For Diane Lauer, Assistant Superintendent of Priority Programs and Academic Support at St. Vrain Valley Schools in Colorado, COVID couldn’t stop teacher training. In fact, her work became that much more important.

Professional development should remain a pandemic priority

COVID has highlighted the need for teacher training and ongoing, high-quality professional development

For Diane Lauer, Assistant Superintendent of Priority Programs and Academic Support at St. Vrain Valley Schools in Colorado, COVID couldn’t stop teacher training. In fact, her work became that much more important.

In this conversation with eSchool News, Diane breaks down her strategies for keeping faculty on point with technology and instruction. [Edited for clarity.]

eSN: Before the pandemic struck, would it be fair to say there was a general resistance amongst some teachers, who would be skeptical of various aspects of professional development? How have remote setups changed the way you teach those teachers?

DL: You just put a spear through my heart. Because you just described “professional development hostages.” And I hate those—bring everybody’s cookies down to the library and lock the door and feed them cake and tell them this is awesome. Everybody’s got their chair. and then they finally get to leave. That is not professional development in St. Vrain. The first thing that you have to have is a choice. You have to make a connection to the “why,” and you have to give people lots of opportunities, both in-person and online.

eSN: One of the possible unintended consequences of this crisis is the realization that there’s a certain percentage of students who like learning via Zoom, who like this remote sort of setup. And they’re thriving in this situation. Have you noticed that from a professional development level as well?

DL: Absolutely. About four years ago, we put together a task force because some people wanted online professional development. But then a lot of people said, “Oh, no, I want face-to-face.” And then we’d get the calls–“Can you start that PD at 4:30 instead of 4:00, because I have to drive, etc.” It was sometimes really hard.

But once we started with the pandemic, and thank goodness we had that task force four years ago because we researched, and we designed what is [our] best professional development online. And we trained a lot of people to be able to provide online professional development.

eSN: How important is it to train teachers on the actual tech nowadays? Doesn’t everybody know Zoom, for instance?

DL: When we started implementing our learning technology plan, we began documenting our coaches’ time and what they did. We’re talking about device operations. We had an instructional coaching log and we wanted this data because we wanted to see how much time we’re spending on device operations, as opposed to instructional coaching. My hypothesis was totally wrong. I thought there would be a ton in the beginning and then it would just kind of go away forever. And it doesn’t, because technology is always changing. There’s always going to be training specific to technology for a bit.

And then people go home for their two-week winter break but don’t stop working and we get that spike again with device operations and people want to know how to use a new tool. And then we see the same thing over the summer, right? Because teachers don’t stop working. They go home over the summer and they want to try something new. And then the spike comes back up again in August. Isn’t that amazing? We’ve seen that six years in a row now after we’ve collected data.

eSN: Do you see these things sticking around once we go back to “normal,” whatever that means?

DL: Well, the most important part is making certain that for the new folks that we hire, especially those who haven’t had a chance to teach like this, we’re going to have to make sure they have a chance to.

I’m thinking about how do we continue to do this? Because we’ll use remote instruction for a lot of different things, even if it’s not the whole class. But one of the things that our teachers love is giving that one-on-one support and help, and being able to provide small-group help, and create instructional videos and collaborate…It’s a responsibility of us together. We all have to be thoughtful to make certain that this next generation of educators has the skills, has the resilience, has the independent mindset to be a self-learner.

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