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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

5 Reasons You Should Flip Your Leadership

By Peter DeWitt — July 06, 2014 5 min read
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I know, I know. Educators are tired of hearing about flipping...but have they tried it with integrity? Flipping classrooms or leadership takes work and strong relationships. If school leaders or teachers haven’t explained the purpose or the process before they begin flipping, it probably will not be successful.

To be clear, flipped videos are no more than five minutes long, and there is no one way to do it. Whether leaders are sending out short, engaging videos centered on a topic, or articles and blogs to spark a conversation; flipping leadership is a practical and engaging way to get the most out of the time spent together.

The following are five reasons why it is an important model:

1. Maximizes Faculty/Staff Meetings - In these days of political noise and state 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-do’s.”

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.

  • 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 e-mail 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 e-mail, principals can also send the list of important dates that would have taken 20 minutes of the faculty meeting.

The flipped method is about maximizing time...not wasting it.

2. 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-k system. The first meeting should be focused 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 maximize their time together. The flipped model isn’t just for the classroom or building, it can and should be used at the district level as well.

3. 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 realized 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 wasn’t 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 and the other hand 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 didn’t 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’s 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.

4. We’re 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 doesn’t mean they don’t care. It means, as school leaders, we have to find different ways to engage with our stakeholders.

5. 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

All I needed to flip my leadership was my iPad, the Touchcast app, and Edline, a password protected parent portal. I spent a few minutes taking pictures of students (with parental permission) and created an outline for the pre-determined area of focus, and I was on my way to engaging staff and parents.

The flipped model for leadership is not a silver bullet. It takes work, and it also takes relationship building. If leaders haven’t set the foundation with their staff before they try it, it may never work for them. In addition, it takes the whole faculty or district committee to make this work. If teachers aren’t preparing before the meeting, and leaders are creating boring five minute videos that aren’t very engaging, than flipping leadership will not work.

Flipping Leadership Doesn’t Mean Reinventing the Wheel (2014). Corwin Press.

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Image courtesy of iStock Photo.

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.