Flipping Out for Flipped PD!

As Brady Venables said in the #IMMOOC Google Hangout, “leaders go first.” Just as learners enter our classrooms daily with an assortment of learning styles/needs/interests, our teachers enter PD the same way. It is important to recognize one size DOES NOT fit all when it comes to all learning, including professional learning.


As Brady Venables said in the #IMMOOC Google Hangout, “leaders go first.” Just as learners enter our classrooms daily with an assortment of learning styles/needs/interests, our teachers enter PD the same way.  It is important to recognize one size DOES NOT fit all when it comes to all learning, including professional learning. Yesterday, I flipped our first edtech PD. Inspired by many educators who are pushing the envelope and asking teachers to do the same with regard to innovative pedagogical models, I’ve committed to flipping each professional development model to maximize collegial collaboration, afford teachers more opportunities to think critically and reflect on their classroom practice, and to meet my learners (teachers) where they are, engaging their needs and interests individually.

Admittedly, I’ve been a proponent of flipped learning for more than five years, integrating it into my teaching and presenting nationally on the topic.  I think it’s important as a teacher and educational leader to model best practices for integrating technology and innovative pedagogy.

I recorded a video that combined about half of Eric Sheninger’s TED Talk called “Schools That Work For Kids” with the highlights of mobile learning research. I thought it was important that teachers understand that two things:

  1. Research supports technology integration in PK-12 environments
  2. Pedagogy must come first rather than sprinkling a layer of technology into an otherwise traditional, teacher-centered lesson.

Too often, I believe, teachers feel burdened by the need to integrate technology for the purposes of checking off that box in their lesson or an administrative observation. This type of technology use leads to using technology to accomplish low-level or more traditional tasks, like note-taking. This is not what our teachers want, and this is not what our students need! As Mr. Sheninger says so eloquently, “pedagogy first, technology second (if appropriate).”

With every faculty member (or most) entering the PD with a baseline knowledge of what the research says and hearing from a leader who has been integrating technology for almost a decade, we were able to roll up our sleeves to engage in meaningful discussions surrounding technology integration at our school.

The discussion centered around 3 questions or prompts:

  1. What is the goal for integrating technology into the curriculum?
  2. What does mLearning look like in your class?
  3. What goal(s) can your department set for integrating technology this year?

Although it was the end of a rainy day, I was impressed with the engagement and candor of the faculty when engaging in these discussions within their departments.  Leaving the professional development, I know that each teacher was given a chance to be heard within their department, whether brand new or a seasoned veteran, and that each department now has set a minimum of one department-specific edtech goal to strive for this school year.

Embarking on this flipped PD journey, I am holding true to several tenets:

  • Leaders must go first: In any classroom, we expect teachers to model for students.  Likewise, leaders must model for faculty, thus breaking down any impediments to innovation.
  • Provide time for the Flip: I try to send the flipped video before the weekend prior to the PD along with the goal of the upcoming PD.  This advanced notice gives teachers time to watch the video, while understanding the purpose and importance of previewing the material.  It’s important teachers understand what they should ‘get out’ of the professional learning time.
  • Flip for collegial collaboration: Don’t just send a video for the sake of sending a video! Understand that by removing the presenter-centric portion from the PD, the facilitators role changes to becoming a ‘guide on the side.’ That is the true reason for flipping-it gives teachers meaningful opportunities to engage in conversations that wouldn’t otherwise take place.

Engaged teachers, engaged conversations

This year, I embark on a new journey, as Director of Technology and Instruction at Salesianum School.  In this role, I function as part of a team comprised of the Principal, Dean of Academic Affairs, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and myself.  One of our team’s goals this year is to model best practices in teaching and learning in the digital age, in part by flipping our professional development. Our hope is that teachers will not only enjoy this professional learning model more than its traditional counterpart, but also engage in meaningful conversations throughout the year, creating a culture of collegial collaboration.

For the first attempt-our September faculty meeting-the team decided to use Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk, “How to Escape Education’s Death Valley.” Admittedly, the week prior, the team kicked around many “intro” videos that would best frame what we want the faculty to take away, but we felt that Robinson’s TED Talk best challenged educators to think differently about their practice.

As we sent the video to our faculty, we provided them three discussion questions to frame the video.  The questions were:

  1. Does the culture of our school foster a spirit of curiosity, individuality, and creativity in our students? What can we do, in the classroom and at a school-wide level, to further encourage growth?
  2. In what ways does our school culture promote and value the teaching profession? What are our successes in creating a positive teaching environment, and in what ways do we need to grow?
  3. How can leadership more effectively promote a climate of possibility throughout the entire school community?

We structured the faculty meetings as conversations, around a conference room table, taking place during the teacher’s open period.  Each group of roughly twelve teachers spent the 45-minute period thinking critically about our practice, both from a classroom level and from a school level.  Throughout each of the six meetings, we heard from close to 60 of the 70+ teachers who attended, about five times the amount of people that would typically speak in a traditional faculty meeting.

Toward the tail end of each session, I presented the results of an edtech survey sent out in August, which provided me feedback into their beliefs and needs regarding edtech professional development.  Through this venue, teachers felt comfortable offering me feedback, asking questions, and reaffirming the structure of edtech PD this year.

Undoubtedly, through the act of flipping our professional development, we were able to engage teachers in meaningful conversations.