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Three lessons for building teacher skills in a remote environment

Like many educators, my colleagues and I found our plans upended last spring due to the pandemic. As professional learning facilitators who usually travel around the country to provide in-person professional learning on math instruction, we had to come up with a new plan. Just as teachers struggled to mirror the in-person experience for their students from a distance, we had to adapt our programming for educators to live videoconferencing. Our hope was to foster the same level of engagement we typically create. It felt daunting at first, and it hasn’t been easy. But, over the past six months, we have learned three important lessons about developing and delivering virtual professional learning.

Here are three important lessons about developing and delivering virtual professional learning by @TriciaMMiller. Click To Tweet

First, make every moment matter. Be intentional about the content and method of delivery. We ground all our virtual learning opportunities in core academic content and focus on building a deeper understanding of how students learn mathematics. Participants seem to enjoy components that we call “Do the Math,” where they engage in fluency-building activities, complex problem-solving, and an analysis of how and when to use various representational models.

We’ve learned to make sure that we don’t spend time together on things participants can easily do on their own. For example, participants should read excerpts from professional texts and work on math problems in preparation for a discussion independently. This leads to deeper discussions and effective collaboration in the virtual space. As a result, our sessions are efficient and reasonable in length.

Second, be sensitive to participants’ needs. During the learning process, it is imperative that the professional learning facilitator be responsive to the learner. Just like in classrooms with students, it is vital for us to seek consistent feedback and make adjustments in order to achieve expected learning outcomes. My colleagues and I build engagement by using online polls, chat and hand-raising functions, and collaborative spaces, such as breakout rooms for small-group discussions. In addition, technology tools should be simple to use and should enhance the content presented.

Also, be aware of “virtual fatigue.” It’s helpful for participants to engage with the presenter and each other in short intervals rather than in long blocks. Providing short, frequent breaks at least once an hour also helps encourage high levels of participant engagement.

Third, use clear and concise language. By communicating clearly and concisely, we have been able to get straight to the point in a way that participants can easily understand. We often preview the instructions well before the task needs to be completed so that participants can anticipate their next moves. It’s also helpful to avoid permissive language like “I want you to….”, “If you want to…,” etc. Begin sentences with active verbs to direct responsibility for learning onto the participants and increase engagement.

I can’t wait to lead in-person professional learning again, but in the meantime, my colleagues and I have adapted to the virtual environment. As we continue to support school districts remotely, we find ourselves more comfortable with managing our online time, making meaningful connections between the asynchronous work and our time together, and helping our participants fully engage in the learning. Just like the teaching and learning occurring in elementary and secondary classrooms, professional learning is taking on a different look and feel, but it continues to be as important as ever. By applying some key strategies and lessons learned from the past seven months, it’s possible to do it well.

Eureka Math Professional Development Specialist and Implementation Leader at South-Central Region of the United States

Tricia Miller (Tricia.Miller@greatminds.org) is a Eureka math professional development specialist and implementation leader for the south-central region of the United States. She is also a manager for Great Minds, which is the developer of Wit & Wisdom, Eureka Math, and Ph.D. Science. Follow her on Twitter @TriciaMMiller or on Facebook @Tricia.M.Miller5.