After extended school schedules resulting from a harsh winter across much of the country, school is finally out for the summer. The summer isn’t just a time of quiet reflection and relaxation for most teachers. It’s a time to learn new skills, study up on new technologies and fully prepare for another year at the front of the classroom.
Although the need to stay sharp and grow professionally during the summer hasn’t changed for generations of teachers, the topics and tools available to them certainly have. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Christina Moreno, an Academic Administrator for Professional Development at Fuel Education, to discuss the trends and topics that teachers study in the summer, and how professional development tools for teachers have evolved over time.
Here is what Christina had to say:
LOtL: Is there significant demand for professional development opportunities among teachers during the summer months? What particular skills are teachers often looking to hone?
Mrs. Moreno: Teachers look at summer vacation as a time when they can work on skills and different projects that they didn’t have time for in the school year. For teachers, this is a time to recharge themselves and work on lesson plans.
Teachers in traditional brick-and-mortar schools tend to use this time to focus on new technologies, new skills and changes to mandates and curriculum—such as Common Core. Many times, they look to join book clubs and other groups to learn about new materials that can bring value to their classroom.
For some online teachers, things are a little different.
Online teachers continue to work with students in the summer months. Their student numbers drop, but they still have some students. Even though they’re still educating students, the workload is lower, and teachers at FuelEd will often work in project groups with colleagues to educate themselves on new technologies, techniques and curriculum changes. For example, some teachers are working on creating test preparation curriculum for the testing standards coming out in Florida in the new school year.
LOtL: What have teachers traditionally done to stay sharp or otherwise hone their skills during summer break?
Mrs. Moreno: In the last ten years, we’ve had a big change. Before that, teachers wouldn’t have students at all during the summer. They would maybe teach some summer school, but that was about it.
Professional development activities mostly had to be done on your own time. Some schools and districts may have offered some professional development in the school, but most professional development was done through courses at community colleges and course reading. When schools did offer professional development, it was through large organizational learning done by the entire school or school district that was required for teachers. Either way, teachers had to have specific blocks of time to be at a professional development event or course, as time and place were often out of their control.
LOtL: What new opportunities are available to teachers today that enable them to learn, grow and prepare for the next school year?
Mrs. Moreno: Just like students have online learning now, and new windows into their education, teachers have the same thing. There is so much more available now. Teachers no longer need to meet in the school and take a course with 50 other teachers from the same school or district. Teachers can now go online and find courses and webinars and take them from wherever they are able to login, along with 50,000 other teachers from all over the world.
Personal time choices are important, as well. In the past, professional development would have been scheduled by the principal or district. Today’s online courses and webinars can be taken at a teacher’s own convenience. They can even review recordings if they missed the original, live webinar. These online webinars and courses can often be taken for Professional Development Units or credits that can be counted toward recertification. The teacher maintains much more control over the topics learned and the time it takes to learn.
Today, you don’t have to use the school building, worry about having the room reserved or having the keys to the building. Teachers can meet together by scheduling the time online, doing independent research and learning together about new technologies and courses. Using these technologies, teachers can meet together with people from across the country to create supplemental materials and collaborate with each other.
There are other opportunities for online teachers, such as the Professional Development Week in August organized by the FuelEd professional development team. This week is comprised of approximately 35 different webinar sessions. Although this is intended for FuelEd teachers, we also open Professional Development Week to teachers at select school partners.
LOtL: What topics do the webinars and sessions during Professional Development Week cover? How are they conducted?
Mrs. Moreno: The sessions are facilitated by the teachers themselves and teacher leaders, because often the best learning opportunities are provided by peers. During these webinars, they share best practices and learning with each other. Not only do they cover a variety of topics, they also cover online instruction, to help teachers hone their skills in teaching online students.
The webinars and sessions that comprise Professional Development Week can be specific to individual states or even to specific grade levels. Some focus on special education and help teach educators how to work with special education students that are learning online. Others focus on homebound education and help teachers learn how to better support homebound students through online learning.
There is a wide range of subject areas covered that appeal to all of our online teachers, from how to support students in credit recovery courses to time management tips and tricks. We even conduct a session for part-time online educators designed to help them learn to balance their online teaching, full-time teaching position and personal life.
Summer is a great time for teachers to refuel and rejuvenate their skills and knowledge. Teachers do well to take advantage of all the online professional development opportunities—as well as professional development for online instruction—to learn and grow.
If you’re an educator looking to learn new technologies, techniques and best practices for the upcoming school year, go to our resource center for valuable white papers, case studies and educational materials that you can review during your summer break. Also check out the recorded webinars available from our sponsor, FuelEd, which feature thought leadership from the best minds in education on a wide range of topics.