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Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and independent consultant, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com.

Education Opinion

Flipped Leadership Is About Instructional Leadership

By Peter DeWitt — March 08, 2015 3 min read

We are surrounded by gimmicks. Turn on the television and wait a few minutes for a commercial to come on, and you will certainly see a gimmick.

Buy this car before 11 am and we will give you $100.00.”

Call this number in the next 10 minutes and you will get this product for $19.99.”

One instructional tool that is at risk of becoming a gimmick is the flipped model. The word “flipped” sounds gimmicky, which is unfortunate because it is not. According to this article from the Center for Teaching (Vanderbilt University), the flipped classroom model was pioneered by Barbara Walvoord and Virginia Johnson Anderson in 1998.

In the article, Cynthia Brame writes,

To ensure that students do the preparation necessary for productive class time, Walvoord and Anderson propose an assignment-based model in which students produce work (writing, problems, etc.) prior to class. The students receive productive feedback through the processing activities that occur during class, reducing the need for the instructor to provide extensive written feedback on the students' work. Walvoord and Anderson describe examples of how this approach has been implemented in history, physics, and biology classes, suggesting its broad applicability."

Others have followed their lead and the flipped model has had an explosion of interest over the past few years. The model was so intriguing that when Bill Ferriter, a teacher/blogger/author in North Carolina wrote that principals should practice what they preach and flip their faculty meetings, I decided to try it...and I got hooked.

Over the two years that followed I found ways where flipping my leadership made sense. Yes, sometimes I did it to say I did it, but I learned a hard lesson. Those were the times when it wasn’t as successful. The reality is that flipping leadership to engage all stakeholders in a school takes a great deal of relationship building. In order to get people to prepare for a meeting before the meeting happens, there needs to be a supportive school climate.

Here are five reasons why I believe every principal should at least try it. Done correctly, it can really help principals engage with their staff and families in a much more authentic and meaningful way.

What worries me is that people get stuck on the word flipping...and flipped leadership is really about leadership and school climate. Flipping leadership is about being an instructional leader who co-constructs meaningful faculty meetings with staff that are more like professional development sessions than a wasted hour talking about dates, mandates and accountability.

Flipping leadership is about:


  • Making sure that faculty meetings and building level team meetings focus on learning.
  • Creating strong relationships with stakeholders that will get us through those times when we make withdrawals from emotional bank accounts instead of deposits (Stephen Covey).
  • Understanding that some parents believe that school is like it was when they were children, and we need to let them in on the secret of school.
  • Using social media and technology tools to engage the parents who can’t always get to school to volunteer in their child’s classroom.
  • Fostering an inclusive school climate that puts the focus on learning, where students and staff can be risk-takers and not always rule followers.
  • Creating a school climate that is visible and exciting, where students and staff want to come to school. Not because they have to but because they want to.

In the End

Over the last couple of years since talking more and more about the flipped leadership model I have had a constant fear that people will think it’s a brand we are trying to sell. It’s really not. I do hope that one day we don’t even have to call it “flipped” leadership and we can put it under the umbrella of instructional leadership...which is where it belongs.

If you’re a leader and you are interested in trying it, there are plenty of resources linked throughout this post. Just remember that the focus should be more on leadership than on just flipping to say we flip. That certainly didn’t work well when I tried it.

It’s like peeling an onion. It starts with a healthy, inclusive school climate where students and teachers have a voice. When we peel back the layers we have to make sure that we are engaging parents in authentic ways, so when we begin flipping they are more willing to watch the videos or read a blog that will prepare them for PTA meetings or parent conferences.

It puts the onus on principals to make sure that we are constantly keeping a laser focus on learning and having that dialogue at faculty meetings, even if some faculty meetings say things we don’t want to hear. It’s about debating, dissecting and discussing ideas.

Flipping leadership is much more than just flipping. In order to do it effectively there needs to be a positive infrastructure in place, which takes instructional leadership, and no gimmick can help foster that. It takes hard work to foster that.

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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.

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