Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Nerve-Racking & Game-Changing: A Flipped PD Experiment

So how was your week, last week? Mine (thanks for asking) was daunting, nerve-racking, stressful, gratifying, energizing, and game-changing.
Here’s the scenario:
Imagine teaching teachers (daunting, yes?). Now imagine you are a peer of those teachers (worse). Now, imagine that you are teaching them the day before grades are due and a new semester starts (a day formerly reserved for grading and planning). Now imagine teaching them on that day and being held accountable for each teacher’s learning on that day.
stress chalk boardOkay, deep breaths.
Now, on top of all that, imagine that they are allowed to complete this training...anywhere they want---at home, at Starbucks, in a hotel room at the Kalahari, wherever they choose to be that day.
I can imagine what you're thinking right about now...perhaps a polite “no thanks” or a slightly more frank “Hell no!”
Well, that’s precisely what happened last week in my district, with yours truly at the helm (now you’re beginning to understand the dauntingnerve-rackingstressful part). We designed “PD Anywhere": a full day of Professional Development that teachers could complete, well, anywhere.
Here’s what it looked like:
  • a Google Hangout to introduce the day.
  • a self-paced technology skill checklist with hyperlinked tutorials so teachers could teach themselves technology proficiencies.
  • a “flipped” Eric Mazur’s “Peer Instruction” video (our virtual key note speaker).
  • a video of our own students engaged in “Peer Instruction.”
  • four break-out sessions instructing teachers how to use different tools (Google Classroom, Pear Deck, Socrative, and “Unplugged” tools) for “Peer Instruction.”
  • teacher work time to apply this knowledge to their own classrooms.
  • accountability pieces throughout the process.
Why did we do it? Certainly not to save time; it took us easily three times longer to prepare. Certainly not to make things easier as the probability of things going awry was exponential. We did it in the hopes of modeling good teaching. After two years of providing tech training for teachers, encouraging them to create lessons that are student-centered, flexible, and personalized, it wasn’t until this inservice that we finally felt that we truly “walked the walk,” demonstrating the practices we’d been advocating.
We were able to leverage technology to personalize the day for each teacher, meeting them “where they are” (just as we strive to do with students).  And just as we know the most effective teacher is the “guide on the side,” not the “sage on stage,” we put the onus on the learners while being a call or an email away to help as needed.
We were also able to model courage. Trying out a new technique in front of a room full of teenagers can be unnerving, and more often than not in the case of new technology, things don’t go smoothly the first time around. In designing a full day of professional development where the staff did not need to report to work, where we were banking on all the online tools we were using to work correctly that day, where WIFI had to be alive and well in all the various places our staff would be located that day, we also took a sizable risk, in the hopes that our teachers will be more likely to take risks in their own practices.
How did the teachers respond? Here’s a representative sampling of their survey comments:
  • yoga teacherIn one PD day, I learned many skills that will make me a more polished teacher. It was critical that I could learn the specific skills at my own pace - technology does not come naturally to me, so this was really a useful day!
  • I'm so happy that we could breeze through stuff we already know rather than being forced to listen to it for 45 minutes during an in-person inservice. It opened up my time to be spent actually trying out the stuff I did learn. This definitely was a much more efficient, productive use of my time.
  • Thank you for the option of working at home. It felt like a real luxury! I found that I was more focused and more productive working on my own and moving at my own pace than on most inservice days. I also did more planning about how what was being presented (Mazur’s methods) can be applied to my classroom.
All said and done, (stats), only one didn’t turn in all three required components (was working a long time on skills list), and only 2 negative comments on the day (all others were positive).
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My take-aways that day? My professional development? My epiphanies?
  • Helping a few colleagues navigate their way through the morning, I was reminded that teachers, just like students, have different predilections, paces, and styles of learning that we must accommodate.  
  • Hitting a satisfying “lull” midday, I realized that what we had planned was working, no emails, no phone calls. I felt like the director standing in back of the theatre opening night with nothing to do but watch (smiling sigh).
  • Seeing the lesson links come in from teachers who had time to apply their learning, I realized the practicality of the day, that students would very soon be the beneficiaries of their teacher’s learning.
And so I’ll take the daunting and nerve-racking along with the gratifying and game-changing: the yin yang of teaching and of PD, reminding me to take risks, to practice what I preach, and to remember that what’s good for kids is also good for their teachers.