Professional development requirements and new ways of creating professional development for teachers are constantly changing. Educators not only have to make their own professional development a priority but also put student development and learning first. Finding the time and money to attend professional development events is an added task onto already busy workdays and weeks, so finding opportunities for free professional development for teachers is crucial. In our most recent Tackling Tech Podcast episode, we sat down with Stephanie Howell, IT Coordinator at Pickerington School District, to find out how her district is creating free professional development for teachers with the unconference model.

Blended learning is new territory for a lot of K-12 school districts across the country. Inevitably teachers and students are all at different levels of comfort with blended learning and technology integration. Stephanie believes that the future of increased student improvement and engagement is fueled by the idea that teachers need to develop strong skills for collaboration and talking with others, and this is of the utmost importance now with remote learning and blended learning environments. 

In order to get teachers accustomed to collaboration and using technology effectively, it is important to provide opportunities for free professional development for teachers. One suggestion Stephanie had for creating free professional development was through the “unconference” model.

In today’s day and age, education is no longer about the teacher standing in front of a class and lecturing but it is about teachers demonstrating how to actively participate and get their students engaged in the material in more creative ways. One way to learn these skills and tactics is through opportunities for free professional development for teachers.

The Importance of Free Professional Development for Teachers

Professional development opportunities should be widely available and affordable for teachers, as it is a requirement for most. Like anyone, educators already have a substantial amount on their plates, some even have the burden of dipping into their own personal funds for supplies for their classroom and students.

Since professional development is continuous and teachers have many other priorities, it is so important to provide teachers with opportunities to maintain and grow their professional development without heavily infringing on their time and money. This way teachers are not worried about fulfilling the requirement and are able to take away equitable information and new skills by putting forth their full attention. 

Like Stephanie, create new ways for your teachers to gain new skills and build stronger relationships by providing free professional development opportunities at your school.

What is an Unconference?

The unconference model is a popular and unconventional model used throughout K-12 education for free professional development. Stephanie’s district has used the unconference model to create a unique space for learning and collaboration for their school community and to also provide free professional development for teachers.

According to Tech Target, “An unconference is a conference organized, structured and led by the people attending it. Instead of passive listening, all attendees and organizers are encouraged to become participants, with discussion leaders providing moderation and structure for attendees.” In other words, an unconference is a model replacing traditional conferences that encourage teamwork, collaboration, and active participation. 

Stephanie explained that through this unconference model, teachers are able to collaborate and share what practices they are using in their classroom to increase students’ achievement, engagement, and accomplishments. No agenda, no schedule. That is the premise of the unconference model. 

How is Pickerington School District using the Unconference Model for Free Professional Development?

Using the unconference model to provide free professional development for teachers takes some preparation, planning, and organization. At the beginning of the unconference, teachers are given a form to fill out over topics they would like to discuss during the conference period. For the next 2 hours teachers then discuss the topics they chose, receiving feedback, recommendations, and collaborative ideas from their colleagues. 

The discussion is naturally flowing and informative with no real overall structure. This gives the teachers the opportunity to collaborate, discuss important topics, have their voice heard, give feedback and input to colleagues, talk about the struggles they are having in the classroom, and practice problem-solving. 

With the various perspectives given, teachers are able to build a stronger community and grow their PLN while also learning about the best ways to create positive environments in their classrooms and create impactful learning environments for their students.

Stephanie emphasizes the benefits behind free professional development for teachers and how well the unconference model is working at her school. Give your students and staff the best educational experience by providing them with the resources they need to grow academically and personally. Create ways for free professional development for teachers and cater to the needs of your staff for overall success.

Listen to the full conversation with Stephanie Howell on our Tackling Tech Podcast!

On this episode of Tackling Tech Podcast Stephanie Howell, the IT coordinator for Pickerington School District in Ohio shares her experience training teachers during remote learning. Her district has 21 models of what next year could look like and is preparing this summer for all possibilities. Stephanie turned to her international Personal Learning Network for guidance when COVID derailed the school year.

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