Create Your Own Professional Development – Online and Just in Time

The issue

Access to appropriate, adequate professional development (PD) specific to the needs of teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) students is often difficult to find or expensive to acquire. Due to the low prevalence nature of the population, the perception is that there is not enough “bang for the buck.” When the districts do offer DHH-specific training, it is often delivered by the same person/people from within the district, impacting the variety of perspective/experience offered. General education teachers may have one DHH student during of their career, making the time and money spent on in-depth PD too high for the return on investment when compared to more general PD opportunities.

Teacher attendance and monetary constraints are a focus of administrators and state leaders. When a teacher is absent to attend PD, students lose an instructional day. Additionally, budget cuts limit the amount of compensation available for teachers, forcing them to limit PD or pay out of pocket for PD that targets the needs of DHH learners.

Finally, there is the danger of the “spray and pray training.” The teacher of the DHH (ToDHH) attends a fabulous training. Great knowledge is dropped in their lap and then away goes the expert. Now, the ToDHH goes back to their isolated program to try and implement it on their own with variable fidelity.

What we know

The Internet breaks down classroom walls, enabling us to learn when and where we want. Online PD can be low-cost to provide and attend. It can be flexible and versatile to meet the needs of teachers working with DHH students. It can be asynchronous, synchronous, or both. By participating in online trainings, a teacher can build a professional learning network (#PLN). Online PD improves teacher retention by enabling educators to become more directly involved in their own learning and professional growth.

One solution for ongoing, web-based PD began in Florida, USA. The Resource Materials and Technology Center for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing (RMTC-D/HH) is a statewide discretionary project of the Florida Department of Education. RMTC-D/HH staff provide PD, on-site training, and technical assistance (TA) to the more than 70 Florida school districts, families, other state and federal discretionary projects working with DHH students. In order to meet the needs of the districts, the small team increased online PD offerings and have received an abundance of positive feedback.

Webinar series, such as RMTC-D/HH’s TA Live! provides answers for frequently asked TA questions. These live sessions are delivered by experts in the field and recorded. Sessions can lead PD discussions in districts with little or no capacity. These sessions can be a model for others wanting to develop online PD. They are open to anyone and have an international audience.

RMTC-D/HH offers face-to-face instruction, but incorporates an online component and/or mentoring after the training ends. Basecamp is one tool which allows individuals to continue collaboration with the group when they return to their district. The trainer remains engaged in the online discussions as participants implement the strategies in their programs. Similar to the sessions mentioned earlier, Basecamp can be used as a model for others.

Book studies are another great way of bringing together a group to learn. An expert on the topic guides the discussions of books such as the Itinerant Teacher Handbook by Carolyn Bullard and John Luckner, Visible Learning for Literacy by Douglas B. Fisher, John Hattie, and Nancy Frey, or even a novel such as Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. These experts give real-world examples of how to apply what’s read to the instruction of DHH students. They encourage participants to share their knowledge too. As groups learn together, they widen their #PLN.

What we don’t know

Research is scarce on the instructional impact of virtual PD. Interactive online tools are created every day to support trainings which makes rolling with the changes vital to quality delivery. Though guidelines are in development, they are being created for moving targets, making it difficult to standardize this effort.


PD is moving in the direction of online learning out of necessity and convenience. An increase in the time spent by a teacher in the classroom leads to increased instruction, which renders improved student outcomes. Teachers having autonomy to customize their training for the needs of their current students allows individual needs to be met. Often teachers will find highly-specialized strategies benefit the greater population of the class or the differentiated needs of individual students.

Posted on April 18, 2019 by
Sherry Conrad

Cara Wilmot
Resource Materials and Technology Center: Deaf/Hard of Hearing

Further reading

Nihuis, C. G., & Terpstra, A. (2015). Click and start learning! Innovative development for professionals. In H. Knoors & M. Marschark (Eds.), Educating deaf learners: Creating a global evidence base (pp. 503-524). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. view details

Knoors, H. E. T., Klerk, J. P., & M. Marschark, M. (2018). Mind the gap! The need for constructing and implementing teaching practices informed by research evidence. In H. Knoors & M. Marschark (Eds.), Evidence-based practices in deaf education (pp. 591-620). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. view details

Swanick, R. (2015) Re-envisioning learning and teaching in deaf education: Toward new transactions between research and practice. In H. Knoors & M. Marschark (Eds.), Educating deaf learners: Creating a global evidence base (pp. 559-613). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. view details