Educator Practice

5 Reasons Why Virtual PD Works for Teachers

June 1, 2022
Teacher Professional Education
Zach Blattner
Relay faculty

While an increasing number of districts and teacher prep programs (see here and here) are moving to virtual PD, many educators wonder if it can be as effective as in person PD.  Over the last 5 years, Relay has served hundreds of schools and thousands of teachers in virtual settings, and we’ve seen that it's not inherently better or worse, just different - but there are some real advantages worth exploring. 

As a Relay faculty member and facilitator of virtual teacher professional education, I’ve experienced the following benefits first hand. Virtual PD can: 

  1. Remove geographic barriers. Virtual PD allows schools - no matter if they are rural or urban - access to the best facilitators and most aligned content available at a far more reasonable cost. No need to pay for expenses like travel and hotel. No matter where your school is, you can have experts join to work directly with your teachers.
  2. Maximize time. If you are a district leader, you can save teachers from having to travel to a communal site - something that wastes valuable PD time and often frustrates educators, especially when it takes them farther from their home or leads to additional traffic.
  3. Provide a taste of remote life. Speaking of teacher happiness, you can schedule a virtual training during a full PD day and allow teachers to join from the comfort of their homes for one morning. That might sound like a small convenience but it’s a nice chance to let them experience a remote benefit that is mostly elusive in the profession.
  4. Allow for intentional, dynamic groupings. Virtual PD allows the facilitator to create more dynamic, flexible groupings for participants to get the most out of working with their colleagues. For example, they can group participants by content area or grade level, and switch the groups easily for a quick partner discussion without needing folks to move around a physical room. A facilitator can also more easily listen in to a range of conversations by jumping between smaller breakout rooms and bring key ideas back to the whole group for meaningful discussion. Plus, the virtual space allows administrators to just as easily join breakout groups to hear more focused conversations that they can then use to shape implementation.
  5. Support different learning styles. Whereas traditional in-person PD often relies primarily on verbal participation, participants in online PD can share whole group, discuss in small groups, use the chat and also engage in polls, discussion boards, matching exercises, annotation opportunities and more, depending on the platform (we like Nearpod!). The range of options allows all types of adult learners to participate in different ways while ensuring the facilitator can better interact with all present. 

There is an energy and magic to a great in-person training - I’ve led many and nothing feels better than watching a group engage productively and learn collaboratively while I circulate the room to listen. When facilitated well, virtual adult learning - and particularly learning for teachers - offers the same opportunity for engagement, collaboration, reflection and action steps, with some of the added benefits I’ve discussed above. At Relay Teacher Professional Education, we specialize in crafting virtual workshops that are highly interactive and provide teachers with actionable, equity centered strategies to support the academic and emotional well-being of their students.

Zach Blattner

Zach Blattner is a Senior Director of Teacher Professional Education, where he helps lead sessions, work with partners and train facilitators. Prior to Relay, Zach served as an Assistant Principal in Southwest Philadelphia, helping lead his school to increased achievement results each year. Zach’s interests are in adult facilitation, secondary ELA, and virtual learning.