Professional Development For Online Teachers (Who Are Already Busy)

Online Teachers With No Time: 10 Professional Development Ideas

Online teachers often work with large classes or coordinate multiple papers; there’s a lot to get through in a workday so there’s often not a lot of time left for professional development. It’s not always viable to take a week off to travel to a conference to present your research. Or, to sit down and write a 3,000–6,000 word original research paper in the first place. For many of us, the more time-intensive professional development activities have to take place over the long summer break or during sabbaticals. The opportunity to take proper time out for extensive professional development could be months (or even years) away.

What can you do in the meantime to stay current, and to demonstrate that you’re regularly working on keeping your skills and knowledge highly polished? Try some of these quick but effective professional development ideas that involve a much smaller time commitment.

10 Professional Development Ideas For Online Teachers Who Are Really Busy

1. Meet With A Colleague To Share Best Practices And Lessons Learned

If you’re office-based, schedule a meeting with a colleague who teaches in the same areas as you. And if you work from a home office, set up a Zoom meeting instead. Make sure you both prepare a set of talking points to keep the discussion on track.

For example:

  • The biggest challenges of the last few months and how you overcame them.
  • A useful new tool you’ve started using.
  • An effective method for working smarter.
  • Ways of using your LMS more efficiently or troubleshooting recurring issues.

2. Use Social Media Strategically

There’s a lot more to social media than millennials dancing on TikTok. Social media, like Twitter/X and LinkedIn, are platforms well suited to educators who want to stay up-to-date with developments in their field. Search and follow people you either know or have heard of who are doing interesting work. It might be someone you met last year at a conference, someone whose latest article really made you think, or someone who’s inspired you in the past.

It’s quick and easy to scroll through your home page feed over a coffee break. You can discover relevant links to resources and become part of conversations that could benefit your practice. This is not only a more efficient way to stay current. It also expands your network at the same time—especially if you make useful contributions to the conversation yourself.

3. Don’t Forget Social Media Groups

For many people, Facebook is an informal platform for updating friends and relatives about their lives. But there are also Facebook groups that focus on a wide range of useful topics. Just do a Facebook search for your topic of interest, and then use the Groups filter to narrow it down. LinkedIn also has a group feature, meaning you can join a community of like-minded people from all over the world. Again, search your discipline area in the main search box, and then choose the Groups tab under the search function. With this technique, your professional network expands as you stay up-to-date with best practices in minutes instead of months.

4. Upskill—But With Laser Focus

Have you been wanting to improve your skills in teaching using Zoom or mastering a particular digital tool? Need some tips on developing effective course materials or engaging students more easily? There are a range of online courses that cover specific skills, and many of them are free. Simply choose the topic that’s most urgent for you to improve so that you won’t get overwhelmed by working on too much at once.

5. Check Your Organization’s Online Courses For Staff

Many organizations have self-guided short courses available on their intranets or a private link on the LMS. These often relate to getting more out of the LMS and making sure you’re using all the relevant helpful features. There might also be a refresher on organizational policies and procedures (you may not get edge-of-your-seat thrills, but these are potentially very useful—especially if you can download a checklist or key point summary for when you inevitably need it during the teaching year).

6. Virtual Conferences

If you don’t have time to take a week out of your busy schedule to get on a plane and present a paper at a conference, why not consider the alternative? A large virtual conference will often host a range of different events—from the traditional, full-length papers, to much shorter “work-in-progress” papers. You could either work up a presentation for a 10 or 15-minute slot, or simply attend online, and get the opportunity to learn something new.

7. Listen To A TED Talk

Professionals from many areas are recording TED Talks to inspire and inform people with their expertise. You can search for a particular skill or topic you want to learn more about that could combine personal development and your professional practice.

For example:

  • Motivation strategies (for you and your students).
  • Time management methods you may not have tried.
  • Working with neurodiverse students, etc.

TED offers many options for accessing these inspirational lectures.

8. Complete An Online Tutorial About A Technological Tool

Many online teachers use a range of technology every day. The technology changes often, with upgrades and new tools being introduced. If you’ve been frustrated by your basic understanding of a tool you use every day, why not take an hour to visit the home page of the software company that designed it? They’re sure to have online self-directed tutorials that walk you through the easiest and most efficient way to use the tool. Twenty minutes spent doing an online tutorial like this (while you take a coffee break) could save you hours over the coming semester.

9. Organize A Skill Exchange

Do you have a colleague or friend who’s a whiz at a skill you really struggle with? Could they spend an hour with you to privately tutor you in this skill? And could you do the same for them in an area you’re confident in? This is a great informal way to upskill each other without pressure. And if these sessions are tailored to both your individual needs, they’ll be laser-focused and a sound use of your time.

10. Start A Self-Reflective Practice

Regular journaling can be surprisingly helpful for online teachers. You may not have time to do it every day, but creating a new habit of debriefing for 15 minutes at the end of the week can be useful. Set up a new Word document, or curl up in a chair with a good old-fashioned blank journal. You could make note of lessons learned, challenges that emerged and how you faced them, and ideas for the future. This is a private document, so you don’t need to self-censor or worry about being judged.

At the end of the year, you’ll be able to read back over your journal entries and discover patterns and improvements you might otherwise have missed if you didn’t write them down. You also have a ready list of your achievements when it comes time for a performance review. You just have to write them up for a more public audience.

It Doesn’t Have To Take A Huge Chunk Of Time

Professional development is so beneficial for online teachers. The simple but effective techniques discussed here can do three things for you. They can:

  1. Increase your skills in practical ways.
  2. Empower you to take control of the areas you want to address.
  3. Demonstrate your commitment to improving your practice.

…And all without a massive investment of time you simply don’t have.

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