Guest post by Paul Hermes

“You should try to make your classroom more student-centered and interactive. Don’t 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 your 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 yes, you have. 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 at the questions above and replace “student” with “teacher.” If your evaluator asked you these same questions, would they apply to you as the teacher of your teachers? Does the idiom “do as I say, not as I do” fit? 

After hearing about the incredible work that Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams were doing with the “flipped classroom” and our school’s increasing struggles with not having enough time to provide effective professional development (PD), our school’s leadership team decided that if we are going to truly transform the way our teachers teach and our students learn, then we need to change how we provide 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 monthly staff meeting every third Wednesday for 90 minutes, and during the school year we have two early-release PD days. So over the course of a school year, we have approximately 1,500 minutes or 25 hours of professional meeting time. We had been using these 25 hours in a traditional meeting format that were completely administration led: Administrators picked the topics, created the agenda, ran the meeting, etc. These “sit and get” meetings were one-sided presentation meetings. And to put it nicely, our staff did not run to the location of the meetings and eagerly await their beginning, and rightfully so. When your learners have no input on the topics, get talked to the entire time, and don’t necessarily get any tangible or applicable new knowledge or skills from the meeting, it’s no surprise they aren’t thrilled to attend.

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 issue of ineffective meetings and our need for more PD time were addressed.

Our flipped staff meetings include five key elements:

  1. Screencasts to preview the meeting: A week prior to the monthly staff meeting, we send a screencast, called BVIP (Bay View Information and Primers), which shares announcements and reminders that used to be covered at staff meetings. In addition, we include primers that help set up the meeting, such as meeting activity directions, a topic overview, a professional article or video, and more. These screencasts prepare all of the staff for the meeting and optimize our time together.
  2. Surveys to expand PD offerings: We surveyed our staff about what topics, activities, and practices they wanted for their professional growth. Incorporating staff choices has led to greater staff engagement and satisfaction. The greater range of options available allows each staff member to select the PD offering that is best for him or her.
  3. Staff leadership to increase engagement: As we integrated more site-based professional development within our staff meetings and in-service time, we asked our staff members to lead more of the activities and share their expertise and interests with their colleagues. These opportunities help to engage the staff members by leading PD and create greater buy-in from the rest of the staff.
  4. More time for collaboration: Flipping staff meetings has freed up additional time that we can use for greater collaboration. The additional time available has expanded opportunities for all of us to learn and grow together. People are working outside of their teams, departments, grade levels, and friend groups, which has created wider and stronger bonds throughout our entire staff.
  5. Do as I say and as I do: Flipping staff meetings has allowed our leadership team to build stronger bonds with staff as we are seen to be “practicing what we preach.” Not only does this modeling help the staff feel better about taking risks and trying new instructional practices, it also allows our leadership team to experience the issues and challenges that our teachers may face as they try to apply the “flipping” techniques in their classrooms.

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? Our schools, staff, students, and future require us to be innovative—to change, evolve, and improve. A simple change, such as flipping the leadership of staff meetings, can go a long way to giving teachers a stronger voice in their own professional development.

What techniques could you employ to “flip the script” on professional development and empower teachers to play a more active role in their own education?

Paul Hermes is the associate principal of curriculum and instruction at Appleton North High School in Appleton, WI. He believes being an educator is the most important profession in the world and has dedicated his life to improving the lives of students, families, and communities. He was the 2016 Wisconsin Associate Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHermesEDU and visit his education and leadership blog, Analogies from an Administrator.

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