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Flip Your Professional Development

Professional Learning

Making the most of time and resources

In a time when all can agree that quality professional development (PD) experiences are invaluable, it is harder to get stakeholders to agree on what constitutes quality and what type of PD experiences are likely to be effective. One emerging trend is a “flipped PD” model that is a perfect fit for busy schedules and differentiated learning needs, while making the most of collaboration. Let’s examine existing models and compare them with “flipped PD.”

Collaborative Model: In-Service Based Professional Development

Though school districts in our country spend approximately $18 billion dollars on professional development each year, the vast majority of it ($15 billion) is delivered using traditional “in-service” experiences, which studies have shown yield little results for the participating teachers. There can be many reasons for this lack of impact, but one of the most obvious is the lack of personalization or targeting of in-service experiences. When large groups of faculty are brought together to participate in a single event, many in attendance will find that the event is not a “good use of their time.”

Let’s examine an example to highlight why this is an issue.

If you get the faculty together to discuss classroom management techniques, your experienced teachers will likely “check out” as they couldn’t have handled classrooms for a decade if they hadn’t already developed effective classroom management techniques. For those faculty, a focus on educational technology, student diversity (English Language Learners and students with special needs) or changing standards would likely be a better use of their time.

But your inexperienced teachers do need the classroom management development. They might not be ready to focus on educational technology (or may already have proficiency in that area), or student diversity, or standards which haven’t “changed” for them because they are new anyway.

So why do we persist in using in-service workshops as a major form of professional development delivery for our educators?

One word: collaboration.

Most education experts who’ve focused on teacher effectiveness agree that teacher collaboration has a significant impact on teacher improvement. The benefit of putting your more and less experienced faculty together has been demonstrated through research, and most teachers will cite the influence of mentors as a major factor in the formation of the skills and techniques that have helped them to achieve success.

Targeted Model: Online Professional Development

You could see why the addition of online professional development opportunities, whether asynchronous (self-paced) modules or synchronous webinars, could be seen as a solution to the question of how to provide personalized professional development opportunities for your faculty.

If participants do not have to attend at the same time and place, they can seek out the opportunities they believe are the most important to their own improvement and success. They can even be provided with opportunities based upon their own personal observation results. Just as we are working to better differentiate learning experiences for our students, we can do the same for our educators who are also life-long learners.

However, you can see why such targeted professional development resources, despite the fact that they allow for the personalization and targeting, could be seen as less collaborative.

Targeted AND Collaborative Model: Flipped Professional Development

One emerging solution to help provide professional development that is both targeted and collaborative is to leverage online professional development using a “flipped” model, just like we’re doing with students in the classroom. How would this work?

Part One of the Flip: Online and Asynchronous Content

Teachers can engage in professional development online and at their own pace. They select the topics of interest to them, those identified by observation as being useful, and/or topics that are selected by a specific but relevant group like their department or cohort (for example, math department, new teachers).

Part Two of the Flip: Engaging Professional Learning Communities in Discussion

After engaging with the content, educators will meet in professional learning communities. PLCs can be online or in person, but when they are structured so that they are within the same school or district they will be most useful because the local details will be consistent: the student body, the environment, the grade level or department. The more natural connection there is between the teachers, the more discussions will lead to the application of skills.

About Rachel Fisher

Rachel Fisher brings fifteen years of expertise in eLearning and online content development as well as over a decade of experience working exclusively with K12 including online and live curriculum development. In addition, she served in the classroom teaching 6th and 7th grade science.