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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

4 Obstacles to Consider When Flipping Leadership

By Peter DeWitt — December 07, 2014 5 min read
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Flipping leadership has one of those names that puts it at risk of seeming more like a gimmick than something worthwhile for leaders to do in their leadership practices. Truth be told, it will be nice when the day comes when we don’t have to say “Flipping” because it’s just a natural way that all leaders...lead.

Unfortunately, we are not there yet. Too many faculty meetings and professional development sessions are less about collaboration and more about compliance. Too many leaders look at faculty meetings as something they should control and not something where there should be ongoing dialogue.

In our leadership training we learned we must be visible. I think it’s a good start but we need more than visibility. We need to go deeper. Walk the talk or whatever catch phrase we want to use, but we need to be the lead learner that, as John Hattie always suggests, puts learning at the center of our focus.

It’s not enough to be visible. Being visible can be fake because it just means stakeholders see us, and not necessarily engage with us. We need to engage our staff and provide them with the learning opportunities they want, and not just the ones we think they need. And when we provide those opportunities they need to be about collaboration and not “Sit and get.”

At NYSCATE 2014 I presented with Tom Whitby and Tom suggested, in only the way Tom can, that “professional development sucks.” Although it’s not the wording I would use, I completely agree with Tom. And the problem is that the lack of great professional development has helped create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Teachers now show up expecting to be told what to do, instead of being asked for their input into what they should be diving into in the first place.

From my perspective, there are four things that every leader should know about flipped leadership.

They are:

It won’t be perfect - It’s funny but leaders are concerned about taking risks in front of their staff, and yet they want their staff to take risks. The reality is that we are not Steven Spielberg, nor are we Ron Howard. The videos leaders create do not have to look like Hollywood had a hand in the production, but they do have to be engaging, and less than 5 minutes.

Please keep in mind that sometimes they will not look as good as we want them to. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we fall flat on our faces. The important thing is that we care enough to pick ourselves back up and try again. In this post by my friend Jenny Nauman, she writes about how her meeting fell flat. BUT Jenny did something vitally important. She reflected on what went wrong, moved forward in an effort to make sure it didn’t happen again. Sometimes failure is our best teacher.

There needs to be a reason to do it - If you’re asking people to view something before a meeting, they need to know why they are doing it. If the leader cannot articulate why they are flipping, perhaps they need to do more reflection on why they are doing it. Flipping without really understanding the compelling reasons to do it will just help perpetuate the thought that flipping is a gimmick. Flipping is a process that takes a lot of dialogue before the first faculty meeting is ever flipped.

Things to do:

  • Write a narrative about flipping and send it out in an e-mail to staff or parents
  • Provide some blogs or articles explaining the process so they can read about the experience
  • Discuss it at faculty meetings and ask for questions. Discuss the obstacles!
  • Make it a natural part of your leadership practices

Do it your way - There is no one way to flip! If leaders can create a great video on their tablet using a free app like Touchcast or something else, go for it. If they prefer to send out a link to a blog or article that staff reads before they dive down deeper into a discussion, do that. The important thing is to create opportunities for ongoing dialogue around topics that the staff decide are important.

For example, a leader may be sitting in an informal meeting with a teacher and a topic comes up like....how to provide effective feedback. Find blogs and articles about effective feedback to send to staff. Perhaps another teacher is doing a great job providing effective feedback. That teacher could run a faculty meeting. Do an activity, and look at examples of effective feedback!

Dialogue and not monologue - Flipping a meeting is supposed to be about building dialogue and not monologue. This means for parent meetings as well. It’s a bit different from branding your school. It doesn’t mean creating videos that get sent out to staff highlighting the activities of the day. Flipping means sending out information in a short video that parents can view before open house. It means sending report cards home a week before parent-teacher conferences so that that parents can come with questions.

We spend too much time talking at each other and not enough time talking with each other. It’s too easy to blame parents for not being around when we aren’t working that hard to engage them in the first place. It’s too easy to blame teachers for being quiet at meetings when we have built a climate of sit and get. Discuss, dissect and debate (3D’s) must be a natural part of our meetings. If leaders are afraid of questions maybe it’s because they don’t know the answers. Leaders don’t always have the answers...which is why the 3 D’s are so important!

In the End

Leaders need to go deeper with their meetings...the ones with parents and the meetings they have with staff. They need to cover the 3 D’s because those will make any idea stronger or provide the necessary pause before moving forward with an initiative that doesn’t make sense.

Flipping is a philosophy and a practice. It takes time to nurture it and make it better. Leaders must involve stakeholders in the process. I had faculty meetings that were horrible, and professional development sessions that were too much about sit and get. We need to change the dialogue about faculty meetings and parent meetings, and include dialogue in those meetings.

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For some additional resources on flipping click here.

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.