Professional Development During a Pandemic
2020 has pushed all educators to the limit. It boggles the mind that any administrator would even think that this is the year for PD, but here are a few things to consider if you or your admin “have to” do professional development during a pandemic.
Mental Health and PD
Teachers and students should be given access to mental health resources during this time, but they should not be required to “prove” that they’ve completed X, Y, and Z towards their own self- care. Of course everyone wants teachers to take care of themselves, but this can’t be done by adding more to their plates. Teachers should be aware of their own mental health as well as the mental health of their students. It is crucial that teachers know the signs to look out for, and what they should DO if their students are exhibiting signs of depression or anxiety, suicidal thoughts, etc. Administrators should take these issues seriously and prioritize them ahead of any academic concerns. Administrators need to be open and available to discuss mental health concerns of both students and teachers.
Administrators need to give teachers the tools they need to teach in the online or hybrid setting. They should not make teachers jump through hoops for a second monitor, a document camera, or for an app to be approved by the school/district. When an admin gives teachers a tool, they shouldn’t act like they are doing the teacher a favor. They are literally giving them what they need to work in an abnormal setting. Emailing out helpful technology links or trainings can be helpful, but it should not be done as a requirement. Admins should recognize that some teachers are not as tech savvy, and might require more training or time to navigate new programs.
Admins should not require teachers to spend their free time (or even their paid time), doing professional reading. These are not normal times, and the regular rules simply do not apply. Teachers go out of their way to learn what they need to learn to help their students. This year that may mean reading a blog post or researching an app. That time spent is both applicable and valuable. To assign what an admin thinks a teacher needs to learn implies that the admin knows a teacher’s needs better than the teacher knows her needs, and this is not the case. Administrators should invite teachers to share what has worked for them with their colleagues. Teachers are much more likely to take advice from someone “in the trenches.”
Administrators need to listen to their teachers. What do they need right now? What do admins have that they can give the teachers? Administrators probably can’t make a teacher’s job any easier right now, even though they want to; it’s just an impossible time for everyone. But they can be there to listen. If a teacher needs to vent, the admin should let her. If a teacher needs to tell a story about a horrible Zoom session, their admin should put in the time to listen to that story. If a teacher needs the principal to communicate with a parent so that she can preserve the relationship with the family, the admin should do so. A person who feels heard will be more likely to keep going and doing a good job.
New programs, systems, and requirements
This isn’t the year for exciting and new. By creating new requirements, admins are only adding to teacher burn out and stress. Everyone would LOVE a reset, but we aren’t there yet. Administrators should keep “new” in the back pocket for now. We are still in survival mode.
Be a cheerleader
Without being condescending, administrators need to recognize their teachers and let them know they are doing a good job. Teachers, like students, need some positive words to keep them moving forward. These compliments don’t need to be announced at a staff meeting or written in a newsletter – admins can just reach out to individual teachers and give them kind (and specific) feedback. You never know which teacher needs to hear it.
Administrators make a huge difference in teacher and staff morale. No, administrators can’t end a pandemic, and they don’t have limitless funds. But they can do their part to not make things worse when it comes to professional development. They can reach out as human beings. They can recognize the enormous “ask” that is being made of educators. They can be an advocate for their teachers. They can pull together resources and be a resource themselves. Administrators can make a difference.
What have you done for professional development during Covid-19? We would love to hear about it in the comments!