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Where do we go from here?

As teaching has remained a remote/virtual/face-to-face experience, so has the delivery of professional development.  

Dr. Ursula Martin and Dr. Allyson Chappell share their views of how teaching, learning and professional development may look in P-12 school systems as we continue through the school year in 2021. 

As coronavirus continues to plague the US, many are concerned for the education system and how classrooms will look for the school year moving into 2021.  Communities have been concerned for the safety of the students, teachers, and staff that were returning to school buildings as COVID-19 has not seemed to be controlled, but they have also been concerned for the students' education. 

As the summer came to an end, in 2020, many school systems offered their plans for how they would return to the classroom to include hybrid models, virtual school, remote learning, and full return of students and teachers to the classroom with social distancing in place.

As every school system's plans differed, the size of the school system seemed to be what helped the decision making process in every state.  California is home to the two largest school systems in the US and their plan to return to school remotely was one that many others considered.  The largest school system in Alabama released their plan to push back the start date of school and upon return, school would be remote for the first quarter.  With schools entering into their second semester, what do plans look like moving forward, what happens next?  

Continue the chosen learning path

Alabama is one of many states that has coronavirus cases on the rise, so many school districts have had to make hard decisions.  When the last quarter of the previous school year took a quick turn to online learning, many were unprepared for how to deliver effective learning to the students.  In some districts, several learning platforms were used offering no consistency for the parents with multiple students in the school system.  Districts spent the summer preparing for the possibility that school would not be back to normal in the Fall.  Part of that preparation meant choosing one learning management system (LMS) to offer a remote/online alternative for their students. 

Many of Alabama’s school systems chose Schoology as their LMS platform for the 20-21 school year as the state purchased this platform as an option for all school systems.  This provided a much needed consistency for the teachers, students, and parents to be able to work together.  The goal was to make sure that all stakeholders had access to a single platform for everyone to have the same online experience.  As the first semester of the school year has ended, teachers, parents and students have all wondered what direction school districts would take as far as how the students would learn: in class, online, remote/virtual or a combination of the three. 

Several of the school systems in the state have elected to continue to offer both remote/virtual learning and face to face learning for their students due to continued rising COVID cases.  Others have opted to start with a hybrid approach where students go to school two days a week and continue virtual for the other two days with one day left open for cleaning of the schools and planning for teachers.

Offering both paths for learning means continuing with consistency, using the LMS that is already in place and offering support, for teachers, to assist with continuing effective use of the LMS.  Maintaining the use of the district LMS allows for a paperless classroom for the face to face students as a way to continue social distancing and not transferring papers in class.  This also keeps the virtual learning students “in the same place” as the face to face students as far as how the learning is taking place.  

Professional development for stakeholders

Providing support for the school/school system, administrators, teachers, students, and parents should be a continued effort to establish and maintain effective teaching and learning, communication, and collaboration with all involved in the learning process.  Establishing and maintaining effective use of the chosen LMS platform is one way to make sure that all stakeholders are connected and successful in what is required of them in the classroom. 

With this in mind, the decision for many school systems to continue offering both virtual and face-to-face learning means there must be continued offering of professional development to support the teachers and administrators in their efforts to meet the needs of their students. Scheduling professional development is important for making sure that teachers and administrators have the opportunity to learn or maintain an understanding of:

  1. how to access the platform
  2. how to navigate the platform
  3. how the learning platform works
  4. how to monitor the platform
  5. how to integrate video conferencing into the platform
  6. how to communicate, collaborate, and create within the platform

Training all involved in this learning transition, is of high importance for effective learning to take place.  This can be supported through online learning as well as virtual professional development sessions. Depending on the size of the system, the training may look different. One school system, in Alabama,  decided to complete a layered approach with staff and administrators. The local instructional technology team received the first level of training with the LMS provider. Next, each school was able to have their administrator and  a lead teacher attend training. This allowed for local schools to each have a support person for their staff. 

When the school based teacher leader was unable to support staff, the school contact would notify the central office instructional technology department. Smaller school systems could complete sufficient turn around training in their school buildings. The big question is how would a massive number of teachers be trained in an efficient and effective manner? To help with this, one district in Alabama required the central office staff, teachers, administrators and substitutes to complete an online course to learn how to use the LMS platform that was chosen for their school system.

This course allowed them to learn the basics of the LMS as well as experience the course as a student. Once the course was completed, teachers and staff  worked in a sandbox course to practice and apply learning. After practice time was given and questions were answered by the local support person, the district instructional technology department provided targeted virtual professional development sessions. Staff could select training tailored to their needs. This school district also offered online professional development much like the online programs that universities provide. 

student engagement

Teachers and administrators would enroll in a four week online professional development course on technology integration across the curriculum.  With courses for math, English Language Arts and also how to be a tech savvy teacher, participants in these courses would be able to work asynchronously to learn how to address the needs of their students with technology integration in the classrooms, specifically the use of the district adopted LMS.  


The virtual and online types of professional development would need to continue, as many of the school districts in the state have elected to continue offering virtual learning as well as face-to-face learning for their students moving into the second semester.  Offering professional development in this manner gives teachers a better insight into what their students are experiencing as virtual learners or as face-to-face learners with technology integrated in the classroom.  These methods of professional development delivery have given teachers and administrators the “aha” moments to be able to change how they address their virtual and face-to-face teaching.  


As we continue to travel uncharted waters, educators have to be flexible. Most teachers would love to be teaching either face-to-face or virtually, not both at the same time. To help allow for fluid transitions for students, many schools are requiring teachers to teach both virtually and face-to-face at the same time. This is being done with teachers having a virtual set up in their classrooms to accommodate the students that are at home, on a conference call, and the students that are in the physical classroom at the same time. 

Teaching this way allows elementary students to remain with their same teacher all year and secondary students to be able to follow their normal schedules as well. It is important to have the options for students to stay at home to learn or to return to the face-to-face classroom for multiple reasons. Students become comfortable with their teacher and teachers understand student needs to better be able to support them.  Also, students would not get lost in the shuffle as they may transition to and from the face-to-face classroom and the virtual learning environment. 

Although this teaching arrangement has been a challenge for teachers, it does make for a smooth transition when students are exposed to COVID and have to be out of the physical classroom. With COVID still rising even with vaccinations now available, the flexibility in how teachers teach also helps with the possibility that schools could  have to close their physical buildings again. 

Professional development will continue to look different also. As educators are completing online or virtual professional development, administrators are receiving necessary training as well.  Instructional leaders still need to be offered training too. Alabama’s largest school system began to offer blended Professional Learning Units (PLU). Participants complete virtual training as well as the addition of an online component. Moving forward administrators will be offered a fully online course. This will allow for ongoing collaboration and a flexible time frame for them to complete their assigned tasks at their own pace. Education might look different, but teachers and administrators are working harder than ever to continue to provide the best education possible to all students. 

Written by Dr. Ursula Martin and Dr. Allyson Chappell, Education World Contributing Writers

Dr. Ursula Martin has been an educator for 18 years.  She was previously a secondary teacher teaching Biology, Anatomy and Physiology, and Environmental Science.  During that time she also served as science department chair, SECME leader, SACS team leader, and HIgh Schools that Work team leader.  She is currently a district level instructional technology resource teacher and an adjunct instructor for online undergraduate students.

Dr. Allyson Chappell has been in education for 19 years. During that time, she has been an elementary teacher, math coach, technology support teacher and test coordinator. She is currently serving as a district technology resource teacher and adjunct professor for online graduate students.