A seamless platform for educators’ professional development

Michigan Virtual partners with school districts to elevate the delivery of state requirements

For educators, anything that simplifies their work — and their lives — is valuable. Add a pandemic to the mix, and streamlining becomes more crucial than ever.

As school districts seek out professional development opportunities for their staff, finding a partner that offers a vast collection of customizable resources in an easy-to-use platform is a real treasure.

The ideal collaborator

Kyron Harvell, director of school culture and climate for the Lansing School District, said Michigan Virtual’s customizable district-provided professional development program was a boon to his job.

“I was trying to research all these different programs, but it was kind of like piecemealing things together,” he said. “Michigan Virtual was so ideal. This is the most comprehensive program that I’ve seen.”

With an online catalog of about 250 professional development courses that can be bundled into thematic pathways to meet a school or district’s improvement plan, Michigan Virtual’s professional learning specialists help school leaders tailor a plan to their educators’ needs.

“Because the program can directly align with the change we want to make in our district in terms of equity and being culturally responsive and aware, Michigan Virtual was the ideal collaborator for us,” Harvell said.

Randall Hester, a STAR intervention specialist for the Lansing School District, describes himself as “not the most technically literate person.” Yet, he found Michigan Virtual’s online courses easy to navigate to complete his School Continuing Education Clock Hour (SCECH) requirements.

“I had to call the help desk because I couldn’t get logged in and I thought, ‘Uh-oh, here we go,’” he said. “But the people on the desk got me right where I needed to be.”

Hester said going through professional development in a virtual environment built his confidence, helping him and his colleagues reimagine how they approach work they typically do in-person.

“Our job is really an in-person job,” he said. “We’re supposed to be doing observations, walk-throughs, but this format helped us reestablish and realign what our goals were. Being able to do things virtually instead of being tied to the way we always did things helped us see we can be effective in this virtual learning platform.”

Hester said if he can do it, anyone can.

Michigan Virtual has been a great resource,” he said.

For Harvell, the financial value is as important as the quality of courses offered.

“Other curriculum isn’t as strong as Michigan Virtual’s and it costs more,” he said. “I was engaged in the work and the learning they provided. With other curricula, I wasn’t really engaged.”

Ease of use

Meeting state requirements in education is an ongoing process, of course, and while many educators may be excited to discover new ways to uplift and connect with their students through professional development courses, there are also nuts-and-bolts basics they need to learn.

“There have been some substantial changes in the law in a couple of areas in the past year,” said Adam Blaylock, director of human resources for Lincoln Consolidated School District in Washtenaw County. Among the updates: Title IX has changed dramatically.

“We were able to take advantage of Michigan Virtual as a way of rolling out professional development around Title IX to our entire staff,” he said. “And it’s in a bite-sized chunk that they can take care of when and how they are able to do it.”

With Michigan Virtual’s district-provided professional development program, administrators can offer already busy teachers relevant, on-demand, and self-paced training options that align with a school or district’s improvement plan.

Blaylock said managing compliance requirements through Michigan Virtual’s professional development program makes his job easier.

“The ease of use is really the fundamental benefit for me,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons we keep using Michigan Virtual. It’s something our staff are familiar with, and Michigan Virtual handles everything on the back end, which makes my life a lot easier.”

Blaylock could use some assistance — with a nearly 1-year-old child at home, his ability to choose asynchronous work options is essential.

“To do these PDs at 9 o’clock at night or 2 o’clock in the morning when you get woken up and can’t go back to sleep is nice.”

Blaylock said other organizations provide similar formats, and his team discusses a variety of PD options as their needs arise.

“But my experience working with Michigan Virtual has been positive, and it’s something I’m planning on continuing,” Blaylock said.

A one-stop shop

Grand Ledge Public Schools is a bit of a superuser of Michigan Virtual’s district-provided professional development program.

The district set up its own landing page through Michigan Virtual so teachers could log in and see all the professional development courses available to them.

“It put all of that PD in one place, kind of a one-stop shop, and it kept track of the SCECHs,” said Bill Barnes, assistant superintendent for academic services for the Eaton County district.

“We required all teachers to view a couple of the modules — social-emotional learning, in particular — then they had the option of choosing from the other ones based on what was interesting to them or where they felt they needed to do some work.

“It really helped individualize and differentiate PD for our staff,” Barnes said.

The Michigan Virtual team also worked with a couple of Grand Ledge’s teachers to build additional modules in their platform.

“Taking the work our teachers were doing with videos and making it look like the rest of the Michigan Virtual PD was a nice feather in the cap for those Grand Ledge staff who put it together,” Barnes said. “It also provided some really Grand Ledge-specific information to teachers who chose that module.”

Best-kept secret in Michigan

For Cathy White, director of shared time services for South Redford School District, delivering professional development to staff is a bit more complex. She works with 19 different private schools in Michigan.

Through the district’s shared-time program, she’s managing public school teachers who are sent into private schools to provide instruction in electives, from Spanish to AP chemistry. And they all need access to professional development, wherever they are.

“Because they’re in different locations, and the professional development needs to be state-approved, Michigan Virtual is an ideal partner,” she said, noting the professional development they offer meets the Michigan Department of Education requirements for SCECHs.

“Michigan Virtual is the top drawer in everything,” she continued. “They handle it all virtually so teachers can do it whenever and wherever works for them.”

White has been in education for more than 40 years in the private school sector. She started hearing about Michigan Virtual a couple of decades ago as virtual education was beginning to emerge, and she watched them expand their online offerings.

“They are at the head of the pack in terms of what they develop, how they offer it, and how they facilitate it,” she said. “These are high-level classes they’re offering as professional development.

“It’s almost the best-kept secret in the state of Michigan for educators,” White said. “I wish more teachers would take advantage of it.”

The bottom line​

“The benefit of working with Michigan Virtual is you know you’re getting quality content. And if I have an issue or concern, I can reach out to people I actually know,” Barnes said. 

"I’m not interacting with nameless vendors. I’m interacting with the team at Michigan Virtual that I know well and have had multiple conversations with about any number of things over the last couple of years.”

Working through the pandemic — and learning to teach online while teaching online — was very much akin to building the bridge as you’re crossing it, Barnes said.
“We didn’t need a big philosophical shift because the pandemic did that for us,” he said. Every phase created a new set of challenges.
“Michigan Virtual’s program delivered exactly what the teachers needed in that moment to launch their virtual classrooms.