“You should try to make your classroom more student-centered & interactive – Don’t lecture/talk at your students so much.”
“Do you think you could integrate the concepts of the flipped classroom to optimize student learning time?”
“How much input do you give you students in choosing what, where, and how they learn?”
As a school administrator have you ever said something like this to a teacher? My guess would be that the answer to my question is YES. And if that is true, let me ask you why then do you, as a school leader, not practice what you preach when it comes to your own staff meetings and professional learning? Look back to the above questions again and replace the word student(s) with teacher(s)? If your evaluator asked you these same questions as ‘teachers’ as the subject, would these same criticism apply to you as the teacher of your teachers? Does the idiom “Do I Say, Not as I Do” fit?
After hearing about the incredible work that Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams were doing with ‘the flipped classroom’ in their chemistry classes at Woodland Park High School and our school’s increasing struggles with not having enough time to provide effective professional development (PD) for our staff in light of our district’s 1:1 program implementation. Our school’s leadership team; Steve Meyers – Principal; Amy Arbogash – Technology Integration Specialist; and myself decided if we are going to truly transform the way our teachers teach and our students learn we need to change how we provided PD for our staff…or put another way we would have to practice what we preached – to do as we said AND as we did.
Our school’s staff meeting and PD schedule is fairly standard – we have a staff meeting on every 3rd Wednesday of the month for 90 minutes and during the school year we have two ‘early release’ PD days – students are dismissed at 12:30 pm, so we have 120 minutes in the afternoon of PD time. So in the course of a school year we have about 1,500 minutes or 25 hours of professional meeting time. We had been using these 25 hours in a traditional ‘meeting format’ – i.e. they were completely administratively led; admins picked the topics, created the agenda, ran the meeting, etc. These ‘sit and get’ meetings were information, one-sided presentation meetings. And to put it nicely these weren’t times that our staff ran to the location of the meetings and eagerly awaited their beginning. And rightfully so, when your ‘learner’ has no input on the topics, gets talked to the entire time, and doesn’t necessarily get any tangible/applicable new knowledge or skills for their job from the meeting – its no surprise they didn’t like them.
However by simply looking at these 25 hours differently and pledging to integrate the practice of ‘flipping’ to create authentic, effective, and learner-centered opportunities – our issues of ineffective meetings AND our need for more PD time suddenly both were answered. We began the practice of flipping our staff meetings. Our flipped staff meetings included 6 key elements:
- We started to creating a monthly screencast called BVIP (Bay View Information and Primers), which we would send out at least a week prior to the staff meeting. These screencasts would include Information (announcements and reminders) that used to be covered at staff meetings and the staff needed to hear/know. We believe that while these informational pieces were important for the functioning of our school, they didn’t need to be covered when we were all together – essentially our time together was too valuable to be ‘wasted’ on announcements. So they were easily flipped into these screencasts. The Primers included in the screencasts would help set up the upcoming staff meeting. These Primers would ensure all staff were prepared and on the same page for the staff meeting – further optimizing the time we had together. These could include directions for the activity we were doing at the staff meeting, could be an overview of the topic we were going to be covering, a professional article or video they needed to watch prior to the meeting, directions for signing up for a program/app/service we were going to use at the staff meeting, etc.
- We have fully dedicated our staff meetings as teacher-centered (and driven, see key element #3 below) professional development opportunities. Gone are the days of ‘sit and get’ or using that precious time for anything other than productive, professional collaboration and growth. We faced a lot of challenges in making this shift absolutely, even from pressures within our district structure, however we have not gone back at all since making the conversion.
- We directly solicited our staff to find out what topics, activities, learnings they wanted and needed for their classrooms/professional growth. By asking for and acting upon topics/needs directly from our staff, not only did they feel ‘listened to’, but the topics we explored were topics the staff wanted – resulting in greater staff engagement and satisfaction. We have also worked to include more choice of topics to meet the individual needs of each and every staff member. Each staff member is at different points in their learning, so by providing more choice we have further improved the PD we have offered.
- Integrating more site-based professional development activities within our staff meetings/early release times shifted a lot of work and burden to our school and leadership team. However we believe that just because we are the administrators or ‘leaders’ of the school, we don’t have to be the only facilitator and/or expert of all of the topics/areas we work on. Staff posses strengths, expertise, and interests in a variety of areas and they want to share it with their colleagues. These opportunities help to further engage those staff members leading the PD and it created greater buy in from the rest of the staff because they were learning from their colleagues on topics they were really interested in.
- A common condition our staff felt in the past was the feeling of working alone. By flipping our staff meeting and maximizing the time we had together has allowed us to provide more opportunities for our staff to learn from each other and work together. This increased amount of collaboration time has helped all of us learn more, grow more – together. People are working outside of their Houses (teams), outside of their departments, outside of their grade levels, outside of their friend groups; this has helped to create a wider and stronger bond throughout our entire staff.
- Do as I Say AND as I Do. Flipping staff meetings has allowed our leadership team to shake the label of being hypocrites as we are practicing what we preach. Not only does this modeling help the staff feel better about taking risks and trying new teaching/classroom practices, but it also allows us to experience all of the issues and challenges that our teachers will experience when they try to integrate the flipping classroom model or personalized learning, etc. This has allowed us to become advocates for our staff and the initiatives we are implementing in our school. This has also gone a long way to increase staff engagement in our meetings and in our school.
If you believe that John Dewey was right when he said “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” Wouldn’t you also believe Dewey’s same sentiment being applied to teachers? “If we teach today’s teachers as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of teaching tomorrow’s youth”? Our schools, our staff, our students and our future require us to be innovative, to change, to evolve, to improve. By simply flipping our staff meetings we have created 25 hours or 3 full work days of time for our staff to work together, to learn from one another, to improve, to help us succeed in these transformative times.