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May 1, 2014
Vol. 71
No. 8

Flipping the Flip

Flipped professional development gives teachers control over how they learn—and makes face-to-face sessions more meaningful.

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Quality teaching must be centered on learning. Most teachers and administrators know this to be true. We pay attention to how students learn best, and we realize that when we do so, the quality of teaching improves and student learning increases.
So why, when we plan learning for teachers, do administrators forget about the art of learning? Even as we claim that our professional development is top-notch and students' scores will improve because of it, we ignore how our teachers learn best.
As principal of St. Edmond's Academy, an all-boys school serving students in junior kindergarten through grade 8, I've tried to put the reins of learning into teachers' hands. We've moved beyond the one-stop workshop approach and flipped the traditional structure of learning sessions; teachers first do much of the learning individually at their own pace, and then they meet as a group to strengthen that learning.
In my first year leading the school, I identified three areas needing improvement: reading, writing, and technology integration. With the support of a new instructional coach and input from teacher surveys, teacher leaders and I brainstormed themes of study, such as technology implementation, writing across disciplines, word study, and reading and writing nonfiction texts. During the first months of the school year, we led workshops on these topics at monthly professional development meetings. Our coach met with teachers to guide them in planning lessons. But I sensed there was something missing. That something missing turned out to be active teacher participation and differentiation.
I asked for teachers' comments on our professional development and found a wide discrepancy in how teachers responded to our monthly workshops. Some of my teachers valued these sessions, but many did not. I needed to vary the professional development sessions to accommodate the learning needs of all teachers. Technology was the answer.

Making the Shift

I'm a believer in the power of technology to improve learning. In my first year teaching, 1990, none of my 32 2nd graders had access to the Internet at home or school. Using textbooks, I disseminated most information. In my third year, one computer—intended for the teacher—was assigned to my classroom. This computer never sat on my desk; instead, I created a student technology center in my room. Every day, students had a science question or topic to research on the computer. By the day's end, they shared the information they'd discovered. I used videos and online resources, not lectures, to teach concepts. Simply moving the source of information from my desk to a student center created a classroom environment for reciprocal teaching and learning.
Twenty-four years later, as I revamped St. Edmond's faculty meetings and professional development days, I was making the same change—removing the learning from my desk and creating an experience that allowed for reciprocal learning and teaching. As a first step, I removed the "business" component that had previously shared time with professional learning at our monthly faculty professional development days. Now, each month, a video of me explaining any business the staff needs to know that month (like the fire drill schedule) is e-mailed to all teachers. Teachers watch it on their own time and e-mail me the answers to several short questions as a check-in.
This gave us precious time for learning, but we needed to create a meaningful, yearlong professional development experience that met the differing needs of the school's faculty. St. Edmonds Academy had begun implementing a one-to-one iPad initiative, so all our teachers had an iPad. As our teachers became confident in using these devices, it occurred to me that flipped learning could be a way to meet teachers' professional learning needs.
Hamdan, McKnight, McKnight, and Arfstrom define flipped learning as "the use of digital technologies to shift direct instruction outside of the group learning space to the individual learning space." The goal of this approach to professional learning is to provide teachers the time they need to understand the new content (such as a key strategy) on their own, leaving the face-to-face time to focus on collaboration, discussion, activities, and analysis of the content.
We flipped our professional learning by having teachers review resources about the topic at hand on their own time, before our group workshops. Beginning in November, I gathered videos, PowerPoint presentations, and readings at different levels—some created by teachers, some from trusted online sources—on each topic teachers needed to learn about. Before each professional development day, I require teachers to individually review several of these resources, choosing resources that teach the content in a way that suits them.

A Glimpse of the Flip

Here's what this kind of adult learning looks like in action.

A Teacher-Centered Flipped Presentation

The topic of professional study for our teachers last November was the flipped classroom and how to make this approach common. What better way to teach the flipped classroom than by flipping the professional development? Teachers varied in their understanding and experience of flipped learning, so to get everyone on the same page, I required teachers to do the following on their own before our full-day session together:
  • Watch four videos on different aspects of flipping, including a video of flipped classroom pioneer Jon Bergmann's class and one showing this approach at work in a range of classes, from advanced math to phonics. I assigned a question to consider after watching each video. For instance, after a video listing the differences between flipped and traditional teaching, teachers were asked, "What makes you the most uncomfortable about the flipped approach?"
  • In assigned groups, review and discuss a case study of a school that has adopted flipped learning. I provided these case studies and arranged the groups so that each included a tech-savvy teacher, an innovative teacher, a traditionalist, and so on.
  • Discuss in their groups how they might create a short digital presentation on what they'd learned. Each group would have to create and deliver their presentation at our full-day session, using any kind of software except the usual PowerPoint.
Although the planning for this experience was extensive, the payoff was priceless. A few key actions made a difference. Posing a question to consider for each video helped teachers watch with purpose and thoughtfulness. Another key activity was the 15-minute meeting I held with all teachers two weeks after I assigned the videos, to check on how the viewing was going and to ask if they had any technical problems.
Our full-day face-to-face gathering included group discussions about the videos, collaborative sharing of the case studies, and a how-to about creating online videos for lesson planning. Several colleagues demonstrated free apps—like TouchCast, VoiceThread, and QuickTime—that teachers can use to create simple learning videos. Teachers were the active leaders. Modeling the teacher's role in a flipped classroom, I avoided center stage but facilitated conversations and provided guidance as needed.
Teachers left this session invigorated and willing to find ways to flip lessons in their classrooms. Since this November session, 75 percent of our teachers—from kindergarten through 8th grade—have flipped a lesson or unit.
A closer look at this experience shows how flipping increases quality time for learning. With our previous approach, I would have presented all the videos, case studies, and articles during the workshop. After reviewing these materials, there would have been minimal time for discussion, collaboration, or activities. But, as in the classroom, it's through conversations and hands-on work that the magic happens in professional learning. That's where teachers challenge one another's thinking and find better ways to reach students.

Flipping with a Presenter

When I began flipping this past fall, St. Edmond's had already arranged for a presenter (whom I'll call Gale) to deliver several workshops to our teachers in the spring. I worked with Gale to bring elements of the flipped approach into some of her presentations.
For instance, I assigned teachers to review one article and one short video about the crucial strategy of mentor texts before they met for Gale's workshop on how to teach nonfiction. Through this advance learning, all teachers acquired the knowledge base to participate in a professional conversation about mentor texts early on in the workshop. After Gale's PowerPoint presentation, teachers had time for further professional conversations and designing lesson plans.
To make this learning more active, I took the slides of Gale's PowerPoint and had each teacher record a narration explaining, in his or her own words, what a particular slide was saying. We combined these narrated slides into one presentation, which we archived for teachers to review as they design lessons on nonfiction text.

Every Teacher Learning

If quality teaching revolves around learning, shouldn't we as leaders mirror this philosophy in our approach to teacher learning? As I reflect on our first year of flipping professional learning experiences at St. Edmond's, I feel confident that teachers' learning improved throughout the year. By providing a way for teachers to do much of their learning at home, at their own pace, we improved the time we spent together in a large group. We've found a way for every teacher to learn.
<ATTRIB> Author's note: Jonathan Bergmann's blog is a good source of short videos on the flipped classroom approach and other relevant resources. </ATTRIB>
End Notes

1 Hamdan, N., McKnight, P., McKnight, K., &amp; Arfstrom, K. (2013). Flipped learning model: A white paper based on the literature review titled A Review of Flipped Learning. Arlington, VA: Flipped Learning Network.

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