Virtual Schools, A 21st Century Strategy for Teacher Professional Development

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Education is at the forefront of our national agenda. It was cited as the number one concern in the recent presidential election, and the national media constantly reports on education. States are focused on developing standards for student achievement, and the corporate community is forming strategic alliances with schools and districts and making philanthropic investments in education. Student scores on state and national achievement tests are constantly under the microscope of the media, business, lawmakers and the community at large.

In spite of our strong national focus on education, our schools are faced with a critical teacher shortage. According to a 2000 study by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), as many as 2.7 million additional teachers are needed over the next decade to support our rapidly growing public and secondary school enrollment, and to replace retiring teachers. Many schools, especially those in rural communities, are struggling to recruit and retain qualified teachers.

Growing up in a family of educators, I saw firsthand the deep commitment of K-12 teachers, often grading papers long into the evening and devoting personal time to learning new teaching strategies and skills. Today’s constantly evolving educational environment and the integration of technology into schools present even more challenges for these dedicated professionals. And with the widespread adoption of new state and national achievement standards, educators have more and more demands placed on their time.

Teachers need professional development workshops that will help them stay up-to-date and meet their individual learning needs without requiring a lot of time away from their classrooms and students. E-learning, virtual schools and interactive online education supplement traditional classroom offerings and provide unique benefits. Schools and districts can reach teachers with professional development that meets the needs of the education community and can be customized to address state, district and school requirements.

The Teacher Professional Development Challenge

The education community recognizes that in order to meet the changing demands of their jobs, high-quality teachers must be willing to continuously learn and relearn. The National Staff Development Council (NSDC), a nonprofit association, believes that for children to learn more, their teachers must continually be learning more. According to NSDC, “as we raise our expectations for our children, we are also expecting teachers to learn more and do more.”

However, a 1999 NCES study, Teacher Quality: A Report on the Preparation and Qualifications of Public School Teachers, reports that fewer than half of American teachers feel very well prepared to meet the challenges they are facing in today’s classroom. In fact, in spite of more than $6 billion invested nationally in education technology, almost two-thirds of all teachers report that they do not feel prepared to teach with technology. While 49 states have adopted content standards and 48 have assessments developed to measure student achievement, the NCES study revealed that only 28 percent of teachers felt “very well prepared” to use student performance assessment techniques. Less than 40 percent reported feeling “very well prepared” to implement state or district curriculum and performance standards.

Professional Development as Part of a Virtual School

Virtual schools are in a particularly advantageous position to help states and school districts offer their teachers access to high quality professional development opportunities, both on the use of technology in teaching and on other core instructional topics. Online workshops address many of the professional development challenges teachers face.

Teachers can work on courses during a prep period or anytime they have access to an Internet connection. This cuts down on the amount of time spent on preparing courses out of the classroom and relieves administrators of having to schedule substitute teachers. Interestingly, virtual school learning opportunities also decrease teacher isolation. Many teachers spend their days with their students in the classroom and have little contact with their peers throughout the school. When they participate in an online professional development workshop, they can connect, collaborate and learn from colleagues at their own school and at schools around the country.

What is particularly compelling about virtual school professional development is that states, schools and districts have the opportunity to customize offerings to meet their specific needs. For example, if a state is introducing new math standards, an online professional development course can be developed to help teachers create strategies for integrating the standards into instruction, using those specific standards as the foundation.

On the other hand, teachers who have access to professional development in a virtual school environment can choose courses that meet their specific training needs. A school district with a virtual school can offer access to a workshop on an as-needed basis to a teacher who needs to update a specific teaching skill, such as classroom management strategies. This can be done at a much lower cost than developing and implementing a district-wide program that might not be appropriate for all teachers.

When Apex Learning launched its complete virtual school solution, including infrastructure, online courses and support services, we knew that professional development for teachers was an important part of the package. That is why we launched our online teacher professional workshops in November 2000. Today, as part of its complete virtual school offerings, Apex Learning works with its state and school district customers to offer online professional development workshops that meet their local needs on topics ranging from standards and assessment and teaching advanced placement to integrating technology into classroom instruction.

Built on the same interactive foundation as Apex Learning’s student offerings, these courses are available to teachers any time, anywhere. An online instructor experienced in professional development leads every workshop. In addition, states and school districts can choose to offer teachers continuing education units (CEUs) for participating in these courses, or academic credit from an Apex Learning college or university partner, such as Seattle Pacific University.

The Challenge & Opportunity of Virtual Teacher Professional Development

When schools and districts implement professional development as part of a virtual school solution, or any online professional development for teachers, they face the same challenges as with traditional offerings, along with some unique ones. Ensuring high quality teaching is as important when workshops are delivered online as it is in a traditional professional development setting. Teachers also bring the same wide variety of learning styles and experiences to online offerings. Engaging teachers in learning opportunities and keeping them motivated are challenges regardless of the delivery method. With online professional development, teachers may initially be resistant to the new delivery method, fearing that they won’t have the skills to succeed using the technology.

Apex Learning creates online professional development offerings with these challenges in mind. To tackle any resistance to the technology, Apex Learning offers a number of resources to make the workshops easy to use. A support team of specialists is always available to answer any technical questions. Online instructors are available to respond to questions about the curriculum and to provide personal feedback to help ensure every participant’s success. Teachers learn from each other through online group discussions, and assignments provide hands-on experience and an opportunity for participants to share their own classroom experiences with the instructor.

Conclusion

High quality teachers who have access to ongoing opportunities to build the skills they need to succeed in today’s changing educational environment are the key to reaping the benefits of our investment in education. Without teachers who feel prepared to teach using the computers that are in nearly every U.S. classroom, or to integrate new standards into instruction, these school improvement efforts will not succeed. Just as virtual schools are supplementing, not replacing, traditional brick-and-mortar classroom offerings for students, virtual school professional development offerings must supplement other opportunities for teachers. As states, schools and districts explore virtual schools as a way to offer our nation’s more than 50 million K-12 students expanded educational choices, it is critical that teachers also have access to innovative, customized learning opportunities.

Contact InformationApex Learning
Bellevue, Wash.
(800) 453-1454
www.apexlearning.com

Education is at the forefront of our national agenda. It was cited as the number one concern in the recent presidential election, and the national media constantly reports on education. States are focused on developing standards for student achievement, and the corporate community is forming strategic alliances with schools and districts and making philanthropic investments in education. Student scores on state and national achievement tests are constantly under the microscope of the media, business, lawmakers and the community at large.

In spite of our strong national focus on education, our schools are faced with a critical teacher shortage. According to a 2000 study by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), as many as 2.7 million additional teachers are needed over the next decade to support our rapidly growing public and secondary school enrollment, and to replace retiring teachers. Many schools, especially those in rural communities, are struggling to recruit and retain qualified teachers.

Growing up in a family of educators, I saw firsthand the deep commitment of K-12 teachers, often grading papers long into the evening and devoting personal time to learning new teaching strategies and skills. Today’s constantly evolving educational environment and the integration of technology into schools present even more challenges for these dedicated professionals. And with the widespread adoption of new state and national achievement standards, educators have more and more demands placed on their time.

Teachers need professional development workshops that will help them stay up-to-date and meet their individual learning needs without requiring a lot of time away from their classrooms and students. E-learning, virtual schools and interactive online education supplement traditional classroom offerings and provide unique benefits. Schools and districts can reach teachers with professional development that meets the needs of the education community and can be customized to address state, district and school requirements.

X@XOpenTag000The Teacher Professional Development Challenge

X@XCloseTag000The education community recognizes that in order to meet the changing demands of their jobs, high-quality teachers must be willing to continuously learn and relearn. The National Staff Development Council (NSDC), a nonprofit association, believes that for children to learn more, their teachers must continually be learning more. According to NSDC, “as we raise our expectations for our children, we are also expecting teachers to learn more and do more.”

However, a 1999 NCES study, Teacher Quality: A Report on the Preparation and Qualifications of Public School Teachers, reports that fewer than half of American teachers feel very well prepared to meet the challenges they are facing in today’s classroom. In fact, in spite of more than $6 billion invested nationally in education technology, almost two-thirds of all teachers report that they do not feel prepared to teach with technology. While 49 states have adopted content standards and 48 have assessments developed to measure student achievement, the NCES study revealed that only 28 percent of teachers felt “very well prepared” to use student performance assessment techniques. Less than 40 percent reported feeling “very well prepared” to implement state or district curriculum and performance standards.

X@XOpenTag001Professional Development as Part of a Virtual School

X@XCloseTag001Virtual schools are in a particularly advantageous position to help states and school districts offer their teachers access to high quality professional development opportunities, both on the use of technology in teaching and on other core instructional topics. Online workshops address many of the professional development challenges teachers face.

Teachers can work on courses during a prep period or anytime they have access to an Internet connection. This cuts down on the amount of time spent on preparing courses out of the classroom and relieves administrators of having to schedule substitute teachers. Interestingly, virtual school learning opportunities also decrease teacher isolation. Many teachers spend their days with their students in the classroom and have little contact with their peers throughout the school. When they participate in an online professional development workshop, they can connect, collaborate and learn from colleagues at their own school and at schools around the country.

What is particularly compelling about virtual school professional development is that states, schools and districts have the opportunity to customize offerings to meet their specific needs. For example, if a state is introducing new math standards, an online professional development course can be developed to help teachers create strategies for integrating the standards into instruction, using those specific standards as the foundation.

On the other hand, teachers who have access to professional development in a virtual school environment can choose courses that meet their specific training needs. A school district with a virtual school can offer access to a workshop on an as-needed basis to a teacher who needs to update a specific teaching skill, such as classroom management strategies. This can be done at a much lower cost than developing and implementing a district-wide program that might not be appropriate for all teachers.

When Apex Learning launched its complete virtual school solution, including infrastructure, online courses and support services, we knew that professional development for teachers was an important part of the package. That is why we launched our online teacher professional workshops in November 2000. Today, as part of its complete virtual school offerings, Apex Learning works with its state and school district customers to offer online professional development workshops that meet their local needs on topics ranging from standards and assessment and teaching advanced placement to integrating technology into classroom instruction.

Built on the same interactive foundation as Apex Learning’s student offerings, these courses are available to teachers any time, anywhere. An online instructor experienced in professional development leads every workshop. In addition, states and school districts can choose to offer teachers continuing education units (CEUs) for participating in these courses, or academic credit from an Apex Learning college or university partner, such as Seattle Pacific University.

X@XOpenTag002The Challenge & Opportunity of Virtual Teacher Professional Development

X@XCloseTag002When schools and districts implement professional development as part of a virtual school solution, or any online professional development for teachers, they face the same challenges as with traditional offerings, along with some unique ones. Ensuring high quality teaching is as important when workshops are delivered online as it is in a traditional professional development setting. Teachers also bring the same wide variety of learning styles and experiences to online offerings. Engaging teachers in learning opportunities and keeping them motivated are challenges regardless of the delivery method. With online professional development, teachers may initially be resistant to the new delivery method, fearing that they won’t have the skills to succeed using the technology.

Apex Learning creates online professional development offerings with these challenges in mind. To tackle any resistance to the technology, Apex Learning offers a number of resources to make the workshops easy to use. A support team of specialists is always available to answer any technical questions. Online instructors are available to respond to questions about the curriculum and to provide personal feedback to help ensure every participant’s success. Teachers learn from each other through online group discussions, and assignments provide hands-on experience and an opportunity for participants to share their own classroom experiences with the instructor.

X@XOpenTag003Conclusion

X@XCloseTag003High quality teachers who have access to ongoing opportunities to build the skills they need to succeed in today’s changing educational environment are the key to reaping the benefits of our investment in education. Without teachers who feel prepared to teach using the computers that are in nearly every U.S. classroom, or to integrate new standards into instruction, these school improvement efforts will not succeed. Just as virtual schools are supplementing, not replacing, traditional brick-and-mortar classroom offerings for students, virtual school professional development offerings must supplement other opportunities for teachers. As states, schools and districts explore virtual schools as a way to offer our nation’s more than 50 million K-12 students expanded educational choices, it is critical that teachers also have access to innovative, customized learning opportunities.

X@XOpenTag004Contact InformationX@XCloseTag004Apex Learning
Bellevue, Wash.
(800) 453-1454
www.apexlearning.com

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.

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