Ellen Paxton was ahead of the curve when it comes to distance learning, a skill set that is becoming more useful by the day.
A former teacher-leader in St. Paul Public Schools, Paxton worked on creating the district’s first distance learning program about 20 years ago, and has turned that into the business of training teachers for distance learning.
Paxton is the founder of Professional Learning Board, a consulting company that works with school districts and unions to help the schools integrate a virtual classroom. Her 5-hour course for teachers is now, in light of so many schools being closed, being offered for free.
“I’ve been doing online, professional development for teachers to help them primarily with relicensing,” said Paxton, a St. Louis Park resident and Bais Yisroel member. “Teachers in Minnesota and across the country have to do continuing education in order to renew their teaching license. We help them with class management skills, technology skills, and now, how to teach online how to bring their classroom practical teaching experiences that they had to know so well and transfer those into which are classrooms and connecting with students to distance learning.”
Unfortunately for kids – and many parents – distance learning may be the reality for a while. Gov. Tim Walz said Tuesday that the closing of schools may last longer than the initial closure date on March 27. The longer schools are out, the longer school districts will be using some form of e-learning. While it may not be ideal to some, Paxton said there’s a lot of good that can come from distance learning.
“What we’ve really found with online learning is, not only can it be individualized for students, but you can impact and reach more students,” she said. “So it really is a way for us to help on a larger scale. And that’s what we’re all about: We’re trying to help teachers with transitioning and so that teachers can have skills, tools, and resources that they can put to use crafting instructional strategies and practices they can put to use in the classroom and therefore help more students.”
Despite the technological edge younger teachers may have in adapting to online learning, more experienced teachers have the skill set.
“It’s just a matter of recalibrating,” she said. “For the newer teacher, while they’re familiar with the technical skills they don’t have, necessarily, the classroom experience to be able to have some of those nuances the more experienced teacher has with the classroom management, the lesson planning. We created an online class so that both can get the experience of integrating the two because it’s not just about comfort with technology; it’s about how to integrate that with pedagogy so that you have sound educational practices. Teachers young or old have that. They are very capable.”