Technology gets an A+ when it comes to bringing remote educators and their on-campus peers together. But, as leaders at Southern California’s Orange Lutheran High School (OLu) know all too well, that’s not enough to build community.
For two decades, OLu has been offering a flexible approach to education. Students can choose to take courses on campus or online, or do a combination of both. The online courses are asynchronous, allowing remote educators to teach from anywhere in the country and for students to learn at their own pace.
But, without any real connection to their peers or to the school, OLu’s online educators were feeling disconnected and alone. What they needed were opportunities to gain experience and grow as part of a community. We sat down with Dr. Joy Karavedas, senior director of research and new program development at OLu, who told us in her own words how she is solving this issue with community-building strategies.
Discovering the Desire to Connect
OLu employs educators located all over the United States to teach asynchronous online courses. When I joined OLu, it was my role, in part, to help our online programming grow and develop. But, in speaking with our online educators, I quickly learned that they were feeling dissatisfied, and it was due to a lack of community.
They were feeling disconnected and alone. When you teach from your home office or kitchen table, it’s easy to feel like you’re on an island. Orange Lutheran has a vibrant on-campus community, and these educators craved opportunities to become a part of that community and to engage professionally, and socially with fellow OLu teachers. Creating those opportunities for our online instructional community has been my focus ever since.
How Professional Development Builds Community and Improves Job Satisfaction
The teacher shortage is being felt all over the U.S. Teachers are tired. They’re burnt out and leaving the profession.
As I understand it, these are the top five contributing reasons: Student management is more challenging than ever, teachers feel underappreciated, are under supported, lack autonomy and are overworked. Outside of student management, each of these challenges can be addressed through quality professional development, or PD. When teachers receive high-level training as a group, it reinforces that they are not alone in experiencing these challenges. I think community is created out of working together toward a common goal, like addressing these challenges.
Creating Impactful PD Using the Three E’s
The three E’s you should consider while designing PD are equip, empower, engage.
The first is to equip. By not teaching educators about the school’s approach to education, you do them a disservice. With PD regarding the school’s approach to students’ educational experience and leadership expectations connected to it, you’ll set teachers up on solid footing.
Next, empower. Empowering teachers to make decisions will lead to a feeling of autonomy. Consider making available a decision tree matrix that outlines what kinds of decisions they can make on their own, and what they should run up the chain of command.
Finally, engagement. This “E” is a little different since it doesn’t necessarily have to be solely about PD—it can be, and often is, social. For example, when we meet—whether on campus or on video chat—we make sure to celebrate individual milestones, like anniversaries or birthdays, as well as professional accomplishments, like promotions. Everyone likes a shout-out.
Serve Up a Buffet of Opportunity and Don’t Skimp on Variety
Provide lots of engagement opportunities and keep PD fresh with loads of variety.
Offer chances to meet online with video conferencing, suggest in-person-only campus opportunities, or create hybrid events where teachers can attend in person or online—get creative. As for PD, offer a mix of webinars and lunch-and-learns, invite outside guest experts to chime in on a hot topic, or engage in Q&As. Remember, your teachers bring a wealth of expertise—lean on them to share their knowledge and skills. To keep things interesting, our OLu on-campus teachers occasionally meet with the teaching staff at a nearby school for PD.
How an Online Forum Can Keep the Conversation Going
We also offer the opportunity to connect outside of a scheduled engagement time. We use an online chat forum called The Instructor Hub to keep connected. The forum supports both intentional and organic communication in real time, and we can all see the conversation as it unfolds. We use it to check in, chat and ask questions, sometimes of a professional nature, and other times of a more personal nature, like, “Who’s got plans for this summer?”
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Content Marketing Specialist
Melinda Wilson is a Content Marketing Specialist at D2L. She brings extensive experience developing, writing, and producing compelling stories for digital and broadcast media.
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