Is Zoom PD the Future of Professional Learning?

Header - Kernler - Zoom PD

Veronica Kernler, Teacher Mentor Specialist in School District U-46 in Illinois, shares her experience making the shift to virtual PD and why she believes it may be a preferred method moving forward. 👋 💻


emember the days of frantically trying to make it to the district office for an essential professional development session at the end of the school day? Once there, you rush up the stairs to be greeted with a smile by a cheerful presenter who tells you that she's looking forward to diving into the topic of feedback—for two hours! Knowing it will be dark by the time you head to the parking lot, you can already think of many pieces of feedback for the presenter herself.

When 2020 rolled around, in-person professional learning was put on hold. In its place came asynchronous courses and presentations on Zoom, supported with breakout sessions, chats, virtual whiteboards, and all sorts of tools that seemed to spring up overnight. If you're like me, you began to ask yourself whether any of these tech tools could substitute for the "real deal" in-person professional learning.

As a teacher mentor specialist, I help facilitate professional learning for mentors and mentees throughout the school district. As we transitioned to remote work, our team discussed what our shift to Zoom would look like, and a few themes emerged:

  • What is it that new teachers and mentors needed most to support their students, and why?
  • How might we build in more time for discussion and interaction, thereby limiting the amount of telling?

Using a stoplight visual approach, such as the one offered in Bruce Wellman and Laura Lipton’s Learning Focused Supervision, forced me to reflect on practices to stop doing, continue doing, and start doing when it came to planning and developing professional learning.

Our experience

1) Focus on autonomy

In our feedback from staff members, we found overwhelming evidence of positivity towards Zoom PD sessions. Rather than being burnt out from driving across the district, staff could take a course and engage with colleagues from the comfort of their classroom or home, allowing for ease of transition into the learning session.

We no longer needed to explain where the bathrooms were, remind people to clean up, or quiet people down after breaks, and so participants’ professional autonomy and competence became more evident.

2) Keep it short

When we attend professional learnings, we're looking for organized, clear, and structured agendas that keep the flow of the meeting without stretching or straining the target audience. Knowing this, we first identified that shortening the length of our sessions was essential.

Two hours of anything on Zoom is a stretch, especially when it happens after the school day. As a result, the learning intentions and content of our virtual presentations became much more focused than they had been in person.

3) Prioritize discussion

In person, you might pass out a handout or have participants use Post-Its and Sharpies, taking for granted that discussion will happen organically as teachers work on a task. When everyone is remote, it's essential to ensure that participants have opportunities to interact with each other and the content, using tools like virtual chats and Jamboards. We found that discussions tended to center on what was possible, not impossible, creating more drivers and fewer barriers.

Whatever the tool, it has to connect intentionally with the learning target. For example, when using the chat feature to brainstorm ideas for a given topic, the facilitator must acknowledge the ideas shared, much as we do when interacting with our students. Our team learned many strategies to bring chats to life, such as Chat Waterfalls, having a "chat checker," and having someone from the group summarize themes in the discussion.

4) Take time to review

While words might float in one ear and out the other at in-person professional learning, virtual presentations create opportunities for review. Virtual presentations can be recorded, slides and links shared more readily with each other, and chats saved for the group. The learners had a sense that their learning is not a one-and-done, and it can be reviewed again and again.

Final note

Going forward, my hope is that the willingness to collaborate in our practice will continue and persist through whatever mode of instruction we choose. For me, the benefits of virtual PD seem plentiful. Use of presentations and slides has been much more deliberate and focused, and the opportunities to share screens, materials, and resources with colleagues allow for continued reflection. From my screen to yours, I wish you continued growth and learning!

About our Guest Blogger

Veronica Kernler is a Teacher Mentor Specialist in School District U-46, located in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. She works with first- and second-year teachers utilizing Danielson's Framework for Teaching to support their growth. Veronica has collaborated with colleagues to facilitate professional learning sessions on student engagement, professional learning conversations, and mentoring new teachers.

When she is not working, she is busy with her family, hiking, biking, cheering on her two young boys, giving treats to their rescue pup, or curling up with a good book and a cat in her lap.

Be sure to follow Veronica on Twitter @VeronicaKernler.

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Topics: Guest Blogger, PD, Meetings, PLCs, Adult Learning, Remote Work, Online Tools, Zoom

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