Flipped learning has been gaining in popularity over the past few years. It changes the dynamic of the typical classroom by helping students get a better understanding of topics before they enter into a classroom discussion. Through the use of creative videos and lessons, teachers send work home with students, so they can be better prepared for the lesson the next day. Flipped learning helps build engagement with students, and provides them with the privacy to watch a video multiple times to better understand a lesson, before they have to discuss it the next day.
As a former school leader in an elementary building, I saw the power of flipped learning. As an administrator, I encouraged my staff to flip their classrooms, but never considered flipping my leadership. However, when Bill Ferriter, a teacher in North Carolina (USA) challenged leaders to flip their faculty meetings in his Tempered Radical blog, I knew it was time for me to ‘walk the talk’.
Over time, and with some bumps and bruises along the way, I flipped our faculty meetings. I spent time with our Principal’s Advisory Council (PAC), which includes one teacher from each stakeholder group, and we discussed different topics staff wanted to learn more about. The first few flipped videos and resources I sent to staff before the meeting focussed on evidence-based observations. Through PAC we decided that we all needed to be on the same page when it came to formal teacher observations.
As I began to see the benefits of flipping faculty meetings, I began flipping the district level meetings I was responsible for, because it provided me with a way to connect with a large group of people I did not see on a daily basis. I could give them information before the meeting and, therefore, maximise our time together.
After that method of communication showed signs of success, I moved into flipping my parent communication. At first, it was to provide information about new accountability measures and mandates before Open House and Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) meetings, but then I began creating videos that highlighted some of the good things going on in our school.
Fortunately, I had the ability to send out an email to all parents through our parent portal. I created videos using my iPad and a free app called Touchcast, and within minutes I had an informative video to send out to parents. As I did it more and more, there was an increase in the number of parents who began to view them. It helped open up the bricks and mortar of the school, and made our learning more visible (Hattie).
Flipping parent communication helped make our community closer, and it maximised the communication I had with parents. In the two years I flipped my leadership, I never had a parent complain that we did not communicate enough.
The following are five reasons why it is an important model:
- Maximises Faculty/Staff Meetings – In these days of political noise and top-down education distractions set by mandates and accountability measures, teachers need time together when they can actually focus on the issues that matter to them when they are in a faculty meeting. Faculty meetings should not be about checklists and ‘To-dos’.
Schools usually have building level teams, which are supposed to help improve the school climate. One of the areas of focus for those teams should be to create more authentic faculty meetings, asking questions such as:
- What do teachers want to learn about?
- What areas of concern do they have?
- How can they create opportunities to improve the school climate?
If done correctly with staff input, flipping leadership will help focus that precious hour the staff gets together. Principals can send out videos, articles and blogs beforehand with a list of discussion questions. Of course, in the email sent to staff, principals will also ask staff to send other questions or come to the staff meeting prepared to discuss the topic. In that same email, principals can also send the list of important dates that would have taken 20 minutes of the faculty meeting.
After all, the flipped method is about maximising time … not wasting it.
- Sets the mindset before a district meeting – Very often district meetings involve people who do not know each other well. They work at different levels in the pre-kindergarten system. The first meeting should be focussed on setting goals and intentions for the rest of the meetings. After that, the leader could use the flipped model to send out information before meetings so they can maximise their time together. The flipped model is not just for the classroom or building, it can and should be used at the district level as well.
- Parent engagement – We can say what we want about parents not having computers at home, but several resources tell us that most people have smartphones. If they have smartphones, they can view a video.
As a former principal, I was fortunate to have a great school community, but when I reflected I realised that I had many parents that still did not know what was going on in the classroom or school. We were sending newsletters that may not have made it home. We had a website that was not always engaging but it did provide information. But … something was missing.
In education, we value our roles. Principals are the leaders of the building, teachers are in the classroom, and parents do the homework with their children and support the school. Unfortunately, schools sometimes hold up one hand asking parents to come in the door, while the other hand is out stopping them from entering. When parents ask too many questions, some school leaders and teachers get upset. The bottom line is parents send their children to school every day, and they deserve to know what is happening.
The flipped classroom model helps parents see what their children are learning, but the flipped leadership model helps them see the whole school community.
A few personal examples:
- Our school was a professional development school with a local college, but most parents did not know that. Flipping allowed me to explain what that meant.
- A few grade levels worked with the Albany Symphony Orchestra, but not all parents knew that. It is not every day your kids get to work with a Grammy Award winning orchestra. This was the perfect relationship to promote and flip.
- The Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) and the Common Core were two major initiatives that parents did not really know about a few years ago, yet they were affected by them in major ways. I flipped the information first before an Open House and parents came with questions. It was one of the best Open Houses of my career.
- Flipping leadership allowed me to make the school more transparent to parents, so they came to meetings and events more prepared. Sure, not all parents took advantage of it when I first began to flip my leadership, but it was incumbent on me to make the videos and information more engaging, so more parents wanted to.
- We are Busy – Whether we are principals, staff, teachers, students or parents, it seems as though life is as busy as ever. One of the benefits of social media is that it has provided us with the time to watch or interact on our own schedules.
Many parents are going in a few hundred different directions on a daily basis, which should not prevent them from knowing what is going on in their child’s school. Teachers are creating lessons, engaging students, filling out paperwork, and trying to have a personal life as well. Flipping leadership is a way to keep a focus as we all negotiate our way through our busy lives.
Just because people are busy does not mean they do not care. It means, as school leaders, we have to find different ways to engage with our stakeholders.
- Puts the focus on learning – So often we talk about the adults. We put our focus on teaching, but as John Hattie suggests, we need to put the focus on learning. Flipping leadership allows leaders to focus on school-to-school (i.e. other elementary, middle or high schools, colleges, universities) partnerships as well as home-school partnerships. It can show all the ways that schools are engaging students in learning.
In the End
In order to flip their leadership, leaders need a few tools. They need to flip a tablet or laptop, an app like Touchcast, and a method to collect email addresses so they can maximise how many stakeholders they send it to. Most schools have emails for all staff, but collecting parent email addresses will take work.
Take the time to take pictures of students (with parental permission) and create an outline for the pre-determined area of focus, because that will help keep them focussed. Flipping leadership can be a positive way to engage staff and parents.
The flipped model for leadership takes work, and it also takes relationship building. Leaders need to set a foundation that focusses on learning and encourages risk-taking. Flipping will not replace the communication that leaders have been doing with stakeholders, but it will enhance it.
Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is a former school administrator now working as an independent consultant. He is a Visible Learning Trainer (Cognition Education, Corwin Press) for John Hattie, an Instructional Coach with Jim Knight (Corwin Press), and he does presentations and workshops on flipped leadership. Peter is the series editor for the Connected Educator Series (Corwin Press), he writes the Finding Common Ground blog for Education Week, and he is the author of several books. For more information you can visit his website at www.petermdewitt.com
DeWitt, Peter (2014). Flipping Leadership Doesn’t Mean Reinventing the Wheel. Corwin Press. Connected Educator Series.
Ferriter, Bill (2012). What if You Flipped Your Faculty Meetings? Tempered Radical Blog. July 7th, 2012. http://blog.williamferriter.com/2012/07/07/flippedclassroom-cpchat-edleaders/
Hattie, John (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers. Routledge.
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