The thought of facilitating a successful workshop in a virtual platform may raise anxiety even for the most experienced facilitators. Prior to Covid-19, most teacher professional development was face-to-face, where facilitators could draw on the energy of the participants and read the room to adjust the instruction.
But the good news is: we have what it takes. Just as the third level of Benjamin Bloom’s hierarchical model indicates, it’s time to apply our previous knowledge in a new situation by identifying connections to best practices.
After 19 years in a brick and mortar setting as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and adjunct professor, I, too, have had to embrace the transition of greeting educators via the ‘Zoom room’ instead of shaking hands and giving high fives at the door. Take a deep breath and keep reading. The following tips have shifted my mindset and the experience. It is my hope that after you read this article, you will be reassured that you have what it takes to successfully facilitate a virtual professional development workshop for teachers.
Tip #1: PREPARE
Whether you are the designer or facilitator, you should view the flow of your virtual workshop from the participant lens. Yes, you read that correctly. This is the same process that the best teachers use when designing the lessons for a unit of study. There should be a seamless transition between setting the stage for what will happen, what happens, and what will occur after the workshop ends.
But that is just one aspect of preparation. This tip also addresses how you can foster a culture of participation, reflection, and collaboration in your virtual PD workshop space:
- Breakout Rooms: An indelible part of teacher professional development are (or should be!) giving educators opportunities to synthesize the content. Whether you are providing specific question stems for discussion using Notice and Wonder or utilizing a modified version of the Jigsaw strategy, small groups have proven to be effective even with adults.
- Mentimeter: This is one of my favorite tech tools to incorporate! If you are familiar with PollEverywhere, then you will find Mentimeter to be just as user friendly to customize. Its features will allow you to activate prior knowledge, poll to get a quick snapshot of the current mood about your topic, or provide participants a chance to rank information as it applies to their reality.
- Padlet: Outside of the traditional use (making comments about the given topic), Padlet is a great tech tool for providing resources to explore during and after the workshop! You are able to link videos, articles, and visuals to support the content of your presentation. In many ways, it can become an interactive ‘smorgasbord’ offering a variety of materials in an organized manner.
The more time you devote to being intentional with the integration of ‘chunk and chew’ moments, the more the experience with you will feel like a workshop and less like a webinar.
Tip #2: PRACTICE
Everything you have finalized in Tip #1 must be put to the test, again from the lens of a participant. After working hard to incorporate tech tools, nothing is more discouraging than to have a participant unmute or type in the chat, “It says we need access.” or “The link doesn’t work.”
Ouch. It has happened to all of us. At that moment you own it and then quickly fix the problem to keep the focus on the content. To avoid those awkward moments, invite a friend, a colleague, or family members into a Zoom meeting and run-the-play with them as if you were facilitating the virtual workshop in real time.
Can they hear you? Can they hear the sound of the embedded video? Did the links work? Did everyone receive an invitation to a breakout room as planned? These are not the questions you want to have swirling around in your head while you’re facilitating!
Tip #3: LOGIN EARLY (or BE READY)
Logging in early is not for them. It’s for you. This is the time to make sure your device is fully charged or plugged in, to check your camera and sound, and organize all of your materials on the screen that you will share. But most importantly, you have an opportunity to be settled and composed before appearing on the screen! Participants can tell if you are ready or still getting ready when they enter the ‘Zoom room’. You want to make a great first impression.
Tip #4: TRANSFER YOUR ENERGY
You have a super power when facilitating professional development: your energy. Yes, even through a webcam energy is transferable! You must be cognizant of the fact that not everyone has embraced our current reality. Most people still associate professional development online with webinars. You have an incredible opportunity to reshape their perception simply by being personable as you welcome them into the learning community of your virtual workshop. Remember that what you have to offer will impact the lives of educators and students alike. Use that energy in your posture, intonation, interactions in the chat, and as I like to call it ‘breakout room hopping’. Especially with content such as Social Justice or Culturally Responsive Teaching, your energy can affirm for the participants that this is a safe space to share their truth and begin (or continue) the collaborative work ahead. Never underestimate the power of energy as a facilitator!
Tip #5: COACH
Regardless of your prior or even current position, facilitating a virtual workshop is synonymous with coaching because your presence is a supportive role. There is bound to be participants on each end of the spectrum in regards to content knowledge and technology know-how. For everyone to receive the most out of their experience, equitable attention will make the difference. Here are some strategies I use:
- Use the private feature of a chat room to check on a participant that may need more guidance or place him/her in a breakout room with another educator that has already shown competence that can assist while you are in another room answering questions.
- Providing visual supports, repeating steps, and placing the expectations in the chat are all proven strategies to assist participants during the workshop.
- Above all, be encouraging and provide resources for continued support to access after the workshop.
Every tip listed above is more than likely something that you have experienced before while preparing to teach your students, lead a staff meeting, or facilitate a workshop face-to-face. You have what it takes to apply them to the new situation of virtual instruction! Although you will need to adjust for each virtual workshop, the core of what constitutes facilitating successful teacher PD stems from preparation, practice, an affirming energy, and coaching the potential. All of these will frame the experience with intent, professionalism, and have the participants wanting more.
Watch the video below to get an inside look at BetterLesson's collaborative, interactive, actionable virtual PD services.
Taryn Givan is a transformational educator who is purposed to make a lasting impression in the educational system, especially for at-promise students. She currently works as an Educational Consultant and BetterLesson Coach.
BetterLesson supports teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators as they face the challenge of creating flexible, equitable, student-centered learning environments—whether learning happens in-school, online, or in a hybrid model. We offer 1:1 coaching and 2-hour Virtual Workshops on setting up your digital space, creating communication and feedback systems, building relationships online, and more.