Educator Practice

How to Build Community and Collaboration into Online PD

September 8, 2022
Teacher Professional Education
Online Learning
Social-Emotional Learning
Amy Rogen
Relay faculty

Relay offers a catalog of virtual professional education workshops for teachers. This blog is based on our experience of best practices.

When I was in the classroom, I don’t know that I would have survived my toughest days without my fellow teachers.

I leaned on their perspective when analyzing student work. We helped each other brainstorm ideas for how to motivate particular students, and relished each other’s company as we went through a shared experience.


Current research supports the idea that teacher community is important, specifically as it relates to professional development (PD) experiences. In one study, almost all teachers and leaders who were interviewed shared that one of the most important aspects of professional learning was having time to collaborate with each other.  Specifically, teachers wanted support from like-minded professionals with a range of expertise and capabilities. In another study, teachers reported that being able to depend on their colleagues for support allowed them to grow as teachers.


The need for community in teacher professional education is especially true in the online setting. In one study, participants shared that a major benefit of online teacher training was having a flexible platform to share information and engage in interactive learning with a community of practitioners. 

4 Ways to Foster Professional Learning Communities in Online PD

At Relay Teacher Professional Education, we design and facilitate workshops that provide a space for teachers to learn with their teams or with other colleagues across grades, content, or experience levels, thus strengthening their community. Here are 4 strategies we use to make that successful: 

1) Make Time for Community Building: I used to roll my eyes when it was time for another community builder during PD, however; I have come to learn just how important these moments are. We infuse community building into all of our sessions by beginning with an opening reflection, providing time for introductions before engaging in small group discussions, making clear connections to individual schools and classrooms, and validating participants’ knowledge and experiences.  

2) Give Explicit Directions: Just like children, adults need psychological safety in order to learn, or our brains shut down.  In our sessions, facilitators begin by establishing norms and provide explicit directions about what will happen in breakout rooms, during work time, and throughout other key moments in order to minimize anxiety and create a safe space for learning. 

3) Provide Choice for How to Engage: Providing meaningful choices is good for kids and it’s good for adult learners as well!  We offer choices in how to engage in our workshops with options like using the chat versus unmuting and sharing out whole-group. During practice, we also provide participants choice through offering options that capture the diversity of their teaching contexts. For example, we often offer case study options that span a range of grade and content areas.

4) Create Opportunities for Peer Collaboration: This one may seem obvious, but it is often missing when you think of traditional, webinar style online PD. Collaboration is the heart of building educator communities; without collaboration, you can’t grow together. In our workshops, we use a variety of strategies for peer collaboration including breakout rooms for small group discussions, whole group debriefs, the use of chat, and Collaborate Boards on Nearpod. 

When I am designing content for our professional education workshops, I am always brought back to my own experiences as a teacher. Just like I needed my community then, I know that other educators need the same now.  For teachers to learn and grow from each other, and truly develop as a community, they must be in a warm and productive space where that can happen.

Relay offers highly-interactive teacher professional education workshops, across topics such as fostering classroom culture and community, planning for instruction, using data, and understanding learner differences.
Learn more about our
workshop offerings here.

Amy Rogen

Amy is the Director of Content Development for Teacher Professional Education at Relay GSE, where she collaborates with the design team to develop and facilitate workshops for teachers across the country. Amy has significant experience in elementary and higher education, both teaching and coaching K-12 teachers. Her research interests include educational leadership, culturally responsive teaching, and teacher professional development.


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