Flipped PD: Walking the Talk

So it’s been a pretty busy month or so for me and professional development. I’ve been doing regular PD through my COETAIL course; a couple of weeks ago, my school did some useful curriculum mapping; and last month, I got to attend Learning 2.011, which I had attended the previous year as well. When I left that conference, my mind was swimming with new ideas and outlooks to bring back and implement in my teaching. It quite literally took a few days before the buzz wore off but I still remained keen to make changes in my teaching to incorporate those new ideas. I spent much of the next few weeks making changes to the units I teach to reflect these new ideas. As this past weekend approached, I was looking forward to my MYP Technology workshop in Hong Kong so that I could take all of the ideas I’d been putting together and hopefully hash them out with more thought into effective curriculum documentation and maybe hear some ideas from other Technology teachers.

If you hadn’t guessed by the previous paragraph, I teach MYP; a program which is often described by outsiders as wishy-washy. While there are certainly things that could be improved, personally, I feel that it’s a fairly progressive program that focuses on getting kids to question and inquire in order to approach and solve problems. It tends to emphasize student initiated learning and encourages risk-taking in learning. Regardless of content or factual information, these are universal skills that serve students well throughout their lives, regardless of what they choose to do and where they chose to do it. So when I got to the workshop and the session trainer began reading off an MYP-provided PowerPoint slideshow, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d somehow gone to the wrong conference. How could an organization which is responsible for a progressive thinking program offer such dull, dry training methods?

As the three day course progressed, despite some efforts by our trainer, Matt Plummer, to make things a little more interesting, the mandated, stagnant approach of the workshop seemed to kill the whole purpose of getting together in person with professional peers. Here we had a classroom full of interesting and interested Technology teachers but the chances to learn and share with each other seemed few and far between. Just when things seemed to be picking up and ideas started to flow, it seemed as though we needed to get back to reading words off a PowerPoint slideshow.

It would have been a more useful for the slideshow to have been a document that participants could read before attending the workshop which would then allow the workshop participants and leader to use their face-to-face time to collaborate, share, and explore new ideas and <GASP!> actually DO something. Like the flipped classroom idea, why not initiate a kind of flipped professional development model where some research and reading is done before the workshop and then, once people have traveled their hundreds or thousands of miles to interact with other teachers, they can actually ‘unpack‘ (a word, we did notice, that the TOK course of the IB Diploma seems to love) the content and delve deeper through sharing of experiences.

[NOTE: From the time I began writing this to the time I finished and published it, I have come across an article about flipped PD by David Truss, that is far more informative than this post. It really does a fine a job of summarizing how I feel about my 'good' PD of late. I recommend you read it.]

I know that I am lucky to work in an international school and, after this weekend, I feel even more lucky about working at NIST. Our school’s focus over the next couple of years is “Walking the Talk.” Overall, I think that my school does quite a good job of walking the talk (or, if you prefer a simplification, leading by example). It’s about time that the MYP start doing the same. If they want to truly encourage an inquiry based teaching system that teaches students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, then it needs to take a like-minded approach in its training of its teachers. Time to ‘walk the talk,’ MYP.

8 Responses to Flipped PD: Walking the Talk

  1. Great post that really compliments and adds to what I was saying with my Pro-D Flip post.

    I really like this point: “Like the flipped classroom idea, why not initiate a kind of flipped professional development model where some research and reading is done before the workshop and then, once people have traveled their hundreds or thousands of miles to interact with other teachers, they can actually ‘unpack‘… the content and delve deeper through sharing of experiences.”

    I believe that professional development sessions do not take advantage of the wisdom in the room, and with a little thought and planning, participants become co-experts that add value to the overall presentation and also to what participants learn.

  2. Flipped PD–what a great approach! I have attended similar PD workshops and it can be very difficult to generate valuable discussion during the official meetings if the organizer does not see himself or herself as a facilitator. This has been especially true at IB and AP workshops that I have attended. Your answer would be valuable at IB and AP events in which there may be several teachers in attendance who are new to the course and who intend to learn as much as possible in a short time.

    How do you think you would structure the preview and the in-class time differently when working with teachers compared to working with students?

    • Hi Garry,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m at the start of a holiday so at this point, I won’t give it too much analysis but in general, using the recent workshop I went to as an example, had they sent out the content of the PowerPoint ahead of time, I could have read through it on the plane (or before) and arrived at the conference ready to talk about things I didn’t understand or wanted to delve deeper into. There was a pretty wide range of MYP Tech experience in the room so there could have been some differentiation in which more experienced people had a chance to collaborate and share while the less experienced people learned new concepts and then by the second or third day, the more experienced teachers of MYP Tech could be leading and teaching the less experienced teachers in areas that were of interest or importance. I think it would have built stronger PLN bonds and resulted in a more effective understanding of the material. That’s just off the top of my head and I have no research to back up anything I’m saying but if the MYP encourages that kind of learning for our students, then why would it be so different for educators?

  3. Great Post.

    I so agree, having been to lots of IB workshops. am forwarding it to our PD people here at UNIS. We live in hope…


  4. I’ve tried this concept of sending out content ahead of time for participants to read to be ready for a session and I have to say it just doesn’t work for me.

    It’s not like we have a grade or anything else to hand over the participants heads…and teachers are busy people so most don’t start thinking about the PD until they are in the PD. When I’ve tried it (twice) it ended up being a mess. Because the two or three people that did do the reading are upset because nobody else did and you can’t go on having a conversation with others not having the content. If you could give a “come to PD session prepared grade” I think most educators would flunk.

    Now I think it’s different in a class….or there is intrinsic motivation on the part of the participant….but personally I just don’t find that many teachers willing to put in the time ahead of time to have a good Flipped PD session.

    • Hi Jeff,

      I completely understand your point of view and it’s great to hear from ‘the other side.’ Let’s be fair, quite often, educators make the worst students. Take a look around a staff meeting and see how engaged the staff are and it’s probably worse than your average classroom of students. I think you’re right (despite the likely sarcasm) though that if the certificate at the end of the course was contingent on preparedness or participation, then it might make a difference. Ultimately, I guess it comes back to session leaders walking the talk and working at engaging the participants as much as they would if it were their classroom…obviously contingent on the MYP organization allowing a little more freedom within their training structure. I’m sure the change will come. It’s just a matter of when and what will be the tipping point to initiate that change.


  5. Hi Jesse,

    So the failure of a workshop is often that the teachers coming in have very different starting points. I see your idea of a flipped element as an opportunity to level the playing field. I do not expect everyone to be able to or actually need to but it really could help. Of course it would also help if the IBO, for instance, stopped taking the money from everyone and actually asked people to justify with experience to get onto a level 2/3 subject curriculum course. So maybe there are some other methods to level the playing field but I think a flipped element is worth exploring.