How to start a successful virtual learning program

“When our budget was drastically cut, we turned to virtual professional development to offer more courses to more teachers than we did five years ago when we were three times the size,” said Cathy Brown with the Office of Professional Development and Support in Florida’s Volusia County Schools.

Changes to district policy can increase demand for training and workshops, and virtual learning might play a role. In 2003, the Schultz Center for Teaching and Leadership in Florida experienced such a situation.

“In 2003 a modification was made to the Florida Consent Decree that stipulates the professional development requirements of teachers needing the ESOL endorsement added to their professional teaching certificate,” said Paty Savage, the center’s director of instructional technology.

After that modification, the need for ESOL professional development—and for workshops to meet that professional development—skyrocketed.

“In an instant, many teachers did not have the credentials they needed to maintain their jobs. The Schultz Center sought to train hundreds of educators who now needed an additional endorsement from the state to teach this population. It was our job to get them the training they needed in order to keep their job and to ensure we have highly skilled teachers, in real terms and according to state mandates,” Savage said.

Who are our champions?

Virtual learning programs need at least two champions, including one who will advocate for virtual learning at the district level and another person to manage the program’s daily operations.

Districts also will find it useful to designate professionals to work in small groups or one-on-one with teachers, administrators, and counselors. Those virtual learning professionals will craft online instruction policies, manage program logistics, and keep tabs on the program’s current and future needs.

“Put people in charge [who] have passion, understanding of online learning, know the difference between online education and brick-and-mortar education, and can use a district-wide perspective to make decisions,” recommended Becky Nunnally, an online instruction specialist in Georgia’s Cobb County School District.

What is our messaging?

Districts should take care to clear up misconceptions about virtual learning if they circulate among educators and the school community.

The experts interviewed for the report recommend keeping active lines of communication open with, and soliciting feedback from, the school district community. For instance, virtual learning advocates and leaders might clearly define the benefits of online instruction and how an online class is structured, in addition to sharing best practices and research.

Laura Ascione

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