We recently highlighted a Flipped classroom model that works to provide more 1:1 time during classroom hours and shifts the lecture portion of learning to a virtual platform meant for students to watch on their own time. Well, the ‘Flipped” model is being tested for Professional Development (PD) as well. Instead of States and Districts prescribing technological PD for teachers, they are offering monthly 2-hour long sessions for professional development with additional assistance available upon request.
During these ‘Flipped Professional Development’ sessions, the lessons are based on requests from educators as they identify areas of their teaching methods they would like to improve upon or new pieces of technology they would like to learn about. Development specialists work to enhance educators’ core understanding of the requested topics and technologies and then offer their assistance as teachers implement the new technologies.
No longer stifled by the fear of learning or perfecting new technology skills, teachers are leveraging new technologies to engage students and create innovative lesson plans. This article explores the curriculum advancement in a district located in Stillwater, Minnesota.
Anna Wilcek was comfortable instructing her students on how to interview residents of a nearby retirement community and write biographies of those people. How to integrate technology into the project was another story.
The 6th grade teacher recalls asking, “What ideas do you have for me?” during a recent face-to-face workshop with Wayne Feller and Kristin Daniels, the technology-integration specialists in the 8,500-student Stillwater Area Public Schools, in Minnesota.
The collaborative, technology-driven nature of the relationship between teachers and the technology coaches is the hallmark of what the Stillwater district calls “flipped professional development.” Known as job-embedded coaching in educational leadership circles, flipped PD offers face-to-face support and personalized online resources, such as how-to videos on using interactive-whiteboard software or the iPad’s multi-tasking bar. Teachers watch the videos to find new or better approaches and then discuss developing those approaches with the technology-integration specialists.
Under that system, Wilcek, who teaches at the 347-student Andersen Elementary School, learned how to edit student-shot movies in iMovie, export them into iBooks Author, and post the finished products on her website for downloading.
“I wouldn’t have had the knowledge or time to pull all of that together,” she says. “It’s such a gift to have the specialists sit right next to you. They give me the confidence to move forward because I know I can have support whenever I want it.”
Stillwater started flipped PD in 2011-12. Here’s how it works: Feller and Daniels meet with 200 classroom teachers and specialists in small groups each month for structured, two-hour coaching/training and workshop sessions that focus on individual projects, then offer additional guidance by request. So far, the model is used in all nine of the district’s elementary schools, with 93 percent of classroom teachers participating.
Coaching support is essential if teachers are to use technology effectively in the classroom, according to a 2011 white paper released by the International Society for Technology in Education, a Washington-based membership association that promotes innovative uses of educational technology. To support that idea, ISTE now has benchmarks for technology coaches seeking to give effective guidance and support to teachers in a digital age.
Unlike in traditional professional development, context plays a critical role in flipped PD. Content area, grade level, technological expertise, and the interests of each teacher and specialist affect the type of online training offered.
“We don’t come in dictating what they’re here to learn and work on,” Daniels says. “When they realize they’re being given time to think about what they want to be doing, and to grow at their own pace, they’re absolutely relieved. And there’s been a remarkable shift in attitude toward personal growth because of that.”
Stillwater embraced flipped PD because “it had the largest impact and really was the highest return on investment,” says Michael Dronen, the coordinator of educational innovation and technology in the district.
The district was inspired by research from the 1980s, still cited today, that showed only 10 percent to 15 percent of teachers added a new classroom practice to their repertoire when given professional development but no follow-up support. That figure jumped to 90 percent, however, with sustained support.
Bruce Joyce, who helped conduct the research, reinforces that statistic in a book he co-wrote, Realizing the Promise of 21st-Century Education: An Owner’s Manual, which was published in 2012.
Stillwater’s personalized professional development is “extraordinarily ambitious, and worth everybody taking a look at,” says Joyce, the director of Booksend Laboratories, based in St. Simons, Ga., which partners with school districts on projects for long-term staff development and improvement.
The district produces four types of videos. “Proactive” videos are typically tutorials covering the basics of Stillwater’s most-used technology tools. “Reactive” videos are created in response to a specific request; one teacher, for example, learned how to create a video about online bullying after an incident the day before. “Spontaneous capture” videos document best practices, project ideas, and success stories.
And “individual backpack” videos are raw, unedited snippets created on the fly to answer specific questions.