Supporting professional learning at a distance

The past few months have been a blur for us all. In the world of professional learning, we’ve had to adjust our plans for in-person educator support and innovate as best we can. The Covid-19 forced school closures could not be a time for our team to sit idle and wonder “What in the world do we do now?” but rather provide teachers and admin continued opportunities to strengthen their understandings and given them hands-on opportunities for learning in a variety of content areas and topics that would help them best serve kids in distance learning environments.

The pushback against teachers and schools and how instruction was severely lacking in the spring is truly unwarranted. Are there teachers who likely mailed it in and just did the bare minimum to get through until the end of the school year? Sure. And for their students, I feel a great deal of sorrow. But those teachers existed pre-Covid and they’ll continue to exist in the future. However for the majority of teachers dedicated to their craft, they went into “learners first” mode and dedicated their time to design meaningful learning experiences for kids in virtual environments.

Our department decided to share as much as we could with our county educators during this time. Was our effort perfect? No. But tens of thousands of YouTube views later and countless thank yous and “this was invaluable” emails and feedback, we feel good about it. We all honed our own instructional delivery skills and learned more about facilitating quality professional learning in digital environments. Sometimes we really nailed it, and sometimes we fell flat. Our Core Connections to Virtual Learning website has over 100 on-demand learning opportunities that we originally shared in live events during the early weeks of school closures. We encouraged teachers from the county to share their own sessions with colleagues as well. Core Connections is the name of our teacher-led conference, typically held face-to-face in June, and we wanted to honor the spirit of that event with our offerings!

Core Connections website screenshot

Knowing that the wealth of on demand offerings might be intimidating to some looking for a more cohesive learning experience, we decided to design learning “series” that bundled together workshops, assessment connections, SEL explorations, and choice board project activities in our Summer Learning Series offerings. While we do still offer live events in July and August, we know these months are difficult to get live attendance from educators. The series have been embraced by hundreds of teachers in the county who have worked through series, obtained completion certificates, and put their learning in action by creating and submitting project work they can use in their classrooms this fall. Summer Series website screenshot

Next steps? The Core Connections videos and Summer Series videos will be available through Labor Day, at which point we’ll transition to more targeted professional development bundles for teams, schools, and districts who are hoping to support their teachers with whatever the fall holds. Right now some of our districts are beginning full virtual for the first marking period; others are using a blended approach where students report for 2-3 days of the week in person and still others are opening full time, face-to-face, for all students. Some schools have not yet decided what they’re doing.

One of our challenges as a county support team is being able to meet the needs of all of our schools. Every teachers’ needs vary so greatly. We hope we can continue to design personal learning experiences for our teachers and reach as many educators as possible. We’re here to support you! If you’re reading this and you’re an educator from Berks County, be sure to reach out to lynhil@berksiu.org if you have any requests for learning opportunities!

PS. For those of you interested in the tools we used to make this happen… some apps & services we couldn’t live without: Google Slides, Google Sites, Canva, Screencastify, Loom, iMovie, YouTube, and Zoom.

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