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A Teacher’s Guide to Online Professional Development

Guidelines for choosing professional development opportunities that will make an impact.

By Lani Aquino

Whether the goal of professional development is to meet licensure renewal requirements, gain additional certification for a new/changing position, and/or round out your wheelhouse, online PD opportunities can be a great option. Every teacher has likely taken a course just for the hours or sat through a course that offered little to no takeaway value. This method of dealing with learning as professionals is pretty much the exact opposite of the mindset teachers work to instill in their own students. As with any learning endeavor, being in-tune to the best learning style and environment for personal growth is an essential component. If an online course is the right fit, here are some guidelines to consider when making a course selection.

Online PD Points to Ponder

  • Does the course cost include materials? If this is an out-of-pocket expense, it’s important to have a handle on the entire cost. If tuition is coming from district or grant funds, do these funds include materials?
  • Is the course being offered from an accredited institution? Before investing the time and money, make sure the quarter, semester, or CEU hours gained will be recognized by the district if the course is needed for re-licensure or a step increase. A quick inquiry to the district HR department should be all that’s needed.
  • What’s is the course’s time commitment? Flexibility and convenience are often major factors in making online course selections. Just because a course is offered in an online format does not mean there are not time-specific commitments for live chats and/or forums that may be required. While completing coursework in jammies may be an option, doing so whenever one chooses may not be. Double check course descriptions for participation requirements if time constraints would be a deciding factor.
  • Are there applicable takeaways to be gained? Making the most of any professional development opportunity means being able to put the ideas and strategies learned into practice. Does the PD course of choice have participants focused on hypotheticals or focused on their own classrooms? While being given the building blocks to make the connections to a different subject area or grade level can be helpful, actually being able to focus on units, lessons, and student populations that are personally applicable will offer the most impactful experience.
  • Does a vested interest in the course exist? If there isn’t a twinge of excitement over jumping into the course, it may be best to keep looking. This excitement should involve more than relief for meeting a requirement. Online courses are often self-paced. Putting everything off until the last minute doesn’t do much for making the most of a learning opportunity for professional growth. Teachers should approach the experience with the same fervor they hope to have their own students bring to learning.

Finding the Right Fit

None of the previous Points to Ponder hold any significance if teachers don’t have a course offering in mind. Taking an inventory of areas that hold an interest or could use some updating can bring some applicable professional development topics to the surface. With a general idea in hand, these are some places teachers can turn to when searching for that perfect PD fit.

  • Social Media- A hot topic that’s being followed or a group that’s been joined on social media is a perfect locale to search for an applicable course to take (e.g., #TTOG, #edchat, #edtech). Posting a query about professional development opportunities in these communities may also uncover some unique course offerings.
  • School/District PD Initiatives- It’s possible that some professional development opportunities provided by the district may have sparked an interest that a teacher is looking to further pursue. By the same token, a previously session may have triggered an interest in exploring new options.
  • Professional Websites- Heading to the web can produce a wide variety of options. Going to trusted education sites like ASCD, Scholastic, or even PBS, can bring some engaging offerings into the mix.
  • Word-of-Mouth- If the methods used by a colleague spark an interest, teachers should inquire about any resources used in developing them. Fellow teachers are also a great resource for finding affordable options to complete with a busy schedule because everyone is in the same boat on those fronts.

Teachers should be putting the same thoughtfulness into their own learning endeavors as they do to those of their students. Online professional development opportunities are a perfect way to fit that learning into a busy schedule. When teachers know where to look and what to consider when selecting courses, all the learning gets to take center stage and make an impact in the classroom.

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