Starting Remotely 2: PD, Support Teams, and a Course Database


August 23, 2020 by Dr. Robbie Barber

A week before teachers came back to work (who had 8 days before students), my AP asked myself and another teacher what sort of specific professional development (PD) we would want teachers to have. I had been wondering that myself. I hit reply immediately and typed:

“Specific PD (off the top of my head – there will be more!):

  • Setting up / using Google Classrooms (or itsLearning)
  • Creating a Detailed Roadmap – Rewriting the Traditional Syllabus (see my blog)
  • How to Have Online Discussions – Asynchronously
  • Ideas for Gamifying Your Classroom
  • Digital Citizenship (this probably should be first)
  • Online Resources – where, what, who to ask
  • Using JamBoard (or another whiteboard online)
  • Teaching students how to access their Outlook email (because most don’t know)
  • EdPuzzle (a program to help you access videos, and stop in the middle and quiz as it plays)

Separately, you need to be sure everyone knows who to go to for help, outside of IT.

The response was to gather my team and plan for it. We did need a team. I’m the teacher-librarian. My colleague and friend is a math teacher. We conscripted another talented teacher who happened to be a social studies teacher. She suggested a fourth conscriptee, a World Languages teacher, and our team was created. The team met on Thursday before preplanning week to hash out the specifics. We were given two two-hour periods during preplanning week. Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, for a two hour window, we needed provide teachers training on technology they needed for online learning.

For the full week of preplanning, there were meetings upon meetings (virtually). The faculty meeting kicked off the welcome back on Monday and I nosed my way in to the last 10 minutes to show teachers how to access Google Classroom through their school account and not their personal account. This was important because for many of the teachers, that afternoon was their first opportunity to set up their online classrooms. And, we were concerned that many, many teachers would have trouble knowing if they were in their personal account or their district account. Our teachers were given a choice of doing their virtual classroom in itsLearning (the county-supported LMS) or Google Classroom (the county-approved LMS). We understood that the people get very confused between their district account and their personal ones. What I showed the teachers on Monday was repeated Tuesday and Wednesday. We don’t assume our students get it the first time they see something, so why would we assume our teachers do? Repetition is an important part of training. So is keeping their attention.

The team practiced, narrowed down the list to key items, and discussed practicalities. While one was sharing her screen, another was monitoring the chat and raised hands. We discussed how to table questions that were off subject, how to move between ourselves, and the timing. We had a two hour block and our goal was to be done in under an hour. That way, we could help those with extra questions and make everyone feel good for getting “extra time” because we ended early. [Project management pro tip: Begin every meeting on time and end early. When this becomes part of the culture, there’s a shift in interest, expectations, and anticipation for the meetings.]

Tuesday’s list (this agenda was included in the meeting notice):

  • Digital citizenship and Fair Use;
  • Google Classroom Tour;
  • New Syllabus Example;
  • Introductions in an Online Class (using Flipgrid); and
  • Introduction to Forms in both Microsoft and Google.

Questions that were tabled til the end included creating Google slides as view-only, Google Voice accounts, taking attendance online, adding images in Google Classroom, and using Polly in MS Teams. (I had dropped Pollys into the chat to engage with the audience and show – not tell! – how to use polling software in class.) We took 45 minutes to share all of the material. We took 20 minutes to answer questions, with the help of other teachers on the call who jumped in to offer advice, and we closed the meeting. Here’s one thing I didn’t anticipate. After the meeting was over, I was asked to write an email with all resources and handouts and videos to all of the things we had talked about including the link to the recorded session. Everyone on the team sent me their links and handouts they had (or made or found) and we shared later that same day.

We had a list for Wednesday, that we modified Tuesday afternoon when we discussed issues that came up. Wednesday’s list included:

  • Filling out the form for a course database (we needed teachers to tell us where they were teaching);
  • Adding Students to Google Classroom;
  • Creating Topics and Assignments in Google Classroom (including copying to other classrooms);
  • Using Discussion Questions including what are effective questions, and rubrics to reinforce using good questions;
  • Where to Place Your Meeting Links for Students to Know; and
  • How to Use Your Phone as a Document Camera (better to show live then just send all the steps so they knew how long it took to set up and what it looked like from the student perspective).

This took slightly longer and we still finished 20 minutes early. Now for the hard part. We had to create teams of people to help other teachers. You do not have to be an expert in everything, you just may know something very well. I asked all my teachers to fill out a form and posted to help teachers know who to turn to.

Database of Teachers to Help

This was just a start because not everyone was willing to fill out a form. That’s okay. We learn as we go along. If I got a question about software I don’t know well, I would reply and grab someone who does know it and say that. “I don’t know but this person may help. If they can’t or don’t have time, let me know and I’ll find someone who can.” In a lot of ways, this is a quintessential librarian function – to provide resources.

Last, how do we (or the admin or the students) find our classes online? Another form (first item on Wednesday) had all of the teachers enter their class name, Google Classroom code or the word VERGE (for itsLearning program), and the classroom meeting links.

Course Database

We cannot possibly address everything teachers need to know in a couple of short sessions. But, we knew that any keeping attention is hard in person, and much, much harder online. We tried to model what we taught and provide examples for review.

The next challenge is how to help teachers, parents, and students – without losing your cool – as they each navigate their way through this process. Also known as, the care and feeding of your social emotional health – no matter where you are in the process. Thanks to @Ms_Algebruhhh, @lauramichelleby, & Ms. Sellers who are my star teammates! Every single day, thank someone for the help they gave you. It isn’t hard to find someone. Take the moment to acknowledge the other person – it makes both of you feel good.

One thought on “Starting Remotely 2: PD, Support Teams, and a Course Database

  1. […] Don’t worry – I didn’t lecture at teachers online for two hours (shudder). Instead, we got a team together and taught with strict timing and extra support.  Interesting side effect was that our IT support […]


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