The Flip Side of Professional Development

Kristin Daniels Kristin Daniels

It seems like the word “flipped” is everywhere in education today. There are flipped classrooms of all sorts, from Kindergarten to dentistry. By looking through a “flipped” lens, we can rethink any traditional learning environment, including professional development. Flipped Professional Development has the potential to disrupt the way teachers learn and will accelerate innovation in education.

The concept for Flipped PD began in Stillwater, MN, over a number of conversations I had with my colleague, Wayne Feller and the autonomy we were given by our director, Mike Dronen, to create a new model of professional development. Our conversations swirled around the same types of questions that spurred the flipped classroom buzz; “How do we want to spend our time with teachers? Where can we make the most impact? When do they need us most?”

We created a flipped PD model because we believed face-to-face time with technology integration experts should not be spent learning how to use technology. Instead that valuable time should be focused on the development and implementation of curriculum and learning activities that are transformed by the integration of technology.

So, we built Flipped Professional Development (Flipped PD) as a model of professional development. Traditional PD typically provides teachers with great information and resources but leaves little to no time for play, design or implementation. Flipped PD puts the experts where they are needed most; next to the teachers during the design process and throughout the implementation of a project while leaving instructional "how-to" information to digital content that teachers can access outside of coaching sessions. While the “flipped” concept can be applied to a traditional workshop setting and even faculty meetings, the greatest impact happens when you add coaching into the mix.

First, a teacher sits down with a coach to explore options for projects and goals. In the time before the next face-to-face meeting, the coach provides customized resources for the teacher to review. These resources might include articles for information, inspiration, or even video tutorials. At the next face-to-face session the teacher works on the project and the coach provides support and guidance as needed. At the end of the session, the teacher and coach discuss progress and agree on an action plan. This process continues until the teacher successfully reaches their goal.

Through our work, we found there are five key elements that make Flipped PD successful.

Planning and Documentation 

The very first coaching session of Flipped PD often begins with the creation a google document that is shared between the teacher and the coach. This shared document becomes the place where individual goals are set, digital resources are linked and workshop notes are recorded. Besides the coach, the teacher can share the document with other colleagues, grade-level team, PLCs or administrators. Notes are recorded (sample 123) throughout the year, goals updated and personalized resources linked here as well. This document becomes evidence of personal growth and the foundation for innovative projects. More resources here.

Personalized Digital Content 

Flipped PD allows coaches to get to know teachers through their coaching sessions. As a result, coaches are able to provide teachers with personalized digital content that is relevant to their personal goals, whether they are tutorial videos, website links or other digital assets.

For coaches, there are a many  technology tools that make it easy to create a collection of customized resources (Google Docs/Sites, Blendspace, Pinterest, LiveBinders) or create content on the fly for just in time teaching (Screencast-o-matic, Snagit for Chrome, Explain Everything, MoveNote). Teachers enjoy watching digital content that is clear and concise. Videos should not be longer than 5 minutes, and some even suggest 2 minutes. The exploration of digital content for coaching has brought interesting and unique uses of digital content. For example, coaches can provide links to a Google Hangout On Air recording, archived Twitter chats, or captured conversations.

Regularly Scheduled PD

Flipped PD is a model based on the best practice of ongoing, embedded professional development. Regular coaching sessions during the school day (1-2 hours sessions every 1-2 months) are important for the successful completion of a teacher’s individual goals and became the framework for our coaching in Stillwater. 

A variety of strategies are used to relieve teachers from their classrooms but the rotating substitute model has become very popular. Flipped PD pioneer Sara Hunter worked with building administrators to create a unique scheduling solution that utilized building staff to both relieve the teacher for their coaching session and deliver character development curriculum to the students.

Personalization Through Coaching 

Similar to an athletic trainer, coaches know what their teachers need. Coaches are connectors. They connect teachers to ideas, content, and experts. Coaches model modern learning by seeking out, filtering and distributing relevant information and resources. Coaches listen to teachers and help them to identify their natural strengths and personal interests through conversation or through an interest survey (or here). For schools and districts that do not have dedicated coaches, Flipped PD works when innovative teachers are given the time and resources to serve as a coaches for their colleagues.

Communities of Learning  

Do not underestimate the power of pockets of innovation already occurring at your site. Teachers are greatly impacted by the work of their colleagues. The shared stories, projects and reflections of one teacher are often the “sparks”, or starting points, for another. Learning is collaborative in nature. Flipped PD provides authentic opportunities for collaboration based on grade level, content area, or interest.  Coaches guide teachers into these collaborative opportunities or other appropriate professional networks knowing that teachers will find the resources, support and encouragement necessary for success. During the 2012-2013 school year, Flipped PD teachers from Stillwater, MN, implemented a number of collaborative projects with colleagues, community members and content experts.

The Flipped PD model has spread quickly through social media conversations and conference presentations. A number of innovative educators have reached out to us to discuss how they might implement this in their own school or district. Jen Hegna, Director of Information and Learning Technology at Byron Public Schools, MN, learned of the Flipped PD model in 2011 and after multiple requests for administrator approval created a team of Digital Learning Coaches who now meet monthly with every teacher in the district. Sara Hunter, a STEM Coach and Teacher and a 2013 ISTE Emerging Leader, implemented Flipped PD at Union Elementary school. The implementation details of Flipped PD at these schools vary but the core components of Flipped PD can be found in each variation.  

Traditional professional development does not meet the needs of the teachers who we want to be modern leaders for our students. Look honestly at what you are asking your teachers to do and how you are supporting them to successfully reach these expectations. Remember that one size does not fit all for students OR teachers. My advice: provide teachers with the collaborative time, support and resources to create their own professional learning plan and best practices will emerge.



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