From the Magazine

Getting the Most Out of Online Professional Development

The more conferences I attend virtually, the more I have realized that it isn’t just the host that has control over my experience. It turns out that there are a ton of factors within my control that directly impact how effective the professional development opportunity is for me. Here are some tips for making the most of your virtual professional development experiences.

Prepare yourself

Before a virtual conference, make sure you have access to the Zoom link, a schedule, a computer, charger, and headphones. Prepare anything else that might make you more comfortable, like a blanket, snack, or drink. Don’t forget any materials that you need in order to participate in the conference, as well as a writing utensil and notebook to jot down ideas that you might want to take back to your classroom. 

Dress for success

Depending on the type of conference and your role in it, different wardrobe choices might be appropriate in different contexts, but allow plenty of time to get dressed in a way that suits the situation before your event begins to avoid distractions. Keep in mind that you will be sitting in front of the computer most of the day, so something that looks professional while remaining comfortable might be a good option; like a t-shirt and blazer with leggings for women, and a twill button-down and jeans for men.

Make a goal

Before any professional development opportunity, it is best practice to think about what you are hoping to gain from the experience in order to pick appropriate sessions and ask the right questions. Take it a step farther by writing this goal down so you are able to reflect upon it and measure it after the event.

Be growth-minded

The growth mindset isn’t just for your students; it’s important throughout your whole life. It’s easy to settle into a rhythm and think of your teaching skills as static. Even at a PD event, it’s easy to think that you won’t get better, you’ll just learn a new tech or strategy. Approach each new event with your mind wide open. Remember that you are growing, improving, and always becoming better at your craft. 

Resist the urge to multitask

We all have full lives, and it can be difficult to resist the urge to fold a quick load of laundry, grade a few papers, or play with your kids as you half listen to a virtual conference. I have found that I tend to get a lot more out of conferences when I block off the time for it and focus on being present. Just as if you were going to an in-person event, plan to focus your energy on the workshop for that block of time. Similar to how we ask our students to participate in virtual learning, find a quiet place, turn on your camera, and focus on the task at hand. You’re much more likely to walk away feeling as though you’ve learned something. 

Actively participate

Some of the best online professional development sessions I have ever attended were the most interactive. Even if the speaker does not do a great job of embedding these opportunities to engage, make it a personal goal to do so in each session. Drop a question in the chat, raise your hand, volunteer, respond to questions asked ― something. Engage with the speaker, the participants, and the content in any and every way possible to maximize the effectiveness of your time.

Build connections

In each session, try to make connections with the speaker and some of the other attendees in similar teaching contexts who might be able to offer ideas and feedback to help you better your practice. Being able to connect with like-minded educators is one of the most important parts of professional learning, so be sure to take every opportunity that you get.

Reflect on what you learned 

Most of us leave conferences with many notes about the great ideas we heard and are eager to implement them into the classroom. Plan some time post-conference to sit down, review those notes, and pick a couple of new things you are most excited to try. Then, file your notes away to reflect on later. After you have implemented them, it will be easier to try and bring something new into the mix.

Online professional development certainly has both benefits and drawbacks, but it remains important to connect with like-minded educators and content to help you better your practice, even amid the pandemic. Sign up for an upcoming professional development opportunity or two this semester, and use these tips to maximize the takeaway. You’ll be glad you did; it’s remarkable what spending the time to connect with other educators and the content can do to maximize effectiveness and minimize burnout in the years to come. 

Suzanne Williams is a high school teacher and publications director in Indiana. When she’s not teaching her students Journalism or Japanese, she’s reporting on education-related topics, crafting, longboarding or playing with her corgi.