Wednesday, January 22, 2014

It's Not Complicated, Learning Together is Better

"What's better..?"
Planning institute day activities can be time consuming and challenging. As late as earlier in the week, we were saying, "This could really fall flat on it's face." "People are gonna look at us like we're nuts!" "We could get fired." In the end, the four of us decided that presenting a plan to gamify our professional development in an entertaining way was worth the risk of failure and embarrassment. As my PLN members often remind me, learning can get messy, and messy is to be expected, especially when attempting something new or "innovative".

In December, our small team of school leaders, more aptly, my partners in crime, were tasked with "ramping up" our professional development in support of our 1:1 iPad program. We reviewed the objectives of the 1:1 PD program (iPad Proficiencies, Classroom Management, Digitizing Content, and Building an LMS Foundation), and then we started brainstorming creative ways to get all of our faculty connected and vested in a culture of innovative learning and teaching. Surveys and feedback from staff meetings informed us that teachers wanted professional development to be differentiated, personalized, self-paced, collaborative, and fun. Every spring, for the past several years, our school runs a Fitness Challenge as part of our Employee Wellness Program. Borrowing from this theme, we decided to turn our professional development into a team game called, "Pirate iChallenge".

The objective of the game is for players to authentically demonstrate mastery of iPad skills in order to overcome weekly learning challenges related to 1:1 supported learning. Successfully conquering the challenges will systematically elevate the gamer's status from beginner (white belt) status, to expert (black belt) status. Both teams and individuals earn points, badges, and incentives as they progress through the game. More importantly, teams of players are elevating their "professional practice" as they move from analog to digitally based instruction. I am sharing our recipe and reflections from the day in the hopes that it will help you be creative and fearless during the planning of your school's professional development activities.

Our Recipe of Key PD Ingredients

1 Digital container for communicating, tracking, and sharing the progress of our participants (Schoology course) LMS Modeling
1 Digital presentation to share information about the game and why it will support professional growth
(Google Slides) Digital Content
1 or 2 Short, interesting videos to help break the ice, and spark interest in the mission.
(YouTube) Classroom Management
1 or 2 Short, entertaining skits to help convey the message that growing professionally can be both challenging and fun. Classroom Management
1 self-assessment to help participants get immediate feedback indicating their initial skill level
(Google Form) Skills & Proficiencies
1 registration form so that participants can create teams of players
(Google Form) Classroom Management
1 engaging activity that will help ignite the learning process and build collegiality
(mini EdCamp) Classroom Management & Skill Proficiencies

Reflections and Recommendations

We created a foundation of approval by meeting with staff members to gather their input on meaningful professional development. Our forms and agenda were screened by several of our teacher leaders for feedback and approval. Our principal arrived early to greet our staff members with a gift of a stylus pen from our retiring superintendent. Videos, slides, and information were deliberately kept simple, direct, and concise. We wanted the message to be clear, not overwhelming. Our videos broke the ice in a fun way. Yes, gifts, food, and laughter help to create a great learning atmosphere. The karate skit was humorous, but also helped solidify the message of differentiated, skill-based learning. In addition, this light-hearted approach demonstrated that it's OK to have fun and take some risks while learning.

The slide show was easy to read and follow, although we had one hyperlink to a form that was broken. This was quickly corrected without too many people noticing. We had our Innovation Coaches positioned around the student cafeteria to provide assistance to staff members as they completed the online skills assessment. Staff members appreciated that we adhered to the schedule of the day's agenda. (respect for their time)

Finally, our mini "unconference" was very well received. Sessions were offered for beginner through expert abilities. Staff members were given an hour to taste digital learning ala carte. Most of our 1-to-1 teachers lead the way by moderating topic tables. Once again, the learning opportunities were personalized, differentiated, collaborative, and enjoyable. The "unconference" helped to kick off our iChallenge Game, and by many accounts, even those apprehensive about changes in working conditions found something interesting to learn and discuss. In addition to picking up a few iPad-related skills, we also modeled practices that will help shift teaching pedagogy, and improve student learning through increased engagement and relevancy. It was a great day of learning that I was proud to be a part of.

Your questions and comments are welcome and appreciated. 

  • What unique or special things are you doing with professional development in your school? 
  • Are you having to take more responsibility for your own professional learning? How is this working for you?

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is amazing! We are at this moment talking about doing this exact type of PD in our district. A very timely article for us :) I love how you gamified the PD and how simple you kept the implementation. Great job!

Robert Schuetz said...

Thank you for reading and commenting. I am glad that you found some of the information validating. Good luck with your PD voyage. I would love to hear how it goes for you. #connect