Think back to your last staff development event. Were you engaged the whole time, or was some of the material not quite relevant to you? Or maybe your admin team brought in a trainer to discuss the basics of OneNote, but you are already a OneNote genius. As teachers, we differentiate our instruction for our students to meet their needs — so why are we not practicing what we preach when it comes to professional development? As lifelong learners, we should be exposed to the same opportunities that we are providing our students. It’s time that we start personalizing our staff development!
When I was a classroom teacher, many of the staff meetings I attended were lecture style, sit-and-get sessions. The material was not always aimed at what I was teaching and there was an overall sense of inefficiency during the hour-long meeting. That is, until I had this one specific training. On this one occasion, I felt that the staff meeting met the needs of not only me and my team, but the whole school. We were given the choice as to what we wanted to learn, and this idea has stuck with me all these years. It has shaped and influenced my current teaching technique as a digital learning coach and personalized professional development.
Let me walk you through that particular occasion. We all met in one room to review our norms, then we were given the menu. The menu was divided into two 20-minute blocks and a 10-minute wrap-up at the end. During those 20-minute blocks, we had our choice of four different sessions we could attend. Very similar to a conference you might attend, each session had a short description, so teachers knew what to expect going into that lesson. For each time slot, the sessions were different so that those presenting in the first block could attend something in the second and vice versa.
The choices we had were sessions on: ELAR, math/science, technology, and special education. At 3:40, we were released to our first session. Then, 20 minutes later, an announcement was made to move to the next session and then the next one began. For our 10-minute wrap-up, we discussed the main themes of each session and as a ticket out, we posted our favorite things about the new method on a “parking lot.”
So, what did it look like behind the scenes? A few years later, after I had left the classroom, I asked my then principal how she organized that meeting. She told me that the administrative team met with several people weeks before the staff meeting and asked them to present something related to, well, whatever. Those staff members then prepared their presentation. The people that she chose were those looking to move up into a leadership role or those currently in a leadership role. She said that it took some time and effort to plan the whole thing, but in the end, it was a very valuable learning experience for the entire staff.
With the advancements in technology over the past several years, one idea for staff meetings is to make them blended or even flipped. With a blended delivery, students (or in this case, the staff) would conduct a short activity or watch a short video prior to the staff meeting. This front-loading of material allows the meeting host to begin right away, not having to use valuable time to introduce the material. For example, the professional development is on student motivation. Admin could send out a TED Talk or another video for staff members to watch, and once the meeting begins, staff immediately break into groups to discuss the video. This eliminates having to use the first 10 minutes of the meeting to watch the video.
With a flipped method, the entire staff development is conducted online. One great way to conduct flipped professional development is through a learning management system. When designing the professional development, you could set up a module that staff members move through with a quiz or discussion at the end for accountability.
With a flipped delivery, staff members are free to work on the program or activity when they want, where they want. If the entire third-grade team wants to get together after school to complete the activities, they can. Or, if someone is unable to attend a meeting, they can complete the assignment at home. The ability to work on the training when it’s convenient to them will help ensure they are engaged and the training is effective.
Traditional staff development still has its place. When it is time for STAAR training, or when new campus discipline programs are being implemented, the entire staff should be together. For many other concepts though, giving the teachers options when it comes to what they learn and how they learn is the way to go. You’ll have staff that appreciates the opportunity to pick something of interest, and you’ll be modeling what we expect our teachers to be doing with their students.
Matthew Crutcher is vice president of TCEA’s Campus Technology Special Interest Group (CAMP-SIG) and a digital learning coach at Lamar CISD.