So Many Questions, So Little Time: Exploring Online PD

Guest post by Tracy Ragland

One of my goals as principal of Newcastle High School (NHS) in Wyoming is to provide my staff with ongoing, quality professional development. Currently, we follow a traditional, face-to-face PD model, where our administrative team shares best practices with our entire teaching staff during in-service time. Though this approach provides some benefits, our team has struggled to develop programming that addresses all of the different needs of our staff, especially since NHS offers a wide variety of electives ranging from multimedia to welding, in addition to our core classes. How can we as school leaders provide more effective professional development that meets all of the different needs of our staff?

At the beginning of the 2017–18 school year, I posed this question to my PLC leaders and asked them to explore new ways to make PD more meaningful and more curriculum-specific within our present working parameters. We examined some of the new ideas in PD that have been gaining recognition, including flipped learning and micro-credentialing, and discussed the potential impact of offering more personalized PD that would focus on the skills, knowledge, and practices for a course, subject, or department. While the idea seemed simple enough, the problem was how do we deliver this type of PD, targeted to particular areas, during our in-service time and on a limited PD budget?

Over our next few meetings, our PLC leaders explored the possibility of using online professional development to meet our needs. The more we researched online PD, the more the idea gathered support. The team began to realize that in all cases, by using more online PD, we could offer targeted, personalized content for all of our teachers. This approach also aligned with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) guidelines that suggest schools move toward using the entire learning cycle to create real impact on teacher’s skills and student achievement. In addition, the time required to gain credit for a workshop could now be reclaimed for training, which was more pertinent to each teacher’s specific subject area.

Though our PLC team is still researching and evaluating potential programs to use, we have set an implementation goal to begin staff-led online PD as part of our professional development programming for the 2018–19 school year. This may be overly aggressive, as we are finding numerous programs and many questions we need to answer before we find a suitable online platform. Many of the questions revolve around time, resources, accountability, and depth of functionality.

Our journey with targeted online PD is just beginning, and we are learning many things about this new area and a great deal about ourselves and the direction we want to take our school. I see tremendous potential in this style of targeted PD to improve teaching practices in our school and across our state of Wyoming.

I’m interested in hearing from other leaders who have explored or implemented similar programs within their schools and districts. What are your experiences with targeted online professional development for teachers?

Tracy Ragland is principal of Newcastle High School in Newcastle, WY. He was the 2017 Wyoming Principal of the Year.

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