More districts should seize the opportunity to improve professional learning for teachers

Writing for the Center on Reinventing Public Education, Bree Dusseault, Georgia Heyward, and Travis Pillow provide an analysis of the professional learning opportunities that districts can utilize to support remote learning. Excerpts from the piece appear below:

Districts have an urgent need to find new ways to help teachers learn on the job and hone their craft. They also have new opportunities to do this differently. It’s both easier and less intrusive for veteran teachers or school and district leaders to observe digital classrooms. Since far more teacher professional development is happening virtually, school systems have new opportunities to bring in the best providers or forge new collaborations across district lines. 

A nationwide scan found some promising efforts by school districts to support professional learning despite massive logistical hurdles and a tangle of red tape.

Remote coaching: The 35 percent of districts that identified strategies for coaching teachers in the school year include some robust plans to coach teachers under unprecedented conditions. Milwaukee Public Schools offers an extensive list of virtual professional development available to teachers throughout the year, which will be supported by coaching. In North Dakota, Bismarck Public Schools’ distance learning plan includes instructional coaches who delineate learning targets for remote instruction and “work with teacher leaders to develop capacity in planning and delivering quality distance learning.”

Self-paced professional development modules: Teachers are coming to remote instruction with varying levels of comfort and need. Some districts recognize these different starting points by offering differentiated training that teachers can review at their own pace. Austin Integrated School District rolled out nearly 500 hours of virtual training over the summer, which included a combination of live and taped sessions. These offer flexibility, but they can leave teachers at sea when they are not combined with coaching or teacher-to-teacher collaboration.

Planning and collaboration: Teachers will need time to make sense of new curricula, technology, and student needs—and to make necessary adjustments as the year unfolds. Some districts are creating structures to ensure teachers have time to brainstorm and share strategies with their colleagues. For example, San Francisco Unified has scheduled grade-specific virtual professional learning communities. The district also created a platform to compile crowdsourced lessons, videos, and other instructional resources.

Four-day schedule: Several districts in our database are moving to a four-day week (something that rural districts have experimented with for decades, with mixed results) to make sure teachers have time for planning and collaboration. These districts, which include Baltimore County Public Schools, pause scheduled lessons for one day a week. Teachers use mornings on these days to check in with individual students and work with small groups who need extra support, and reserve the afternoons for training, planning, and collaboration.

For more information, including a discussion of how districts are working with teachers unions to make these new forms of professional development possible, see: