Three years ago, the school I work at started to experiment with in-house training for teachers. We decided that we would like to try different approaches: lesson observations followed by guided feedback sessions and school seminars, as well as study groups focused on a specific topic led by experienced coworkers.
Together with my colleague Anastasia Svirina, a geography teacher, I decided to run a study group aimed at enhancing teachers’ skill sets. Our objective was to provide the educators at our school with opportunities to learn about different teaching strategies and to try out new pedagogical tools in their classroom.
We knew, however, that the teachers were not likely to set aside any additional time for this course. And it would be a challenge to keep the teachers engaged throughout the school year. With this in mind, we decided to make the course as practice-oriented as possible and to turn to microlearning—the process of breaking information into bite-sized, usable chunks—while creating our materials. We chose to conduct the course in a group chat on a messaging platform called Telegram, which we had already used for work-related communication at our school.
At the beginning of the school year, we announced our messenger-based course and immediately received an encouraging response; 40 teachers of different subjects, primary to secondary school, signed up.
Community-building is essential when launching a new educational program, so we started by getting to know each other in our group chat. Because we would be trying different educational tools throughout the year, we suggested that our colleagues share one thing they had tried in their lives and enjoyed, along with one thing they had disliked after trying. This was a lighthearted introduction that allowed us to learn about each other while staying somewhat on message.
We also provided a timeline so that participants could see the planned topics and schedule in advance.
Trying New Tools
We created a special learning routine for our participants. Every month, we picked a topic and wrote a microlearning text describing three to five evidence-based teaching tools. Each text ended with a call to action: Over the course of two weeks, we encouraged participants to choose one new tool to try using in their lessons.
We asked colleagues to share their thoughts in our group chat with photos and materials from their implementation. Group members could leave comments and get inspired. We also agreed that it was OK to not like—or to have an unsuccessful experience with—a tool. And that attitude helped release tension surrounding risk of failure.
For a short text about lesson hooks, for example, we asked teachers to bring an object to class or start the lesson with a riddle, among other approaches. For a piece on different feedback strategies, we asked participants to choose from activities such as feedback sandwiches, self-assessments, or “Two stars and a wish.”
When we engaged with an article on classroom management, we flipped the format a bit. We created a Google Form with different classroom situations from the Harry Potter series. We then asked participants to provide possible solutions to these challenging cases. Later on, we asked the school psychologist to comment on teachers’ suggestions. The beauty of this part was that there were no right answers, so we could encourage teachers to discuss and dive deeper into the topic.
Key Strategies for Implementation
At the end of the year, we received positive feedback from participating teachers. We’ve identified several key principles that helped this course run successfully, which align with educational trends covered in the Innovating Pedagogy 2022 report.
Hybrid learning: In our course, everything was posted in an online group chat, including instructions. The mode of learning was connected to real-life lessons. This solved the initial problem of limited resources, as teachers could engage in professional development during their actual classes.
The use of microlearning: We opted for concise texts with memes and worksheet examples to make learning accessible and engaging. We also planned for our materials to be read on the go, adjusting the layout for smartphones and posting them before or after work so that they were ready for teachers’ commutes.
Pedagogy of autonomy: As the participants in our group were already working teachers, it was easier for them to explore the learning materials autonomously and actively. They then shared their practices and discussed lesson elements in the safe, nonthreatening environment of our group chat. We facilitated discussions, but they were largely autonomous.
Learning through social media platforms: Using social media platforms can help increase the accessibility of learning programs, as interacting via social media has become an essential part of our daily lives. We felt that our course gained a relatively high participation rate because it was easy to reach (via social media).
This mode of hybrid professional learning is extremely useful for fostering a sense of community among colleagues and creating a trusting atmosphere. It makes other teachers’ lessons and reasoning more accessible and transparent.
Also, the inspiration and the encouragement shared in our group chat helped boost everyone’s spirits throughout the academic year. If time and resources are scarce at your school, I encourage you to give this group chat approach to professional learning a try.