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Six Lessons from Six Months of Leading Virtual Professional Learning

Houston A+ Challenge shifted its professional learning supports to a virtual space as our partner schools transitioned to online learning. After more than six months of working with teachers online, we have learned many lessons about how to best respond to teachers' demands amid a global pandemic. We're excited to share six of them here.

1. Prepare for the unexpected. You cannot control things like internet connection, software, or what's going on at the other end of a device.

  • Internet connectivity can be unpredictable. Don't sweat it when a speaker lags or cuts out for a moment. Be patient. Use a plan and have a back-up facilitator in the session who can take over if a lead facilitator's internet goes out.

  • Be ready to roll with the punches.

2. Logistics is THE THING.

  • Check your equipment. Plan for contingencies. Anticipate the obstacles participants may face and have troubleshooting plans accessible for them.

  • Make sure your web conferencing platform has online access for participants on laptops as well as mobile devices.

  • Introduce a technology person and describe how participants can seek their help if needed mid-learning.

3. Overcommunicate.

  • Use the chat feature. Normalize being on a virtual platform.

  • Have an icebreaker or warm-up activity.

  • Set norms for learning together.

  • Share a clear agenda with goals and outcomes for participants.

4. Remember what you can control.

  • Record what you can ahead of time. If you want participants to come with the best conversations and be prepared to engage at a high level, encourage them to complete pre-work.

  • Set up a shared space for resources to be used during the session, including slides, articles, or other resources that are mentioned in the learning.

  • Test all links, videos, and sound elements in advance. Make sure they work on multiple devices.

  • Make registration in advance possible for participants. This allows you to share resources, answer additional questions a timely way, and send a follow-up thank you to participants.

  • Decide how many participants you'll host and limit based on the purpose of the learning. Is the content best taught in a small group setting? Will 90 people register for a webinar about the content? Consider which platform, time frame, and method of delivery is best for the number of attendees you're expecting.

5. Help the learning stick.

  • Hold learners accountable with a product, picture, or discussion board so you can give feedback on multiple levels.

  • Have virtual conversations in the chat feature. Use easy, user-friendly online tools like Mentimeter or Padlet to allow interactive learning.

  • Use small groups in breakout rooms and set the expectation for a deliverable.

  • Record your session and make it available to participants afterward.

6. Learn from your experience to make for a better one the next time around.

  • Have an electronic survey for participant feedback and evaluation. Give attendees time to complete it before the session is over, or create a simple poll at the end of the learning.

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