ONLINE Professional Development 2009

Article excerpt

A new era in federal leadership is bringing increased attention to attracting and retaining talented classroom teachers. And for the first time in history, national leaders are providing resources to support and develop "human capital" in America's classrooms, with an emphasis on assigning the country's best teachers to our most vulnerable students who are currently attending failing schools.

The emphasis in professional development focuses on building teacher capacity to effectively instruct diverse students, especially those students with special needs, those who are English language learners, and those at the early-childhood level. Furthermore, a critical shortage of teachers who can teach math and science at all levels exists. To address these needs, effective professional development is needed to deepen teacher content knowledge and to strengthen instructional practice so that teachers can effectively reach all students and close the achievement gap that exists between high-poverty students and their more affluent counterparts.

In order to reflect the current research, to change teaching practice, and to increase student achievement, professional development must be ongoing, jobembedded, relevant to the teacher's instructional needs, and collaborative in nature. The advent of quality online professional learning combined with in-person, peer-based professional learning communities has enabled this approach to professional development to have the greatest success for increasing teaching quality and student learning.

Online professional development achieves the following goals:

Bringing education research to classroom practice. For too long, the knowledge gained from education research conducted at U.S. colleges, universities, or other organizations has lagged in its transfer to practice in the K-12 system. Online professional development creators who partner with university researchers to feature their findings in an accessible online environment increase knowledge and practice transfer and make it more relevant for teachers. The inclusion of short videos featuring teachers demonstrating instructional strategies and the application of content knowledge brings research to life and makes learning concrete.

Building a common framework for teacher practice and achievement goals. When instructional leaders and classroom practitioners use common reference materials, schools and districts can build a common framework in which visions and goals are clarified and strategies for school or district improvement become more universal. While every teacher has a unique instructional style, the research underpinnings of successful teaching require common concepts and terminology that are universally understood and relevant to teacher practice. Online, research-based professional learning resources help support school-based coaches and professional learning communities, building the capacity for schools and districts to manage their own professional development and to focus their efforts on the specific needs of individuals, grade-level teams, and/or school priorities.

Scaling professional learning beyond a single school to an entire district or state. Large districts have always faced the challenge of scaling any districtwide program or initiative in a way that maintains the integrity of the initiative. With online, research-based professional development, materials are available districtwide (or statewide), and online support is available for anyone who requires it. Online professional learning requires computer access for all teachers. But once teachers have access and become comfortable using online resources to support their collaborative and personal professional learning needs, they also gain comfort with incorporating technology-supported strategies in their classrooms.

Online professional development requires a school or a district to be intentional about its student achievement goals and the professional learning priorities that align with those goals. …