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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

LessonCasts Is Professional Development Worth Investigating

By Peter DeWitt — April 05, 2013 3 min read
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School leaders have a luxury. They have the opportunity to walk into any classroom at any time and see students engaged in learning. Some days the lessons are good, other times...not so much. Hopefully, leaders and teachers talk it out and move on. Everyone has bad lessons and those conversations should end up leading to better lessons.

As a school leader, there are times when I am amazed by what I am seeing. Student-centered, inquiry-based learning where the teacher is hardly talking but the students are actively engaged, completely ignoring that I’m in the room. Those moments are not few and far between.

Some teachers are great storytellers, and they can draw students in toward them as they begin to tell a story. The students believe they are hearing a story from the teacher’s personal life, but she is really setting the stage for a great lesson. Like a perfect storm, all the elements connect and the students are on their way to discovering something new.

I feel like I work with some of the best teachers in education and I’m sure there are many administrators who feel that way. They feel like their teachers are head and shoulders above the rest. Except on the days that they’re not. Not everyone can be amazing every day of the week. We’re human. We have flaws.

But more days than not...school leaders have the opportunity to watch teachers and students do engaging things together.

Being a school leader is an awesome job....

The Disconnect
Teachers have long been accused of being their own islands. Students enter the building, teachers close their doors, and no one sees each other until lunch time...if they actually take the time to eat lunch. Many times teachers who teach down the hall from one another hardly see each other unless they pass on their way to their 30 second bathroom break.

One of the other criticisms of teachers is that they do not “toot their own horn.” Many teachers are doing creative and engaging lessons in their classroom but they don’t want to seem as though they are bragging about it. It’s exciting when a lesson goes really well but teachers are more likely to share when a lesson goes bad rather than when one goes really well.

No one wants to be viewed as God’s gift to teaching.

Teachers will share physical lessons but it only happens when they are asked. Whether it’s a great way to teach math or a science lesson that they have found engaging, they like to help out their colleagues. As a former teacher, some of my best lessons came from other teachers. But I had to ask for help first. Hopefully that is changing.

Flipping Professional Development
Recently, I read ‘LessonCasts': Flipped PD for Teachers by Liana Heitin. LessonCasts is an idea by Nicole Tucker-Smith that sounds a bit like Khan Academy for teachers. In the article, Tucker-Smith says “It’s not a lesson plan. It’s more like a teacher-to-teacher conversation. As a teacher, when I wanted help, I never asked to see a lesson plan. I asked, ‘What did you do?” She has an excellent point but many teachers will ask for lessons as well.

Some educators may be quick to dismiss LessonCasts because it’s the flipped approach but they shouldn’t. Many of us watch short videos so we can learn new information. Short videos offer us, not only a visual, but the opportunity to review over and over again until we get a better understanding. A 3 minute video, which Tucker-Smith says should be the maximum, can give viewers loads of information. I have a few teachers that send me videos of lessons and those videos give me a ton of information on what is happening in the classroom.

Teachers should be creating their own LessonCasts to share with one another. School leaders hired the teachers in their district because they were the most creative and best qualified professionals that they interviewed. My friend John Bennett is a proponent of Local Education Communities (LEC) and this is clearly one way to build on that practice. In every district, there are numerous very creative teachers. They should be sharing their knowledge!

With high quality professionals like that, why not get them to share their expertise with one another? It’s the 21st century way to share best practices. It’s time to foster creativity and focus on high quality student engagement. Teachers within the same district sharing their best lessons with one another has so much potential. Professional development is everyone’s responsibility, and this is one way that could meet the needs of educators.

• Encourage teachers to create flipped videos about their favorite lesson
• Create a secure spot on the district website where they can share their videos

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.