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The largest state-run virtual school in the U.S. is taking advantage of technology to identify and train its 2,000 teachers.
Fully accredited to provide K-12 education, the Florida Virtual School uses Web-based conference calls, instant messages and video chats to prepare teachers for the online classroom. In an on-air Google hangout, the school's CEO, Julie Young, shared how the school conducts extensive interviews, mentors teachers and provides ongoing professional development.
The Florida Virtual School rarely finds teachers who previously have taught online. Most of the teachers come from physical classrooms. That presents some challenges.
"When you're bringing in really high-performing, strong teachers — where they've been in the traditional environment — now all of a sudden they're having to learn everything over again," Young said.
That's why the school spends an extensive amount of time interviewing teachers. Young wants to make sure they understand how teaching online differs from teaching in-person. This way, the teachers know what they're getting into.
After interviews in person, online and through conference calls, the school has a good idea of what skills teachers have and how well those should translate to the online classroom.
The process of finding teachers well-suited for online instruction actually starts at the university level in some cases. During the past three years, the school has been trying a different way of recruiting teachers. Some pre-service teachers — college students who haven't graduated yet, but are getting their practical experience done — are taking internships at the Florida Virtual School: About 150 pre-service teachers have split a semester between a traditional school and Florida Virtual School.
The virtual school has hired about 20 of them.
"It's a great way to bring new teachers on board," Young said.
Teachers who are hired also receive training. A year-long mentoring program assigns them a "training buddy" and a "content buddy" to talk with at any time.
They also watch veteran teachers teach, through an online meeting place called Elluminate. In addition to watching, the new teachers make introductory calls to parents with an instructional leader listening in to give them feedback.
Throughout the year, the school's approximately 2,000 teachers — only 10 percent of which live outside Florida — spend 130 hours taking professional development, mostly through online channels. Some of this professional development includes "bite" sessions of no more than an hour that cover various issues or challenges.
Whether these teachers stay with Florida Virtual School or return to a traditional classroom, Young said they learn three big things that translate to other venues. They're not afraid of technology anymore and are comfortable using it to help students learn. They understand how valuable relationships with parents are because they talk with them constantly, more than they would teaching in a traditional class. And they have more credibility because they know how to teach students one-on-one.
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