ESSER and Professional Learning:  A Generational Opportunity  

An underrepresented topic in the current funding conversation. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Karen Beerer



The ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) Fund provides school systems nationwide unprecedented financial resources to address the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on student learning. While the national conversation on how schools can best use their ESSER Funds has been underway for some time now, I believe one topic has been underrepresented in that conversation. That topic is professional learning (PL). I believe a generational opportunity to improve educators’ capacity is before us if we act now. 

‘I believe a generational opportunity to improve educators’ capacity is before us if we act now.’

Building the Capacity of Teachers

School administrators have long understood that investing in building the capacity of teachers is crucial for addressing the constantly evolving challenges of the K-12 environment. In the post-pandemic world, this fact is clearer than ever. The significant stress teachers have been under since the beginning of the pandemic has not abated. Workloads have increased, new instructional models have been designed and implemented, and student learning loss has put more pressure on educators than ever before. 

In addition, during the pandemic educators were inundated with new technologies that can help increase their effectiveness and scale what we all agree are best instructional practice. As they always do, teachers gamely accepted the challenge of integrating these resources into instruction during a period of high stress. But with the pandemic in the rearview mirror, we can see that even more benefits can be derived from the significant investments school systems have made in powerful edtech resources. But to reap those benefits, we must act now. 

Investing ESSER funding in high-quality PL experiences for teachers is the first step. Through these types of learning experiences, teachers can learn how to systemically integrate their digital resources into teaching and learning to meet the needs of the post-pandemic K-12 environment. In this way, a school system can “future proof” itself, ensuring that it is well-equipped to address teaching and learning challenges for years to come.   

The Benefits Do Not End

But the benefits do not end with improving the return on edtech investments. High-quality PL can help experienced – and especially new – teachers develop the skills and knowledge needed to be effective educators, build supportive relationships with colleagues, and create inclusive and engaging classrooms for all students. Other ways school administrators can use remaining ESSER funds on professional learning include: 

  • Building foundational skills: new teachers need to develop the foundational skills and knowledge needed for effective teaching. This can include content-specific training, classroom management strategies, and instructional design principles. 


  • Addressing the needs of diverse learners: all teachers can use new strategies to address the needs of diverse learners, including students with disabilities, English language learners, and students from diverse backgrounds. Creating inclusive and welcoming classrooms while ensuring all students have access to high-quality instruction is essential in the post-pandemic world. 


  • Creating mentorship programs: pairing experienced teachers with new or struggling teachers to provide guidance and support can help improve teacher retention rates and ensure all teachers have access to the support they need to succeed. 


  • Supporting collaboration and peer learning: facilitating collaboration and peer learning among teachers and staff is essential and can include setting up professional learning communities, creating online discussion forums, and providing opportunities for teachers to share resources and best practices. 


In addition to the traditional professional learning experiences districts have offered, there are now new options for providing educators high quality PL. One exciting option is self-paced modules that allow teachers to work through professional learning content at their own pace, giving them the flexibility to fit learning into their busy schedules. Another option is microlearning resources that provide short, focused, and easily digestible lessons that teachers can access on demand. These can include videos, podcasts, articles, and other resources that cover specific topics related to student engagement and career exploration. Finally, my company has innovatively paired teaching strategies with student-facing content that can be used in the classroom, creating “Point of Use” professional learning that is easy for any educator. 

A Unique Opportunity

It is important that we recognize the fact that ESSER funds offer a unique opportunity to invest in teacher capacity building, which can help schools to drive greater ROI on their pandemic era edtech, address the challenges of the post-pandemic education environment, and better support student learning. By offering high-quality, effective, relevant, and edtech-embedded professional learning, school administrators can help teachers build their skills and knowledge in ways that fit their unique needs and schedules. This will lead to deeper student engagement and greater student success beyond graduation.   

I encourage school leaders nationwide to consider the opportunity before them. We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to improve teaching and learning, and the Federal government is offering to pay the bill. Let’s not miss this chance! 


Dr. Karen Beerer is the Senior Vice President of Teaching and Learning for Discovery Education. Dr. Beerer has more than 35 years of experience in education. A former Pennsylvania public school administrator, Dr. Beerer helped create Discovery Education’s new guide to ESSER funding, now available here. 


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