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When it comes to professional development delivered online, educators may find they are in the driver's seat like never before. It can be a challenge if you're not used to it, but it can also have a wealth of advantages over face-to-face events when it comes to their professional growth. With this in mind, I want to share five tips I use to ensure I get the most out of every virtual professional development opportunity I engage in.
1. Determine your growth goals.
Understand your goals and make sure you know what you want to get out of the event. Do you want to dive deeper into a specific topic like online assessments or social emotional learning? Do you want to connect with people who have a similar job role to expand your professional learning network? Maybe it ’s both. But just make sure you attend with intention. So many people attend conferences on autopilot and waste valuable time and resources. Have a plan and work the plan!
2. Find your happy place.
Block your calendar and minimize distractions so you can engage in as many learning opportunities as possible. The fewer distractions you have, the easier it will be to chat with other attendees and engage presenters regarding their content to find new tips and tricks to put into practice right away.
3. Attend with empathy in mind.
Living through the pandemic has taught us all that not everything works out as planned. With this in mind, I encourage you to be patient with presenters when tech issues happen. Also, don't sit passively in sessions, but engage with the presenter and attendees. Ask questions and answer questions others may drop in the chat. This is a great way to add to everyone's collective experience in the session, and the connections that you create and nurture during a virtual experience become exponentially stronger when you do get the chance to meet in-person at another event.
4. Find resources early.
Locating session resources early can save you from having to take notes frantically. Presenters may provide resources in advance or during the session, but either way, don't wait to locate resources. At ISTELive 21, conference resources are listed in each session description and attendees can easily add them to their digital totes to review later. It is also essential to be respectful of copyrighted materials and not share resources beyond what has been allowed.
5. Create space and time for reflection.
Plan time to debrief with yourself or your team to identify the next steps based on what you learned in the session. Looking at ways to connect what you have learned to your situation is a great way to get maximal value from the time you spent in the session.
Debriefing with others is also an excellent way to increase your motivation and provide some accountability. If others from your school or district are attending the same event, plan your debrief in advance. It can be a 30-minute video call after each day of the event or a shared document where you take notes and discuss sessions.
I hope you find these tips useful on your journey, and thank you for letting me be your co-pilot on your professional development journey.
Al Thomas is senior project manager on ISTE's Learning and Partnerships Team. He's an educational leader with a passion for creativity and its opportunities for students. He has more than 18 years in education as a teacher, principal, district-level director and consultant. Currently, he consults with schools on building systems and staff capacity to transform teaching and leadership by using creativity, technology integration, and design thinking. Al is also the former president of the ISTE Educational Leadership PLN. Al is excited to be your copilot on your technology and creativity integration journey and would enjoy connecting with you at educopilot.com and on Instagram and Twitter (@educopilot).