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Flipped Learning: Take It or Leave It

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Flipping the learning is catching on. In its early stages, zealots with skill and opportunity find ways to make it work while the rest of us watch with interest. Models arise, articles abound, and some of us even put our toes in the flipping learning water. The premise is, the lecture, video, digital presentations, or recorded lessons, are watched or listened to by students, at home. The classroom then, turns into an environment in which the teacher can observe the students' application of the learning. This is different from current practice in an important way. In the current configuration, the teacher offers the new information in the class and the students are given time, albeit limited time, to demonstrate that they understand what was taught. Then students go home to practice what we hope they understood in the classroom. Flipping changes all that. Information is learned at home and then there is ample time in the classroom for demonstration of understanding with the teacher monitoring misunderstandings and re-teaching where necessary.

There are successful examples of implementation. Some can be found in the March 2013 issue of the AASA publication, School Administrator. In his article, entitled "Web Access First, Then Let the Flipping Commence" Matt Akin, superintendent of Piedmont City Schools in Piedmont, Alabama says, "Providing a laptop computer for each student is essential for at-risk students to benefit through flipped instruction." No one denies that professional development and support for teachers is necessary. Hardware, software, and resources required are noted as essential. And obviously the resources at home are required. We suggest there is another challenge to be seriously thought through.

The Nation's Reportcard reveals our need to develop our students' vocabulary. Without the ability to understand a spoken word, written passage, an instruction, our students fall behind. As they fall behind, they meet with less success, which in turn leads to diminishing engagement and motivation. How then can we send these students home to learn on their own?

The answer lies in our leadership skills. As district and building leaders, we have the opportunity to lead implementation of transformative teaching and learning practices. Flipping may be one worth doing. Like each of our students, each of our schools has different strengths, abilities, and challenges. The implementation process is in local hands. Perhaps the quality of the implementation rests upon the quality of the questions we ask of ourselves, our faculty, our parents.

Here are some questions to consider:
•How will we know we truly understand what flipping is?
•What questions do we need to ask?
•Once we understand flipping, what are our next steps?
•How does this work with students who are disengaged and unmotivated?
•Are there ways in which this will create even larger gaps between our strong and our weaker learners? Or are we putting tools in the learners' hands so that those gaps close?
•If we decide that flipping classrooms is the right thing to do in our district, how and when should we engage our parents in the process?
•Are we missing something? Do we have enough diverse thinkers sitting at the table?

Otto Scharmer reminds us in his book, Theory U, that to move a system successfully into new territory establishment of a prototype for that new way of being is essential. So, we suggest that one not plunge fully into the flipping water until after it is tested in our own district. A small scale model allows key stakeholders to observe and offer feedback. It allows for the investment to build if flipping is a next right answer. And it informs the expansion of the alternative in a larger school or system. Choose the pilot places, be they schools or classes, carefully. The success or failure of the prototype will be determined by this being the right choice.

The flipped learning idea is new enough that it gives us an opportunity to consider making a change in teaching and learning with an understanding of the change process from the beginning. If flipped classrooms are an answer to 21st century learning, then we owe it to our students to give it consideration.

We suggest assessing your district's and your school's readiness to take on the study of flipped classrooms and consider it for practice. With that knowledge, work with the entire faculty to study the practice, talk to those already doing it, visit a flipped classroom either physically or by Skype. Involve everyone. Allow fears, concerns, and judgments to be expressed. Also invite excitement, possibility and other suggestions. Allow everyone at the table to express anything they feel. Maintain acknowledgement of how loss of the familiar will impact acceptance of a new practice. Be prepared and organized enough to remain aware of the psychological effect on those considering or making the change, while learning and knowing enough about the practice to be able to lead it with confidence. Encourage those with greatest interest to participate in a pilot.

This is not a change of practice for teachers alone, this is a transformation of practice for all of us. Perhaps it will lead to a redefinition of school itself. As leaders we will best serve the transformation by observing, coaching, encouraging, and understanding the practice and our people. Whether we become one who introduces a flipped classroom, grade level or school or not, the quality of the questions we ask offers our best answers.

Scharmer, Otto C. (2009).Theory U. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler

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