By: Juliana Finegan

During the last nine months, many educators have felt as if they were thrown into the deep end with little to nothing to hold onto. The quick shift to remote learning has forced teachers to challenge preconceived notions of what instruction and learning can look like. Over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to interview educators from districts all over the country in order to collect some of their best practices for remote and hybrid learning and hear about what has made them and their students successful. Despite the crazy start of the year and what gets portrayed in the media, many teachers are quickly embracing and even excelling in these unknown waters. Going into the conversations with educators I didn’t know what to expect given the extreme challenges these teachers face daily, but instead of complaints, I was met with energy, inspiration, and smiles. These educators were definitely challenged and tired, like all educators are, especially now, but they were also supported by their districts, leaders, and each other. That made all the difference!

Remote professional learning (PD) offers a number of innovation opportunities that can enable educators to feel ready and confident instead of overwhelmed and burnt out. Walking away from those conversations I not only learned about some amazing best practices[a], concrete strategies and tools, but also key ways to support teachers within this new remote space. Innovation in education means also rethinking how we support our educators’ doing the innovating. Just moving PD online is not enough! It needs to be focused, purposeful, and meaningful, while also leveraging all of the possibilities remote professional development has to offer.

Here are five ways we can take hold of the invention opportunities remote professional development offers and look outside the box to ensure educators are ready and able to do what they do best — teach their students. Remote professional development enables…

  • Opportunity for whole system alignment and scaling. Without being constrained to one building, we are better able to scale and align around best practices across a whole district. Joining a system-wide PD session no longer means driving across town but instead logging on in your home. Chicago Public Schools has started Wednesday Workshops which are professional learning opportunities designed to elevate best practices around remote learning. The content is presented in digestible chunks (~45 minutes) so that anyone in the district can opt-in and learn about specific resources and approaches teachers are effectively implementing.
  • Expertise to be shared from beyond school walls. Remote professional development means we no longer have to purely rely on the expertise in our buildings, or even our systems. Learning virtually enables educators to get focused support and coaching, and engage in learning opportunities from anyone, without distance being a barrier. Coaches can work with multiple schools in one day without building in time for a commute. They can also record PD and easily share asynchronous options for educators to engage with as well. In addition, districts can leverage outside experts such as the Always Ready For Learning Network, which offers pro bono support around professional development content and strategy.
  • Collaboration that extends past the teacher next door.  We are used to looking next door or even down the hall for guidance and collaboration, but now in the remote world content collaboration and community support can come from anywhere because we all share the same “classroom.” Cedar Rapids, in response to COVID-19 and the quick shift to remote and hybrid learning, amped up their Professional Learning Communities (PLC) to ensure educators were not reinventing the wheel and were able to collaborate in concrete and actionable ways across grade levels, subjects, etc. throughout the district. More than ever, educators cannot live on islands, which is why building a community component within your remote PD, like PLCs is so important. Within PLCs educators are able to learn from and lean on each other as well as design and build off of each other’s work.
  • Greater access to quality content. Once again, by educators and systems not being constrained by distance, travel, and finances they are able to better access quality content that can directly impact their practice. Multiple conferences and PD providers have begun offering free admission to attend virtual sessions, online free PD courses, as well as focused micro-courses like these offered by ISTEs Summer Academy. Quality professional learning is now at our fingertips and can be built into remote professional learning design, supplementing current content, to ensure educators have access to new experiences, ideas, and approaches.
  • More opportunities to engage. By offering choice around how, when, where, and what educators learn they are able to both work towards appropriate competencies and skills as well as gain support around urgent needs. Dallas ISD recently added a Distance Learning Progression to their Personalized Learning Coaching and Development Toolbox to ensure their educators were being given opportunities and access to various ways to gain support and build skills around specific competencies needed in distance learning. By offering choices on how and when to engage, educators are more able to engage, because they can do it when it works for their schedule.
  • Multiple touchpoints for support. Whether it is a coaching session, classroom observation, or quick check-in, building in time to travel can hinder both the frequency and number of touchpoints that can happen. By moving remote, InnovateEDU Teaching Fellows have had the opportunity to observe master teachers during small gaps in their schedule because they can join their remote classroom quickly. Coaches are also able to observe Teaching Fellows’ remote lessons with minimal disruption to learning by joining their virtual classroom at a moment’s notice when support is needed. Without travel time, teachers and coaches alike are able to drop in and observe, learn, and support any time of day.

Supporting educators strategically and meaningfully during innovation is the key component to success. Too many times we have seen amazing innovation happen at the expense of educators with early burnout, lack of work/life balance, and low retention. The piece that shifts this narrative, as it did with the educators I interviewed, is building engaging and innovative remote professional learning that is responsive, personalized, enables connection, and ensures educators feel appreciated, supported, and confident.

For additional information around personalizing PD and effective remote learning for educators explore the resources below:

For more, see:


Juliana Finegan is a Managing Partner at The Learning Accelerator. An expert in blended and personalized learning, she leads TLA’s Practitioner Learning work to push forward innovation education by building and supporting a pipeline of blended educators and leaders, seeking to increase capacity at all levels and share best practices and resources at scale.

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