How to Personalize (and Gamify) Professional Learning in Your School

Sometimes we act like professional development is hard. It doesn’t have to be. Sometimes we treat professional development like a chore. It should be fun, engaging, and wanted.

As a K-12 staff developer, I’ve spent the past few years giving professional development and receiving a lot of professional development. I’ve seen the different needs of administrators, teachers, and students. I’m lucky to work with another great staff developer, Dianne Krause. And since the beginning of this year we’ve been saying…there has to be a better way to reach more teachers.

Because if you reach more teachers, you reach more students.

We were kicking around ideas to “flip” our PD this entire year, but the lightbulb moment came during an actual professional development session that we took from Philip Vinogradov at our local IU.

Phil gave a session on Gamification, and let me tell you, this guy is a Google Certified master gamer! Dianne and I left the session knowing that we had to use this “gamification” process to boost our professional development within our district.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I don’t spend too much time “thinking” about making a change, I try to jump in and “do it”. Sometimes that backfires, but usually it gives me clarity to start working and creating as soon as the idea hits.

In the three weeks since Phil presented on Gamification, Dianne and I have been able to gamify and flip professional development sessions in our district, and are preparing to launch next week.

I want to walk you through the seven steps we took to Gamify PD in our school, so you can jump in and do it too.

Step 1: Make Sure There is a Why?

We are running a 1:1 initiative at our school. It has brought a lot of change. Combined with the usual instructional changes (think Common Core and new curriculum), and a new schedule change, our teachers have a lot on their already filled plate. Yet, I think this has made PD more important than ever before. Our job is changing, and we need new methods of keeping up and innovating.

Our “why” is based on the fact that two technology staff developers struggle to adequately work with 700 teachers. We also want to help push towards real innovation in the classroom. In order to do that, we have to make sure all of our teachers have a base level of knowledge so those that want to innovate have the tool set at their disposal. Therefore, our Gamified PD pathways are all “101” learning opportunities where teachers can get the base level of knowledge. The next level will come in the form of a meeting and planning with either Dianne or myself.

Another WHY is that it allows administrators and department members to see who can help as well. If a new Math teacher is looking to do Flipped Lesson they can see which one of their peers are already doing this successfully and ask for a classroom perspective and some help moving forward. In essence, we are building capacity for PD to be a school-wide effort…not just the effort of two people.

Step 2: Break Down the PD Sessions You Do Frequently

Once you’ve identified your WHY (which is arguably the most important step), it’s time to break down the PD sessions you do frequently…or what to give frequently. For us that centered around:

  • Microsoft Office
  • Google Apps
  • Smartboard/Smart Notebook
  • Screencasting
  • Flipped Classrooms
  • Wikispaces
  • Windows Movie Maker
  • Common Core
  • Lesson Planning

These were the basis of most of our meetings and planning sessions. And for us to move past teaching these tools, to using them for deeper learning opportunities, we needed to build learning pathways around the tools — so our meetings could be better spent planning for innovation.

At this point Dianne and I knew we needed to create online learning pathways in the simplest (and easiest to access) way possible. Although we could have built out this Gamified PD Process in a learning management system, we chose to use Google Forms as the tool of choice. I’ll explain why in Step #3.

Step 3: Build a Simple Learning Template

For each of the above PD Sessions, we typically showed our teachers what the tool could be used for, and then tailored our PD for their specific classroom use. In order to “flip” this learning experience we had to build a “simple learning template” that would go over the basics of the tool/concept and then allow for a more individualized learning task.

After looking at some different models and talking about what would work for are purposes (this is important) we decided on this template for each pathway:

Section #1: Let’s Learn – This is where we provide videos, tutorials, articles, and other ways to learn about the tool and/or concept as it can be used in the classroom.

Section #2: Prove Your Understanding – A simple task (sometimes a quiz) that would show us that they watched the videos/tutorial and read the articles for a base level of understanding.

Section #3: Performance Task – This task is the teacher actually creating something they could use in their classroom with the tool/concept and then sending us proof of their work.Β 

The framework allowed us to change it up depending on the tool/concept but also kept a structure that the teachers would become used to and know what to expect. We planned for each pathway to take around an hour of work. Some might be a bit longer and some might be quicker.

Finally, we built out this template in a Google Form, and Dianne made a folder in Google Drive where we could build all of our pathways (more on that in Step 5).

Step 4: Create a Pre-Survey

The purpose of the pre-survey was to gauge where each teacher was on an individual basis. When Dianne and I meet with teachers for the first time we can go through this survey, or they can go through it together, and we’ll see the results.

It will help us not only see what each individual teacher needs, but also see where as an entire staff we can focus on. We built the pre-survey using a Google Form:Β Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 10.56.51 AM

When it was finished the final form looks like this, starting with their basic information like Name, Building etc:

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 10.53.34 AM

We then ask teachers to go through the tools/concepts that we built our pathways around and see where they are. They can choose from a Scale from 1-5 that start’s with “it’s confusing” and goes to “I’m a master”. Again, using Google Forms will allow us to see data on the back-end and see which tools our teachers have already mastered.Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 10.54.15 AMScreen Shot 2014-03-29 at 10.54.32 AM

After they’ve finished the survey of the tools, they’ve earned their First Badge. We also let them know that Dianne and I are always available for questions about any of these missions/pathways. We are here to support in any way possible. Once they submit here, we’ll take them to the list of all the other missions/pathways that they could earn a badge:

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 10.55.29 AM

…and although it doesn’t look too pretty on Google Forms with all of the URLs, it works. Now they can choose any pathway based on their survey, and what THEY WANT to learn. We are not forcing, but instead giving a number of ‘on-demand’ opportunities.

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 10.55.45 AM

Using Google Forms to build this was super easy. As you can see from the screen shots, it is filled in with all of the pathways finished, but we created the pre-survey before actually building the pathways/missions. Then we linked in the form on the final survey page.

Step 5: Build the Learning Pathways with Real Tasks

This step took the most time. We had to build out each learning pathway with the best resources we could find (or create ourselves) and then create real tasks that the teachers could do to show mastery.

I eagerly told Dianne I’d be finished my pathways in a week…and of course I wasn’t even half-way done by the time she finished building her pathways! It was a back and forth collaborative process. We’d build a pathway, share it with each other, and then talk about what worked. Dianne is a MIE Expert Trainer (we are in a Microsoft 1:1 initiative) and she took the Office pathways, I took Google Apps, and then we split some of the other pathways. But the entire time we could look and help out on what the other was building.

Because we had created the template structure for the pathways ahead of time, it was simple to make each of the “missions” look similar. Now that we have them finished, we can constantly go back and tweak based on the feedback we get from our teachers on how much time it took to complete etc.

Again we built the pathways in Google Forms. Here is what a pathway looks like for the teacher:

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 11.15.51 AM


Then they start the learning process:Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 11.16.09 AM

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 11.16.17 AM


Section #2 is all about proving your understanding:

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 11.16.31 AM


And finally section #3 is the performance task:Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 11.17.18 AM

The final screen brings them back to the area where they can choose another PD learning pathway and earn another badge:

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 11.17.43 AM


So, it did take some time to build all of these pathways/missions…but completely worth it. Google Forms allowed us to connect it all together in an easy way.

Now we had to Gamify it!

Step 6: Gamify the Process with Badges, Certificates, Leader Boards

This is where Phil’s session helped so much. We want to make this type of Flipped PD fun and engaging. We also wanted to reward teachers who are taking the time to improve their craft, learn a new tool, and use it to create a lesson for their class.

We planned on giving “Learning Badges” for each pathway. For this, we used and also Dianne made a nice template in PowerPoint for us to create some custom badges with our tools.

After a teacher completed the pathway, two things would happen:

First, we would check for completion and then send them the Badge through email (or our LMS) that they earned.

Second, we would update the “Leader Board” by putting another badge by that teacher’s name.Β 

The “Leader Board” is only accessible if you want to see it, and we are keeping in on a District only document that they can access. We are also planning on sharing out each marking period who has acquired badges.

The reason for the badges and the leader board is to Gamify it in a way that supports learning and doesn’t attack those that aren’t going through the pathways and missions. I don’t want any negative peer pressure to effect this gamified PD. In fact, that’s why we are not making anything about this process “required”. It’s also why we are giving so many options. Choose what YOU want to learn, and if you have any questions or need any help…we’ll be here.

We’ve got a couple other ideas. One is offering Level 2 and 3 learning pathways for each tool/concept. When you’ve successfully earned your 3 badges, we’ll present you with a District Certificate of Mastery.

Another idea is letting those who earned certificates be trainers, or giving some other PD privilege (open to ideas). The leader board might also be imported into our learning management system as we move forward.

At this point we feel badges, the leader board, and certificates give us a lot of room to grow and improve the Gamified part of this professional development. It’s always going to be a work-in-progress! Here’s what some of the badges look like:

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 2.21.18 PM

Step 7: Launch it the Right Way

Ok, so now we’ve got everything set up and ready to go! Next step is launching it at our school. This is where Dianne and I have had to hold back a little bit. We want to launch this Gamified PD the right way. Here’s what we did.

  1. Showed the pathways to different teachers in our district and got their feedback.
  2. Soft launched the idea to teachers about the gamified part and took their feedback.
  3. Showed the entire pathway process to our Tech Director and got his feedback.
  4. Meeting with administrators to explain “the why” and how it will work in terms of professional development time etc.
  5. Plan to launch fully at a staff meeting with all stakeholders present.

The key here is to bring everyone into the fold. If the message of “the why” gets twisted, then people could take this type of PD the wrong way. If everyone is not on board to launch together, then it can also get messy. Finally, real teacher feedback is essential to building pathways that will actually help.

This idea of flipped PD, learning pathways, badges, and leader boards are going to be completely new to most of the people in our schools. Yet, if they understand the “why” chances are they will give it a shot.

Timing is also perfect because we can launch it this Spring and make some tweaks for summer. Then the plan is to use the feedback we get from the survey (and which pathways teachers complete) to make our “back-to-school” in service sessions extremely helpful and useful.

If you’ve read down this far then I hope you can try to take this idea to your school in some shape or form. We surely aren’t the first school to Gamify or Flip our Professional Development, but I want to keep my readers updated on how it goes this Spring and into next school year. Would love to hear your feedback in the comments below!

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