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Why Professional Learning for Teachers Is Essential During the Pandemic

Lydia Logan

Executive Director, Verizon Innovative Learning Schools, Digital Promise

In March, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the nation was thrust into a new era of remote work and education. Teachers across the nation were asked to transform how they deliver instruction. This transformation required them to shift not only where instruction took place but also how lessons were structured. Inequitable access to technology and the internet complicated things further.

To continue providing our students the best education possible in these new and challenging circumstances, it’s important that we also continue providing professional learning opportunities for our teachers.

New normal

Like all learning in 2020, professional learning for educators looks very different now and reflects a new digital learning paradigm that is likely to be the new normal going forward. 

Open to any teacher anywhere, Verizon Innovative Learning’s Teacher Training Pathways focus on technology integration through free online courses. Timely topics include transitioning to remote and hybrid learning and edtech tools for online and blended learning, as well as an introduction to instructional technology coaching, all of which are aligned to Digital Promise micro-credentials.

Micro-credentials are competency-based digital certifications that allow educators to continue their professional learning anytime, anywhere.The flexibility for teachers to continue professional development (PD) without leaving their homes is a critical element while mobility is limited due to the pandemic. Because they focus on a discrete skill or set of skills, educators can select topics that are most relevant to them at a given time.

Benefits of coaching

Supporting teachers in meeting students where they are and helping them to advance requires professional learning to be personalized, ongoing, and contextual. This is best done when new content and teaching strategies are coupled with instructional coaching. Unlike outmoded sit-and-get, one-size-fits-all workshops, coaching provides sustained support around implementation of new knowledge and skills that is customized to each teacher’s specific context. 

Instructional coaching is one of the principal elements of the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools initiative. To ensure equitable learning opportunities, participating schools receive devices and internet access for all students and teachers. But just as important, each participating school has instructional coaching support for teachers to help with effectively integrating technology into learning in meaningful ways. This coach serves as a thought partner and a valuable resource to teachers throughout the school year, and is even more crucial now as teachers navigate the new learning environment.

Coaching promotes educational equity, providing the support teachers need to close the gap in technology-use in the classroom. Research shows that when teachers have access to instructional technology coaches, they and their students use technology more frequently and more impactfully, which in turn improves student engagement and learning.

By working with teachers one-on-one or in small groups, coaches are able to address each teacher’s specific needs and goals.

The right tools at the right time

Coaches — and particularly instructional technology coaches — became even more valuable during the pandemic, as technology became a necessity and teachers looked for greater support around engaging students in distance learning environments. Coaches were relied upon to provide virtual PD for teachers on effective practices, strategies, and technology tools for transitioning to online instruction to help ensure learning continuity. In fact, 92 percent of Verizon Innovative Learning Schools teachers said the professional development provided through the program helped prepare them to teach remotely.

We recently expanded our reach through Verizon Innovative Learning Schools Connect. This new opportunity provides hotspots for students who don’t have reliable home internet access, eliminating their barrier to digital inclusion. But we know simply providing technology and access is not enough — teachers need timely, relevant professional learning opportunities with the support of an instructional coach for the best outcomes. This is why we have included those elements, along with the opportunity to earn micro-credentials, in the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program.

The bottom line is that no matter where teaching and learning are taking place, it’s imperative that teachers have access to ongoing professional learning opportunities that are timely and relevant. Whether it’s instructional coaching, online courses, micro-credentials, or other formats, professional learning support for teachers is not optional.

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