learners and we should look at challenges as opportunities for success. 

“Educators are continuous learners and should view technology challenges as Opportunities for success! “

Best Practice #4Plan Purposeful and Frequent Interactions with Participants

The implementation of frequent interactions can enhance the ability of participants to process, retain, and apply expected outcomes. However, these interactions should be planned, purposeful, and aligned to the objectives of your session. In addition, interactions with participants should occur about every 3-5 minutes, during the session, to support their engagement with content presented, process their understanding, and are more likely to leave the PD with the ability to implement into practice.

“Purposely planned participant interactions should occur about every 3 to 5 minutes throughout your PD session!”

Interactions with participants can range from small tasks to more involved activities.  Below are some examples of potential interactions with participants.  They are organized based on ease of implementation.

Participant Interactions for Quick Implementation
Participant Interactions that are Tool Facilitated Interactions
Participant Interactions that Requires More Strategy for Implementation

Creating engaging professional development, in which the context and expectations are clear, is essential when developing educators.  These professional learning opportunities become more than ensuring outcomes and supporting participants.  They are also opportunities to model and diffuse best practices into the educational practice in which the students we support and serve can receive the greatness outcome.

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