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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

Flipped Leadership Is Collaborative Leadership

By Peter DeWitt & John Hattie — November 06, 2015 4 min read
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Peter is co-authoring today’s blog with John Hattie, Director of the Melbourne Educational Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia

Peter writes...

Truth be told, I have not always liked the word “flipping.” As a school principal, I flipped my leadership for a couple of years before taking a leave of absence to work as a trainer for John Hattie through Corwin Press. I wrote a book about it, which you can find here. The word flipping made it seem as if it was a gimmick, even though it brought about some great dialogue and learning with staff and parents.

Over the last few years I have thought about how powerful flipped leadership can be for a school community. It’s one of those ideas that we have only scratched the surface of, and could have enormous benefits. If I was to go back to being a principal I would probably use flipping at a much deeper level than I did when I was in the role.

Working with Hattie has deepened my thinking, which is why I cite his work quite a bit. In Flipped Leadership: Helping Engage the Unengaged, I referenced to the work of Rachel Eells who finished her doctoral work at Loyola University in 2011. In her dissertation Eells wrote,

Together, people can accomplish that which one person cannot. Social action depends on the belief that a group can effect change. Collective efficacy helps people realize their shared destiny, enabling agency at the group level" (2001. p. 51).

This is not a big surprise, but it often doesn’t happen with adults, and it’s not always allowed to happen with students. According to the work of Graham Nuthull, teachers put students in cooperative groups for about 80% of their time, but the students spend about 80% of their time doing individual work.

Cooperative learning and collective efficacy is important, but it’s not always easy to do, which is why it doesn’t always happen. Many leaders would rather take the road of least resistance and cover items in a faculty meeting that could have been sent out in an e-mail. Most faulty meetings happen at the end of the day, and although leaders may have the idea of doing something collaboratively that would inspire dialogue, they take it off their list in order to let everyone go back to their silos.

But we need to move the dial of learning a little more in faculty meetings.

In the blog, I continued by writing,

There are many reasons why we, as leaders, should figure out innovative ways to engage staff in learning. One powerful piece of research from Ashton et al that Eell's focused on in her dissertation is the following. Ashton et al found, Teachers with low teaching efficacy don't feel that teachers, in general, can make much of a difference in the lives of students, while teachers with low personal teaching efficacy don't feel that they, personally, affect the lives of the students (Ashton & Webb, 1986)."

And then I heard from John Hattie.

John writes...

One the one hand flipping is but the first part. Flipping is the tool for which leaders can engage in dialogue with staff, and staff can engage in dialogue with students. On the other hand it will never catch on alone. Just like project-based learning, which has a low effect size due to how it is implemented, flipping won’t work unless teachers and students have surface-level knowledge around the task. We all need surface level knowledge before we can go deeper into the intended learning.

Flipping comes down to three key aspects.

First, leaders need to work in collaboration with students and teachers early to show what success in a task might look like, which is referred to as “Success Criteria.” This will provide them with subject-matter vocabulary that they need, but it is a big shift in thinking for many educators and students. Very often students don’t know what success looks like until after the teacher gives them a grade. And sometimes even then they are left wondering because no dialogue takes place after.

Additionally, teachers don’t know what their leader’s version of success looks like until after their evaluation is completed by their principal. Even after the evaluation process, the teacher may be unclear because the feedback may not offer enough to move the learning forward. Or worse, the evaluation only offers praise.

Secondly, we need to allow students and teachers to understand what learning is all about. At the faculty level, what dialogue has happened with teachers around what good learning looks like.

Does the leader know?

Can the school leader and staff develop an understanding together?

In writing the Politics of Distraction, which addresses the fact that we spend too much time talking about adult issues; I suggested that leaders and faculty have to spend time having dialogue around what good learning looks like. Too often children think a good learner is someone who sits in their seat, raises their hand, and waits for the teacher to give them the next direction. That’s compliance...not learning.

Lastly, flipped leadership and flipped learning is supposed to encourage dialogue, deliberate teaching, the giving and receiving of feedback, and a focus on deliberate practice. That deliberate practice, whether we are talking about teachers at a faculty meeting or students in the classroom, should be a mix of surface and deep learning and practicing transfer (see Peter’s blog on SOLO Taxonomy).

If principals are merely sending out a resource like a video or blog that only supports their way of thinking, then true dialogue may not take place. Furthermore, if leaders walk into faculty meetings with one idea and walk out with the same one, real authentic dialogue never took place. The following graphic illustrates the “Cycle of Collaborative Leadership” that flipping needs.

Flipping for the sake of flipping will burn out before it ever reaches it’s full potential.

In the End

Flipping leadership, and the flipped learning model as a whole, is at risk of becoming a passing fad if the necessary components are not a part of the whole picture. Hattie has shown many times in his research that we spend a great deal of time saying we use project-based learning, cooperative learning and flipped learning, but sometimes those tools are not used to their fullest potential, so they often don’t get the effect size they could.

In order for flipped leadership and flipped learning to work, teachers need to understand why it is necessary; what work needs to be done to truly get an understanding of whatever topic has been co-constructed with staff, and how to do it in a way that will deepen the learning.

Flipped leadership done correctly, should be seen as collaborative leadership...

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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.