Just because you’re stuck with their policies doesn’t mean you need to be stuck with their mindset. —Michael Fullan.
Finding ways to engage students and adults has not been an easy task during the pandemic. Due to the trauma we feel from our extended time at home, being socially isolated, and feeling a lack of confidence when it comes to teaching through remote methods, this whole experience has been a challenge to say the least. The trauma we feel can suck the inspiration right out of us.
For full disclosure, I’m a realist. The reality of the situation is that this will be our reality for a little while longer. Most schools will probably look at a virtual learning option for the fall, and although difficult to think about, we need to figure out how to move forward in positive ways. If we do not figure that out, our students will have little motivation to show up to their remote learning sessions.
If we continue to go into this situation saying how bad it is, then we will continue to have a bad experience. If we find the energy to put some effort into creating engaging lessons and figuring out how this experience will help improve the way we teach in person, then that will at least salvage some good out of this situation. We cannot control the parents and we are finding we no longer can control students in the ways we once did (six reasons students aren’t showing up online), but we certainly can control how we show up every day.
One of the areas of this pandemic where students and teachers agree is when it comes to voice. Both groups want more of a voice in how they move forward. Students want more of a voice in their own learning (read more about that here), and teachers want more of a voice in how their school moves forward in the fall (read more about that here). It would be interesting to see if the teachers who want more of a voice are the same ones who will offer students more of a voice in the classroom.
One method of instruction that elevates voice is the flipped model of learning.
Flipped Model of Learning
When I was a principal, I started flipping faculty meetings in 2012. The reason for flipping was due to the fact that teachers felt like they had less of a voice in their profession. Our state was seeing increased budget cuts, as well as increased accountability and mandates. We could not always control what was happening to us, but we could control how we responded. It’s one of the reasons why I love Michael Fullan’s quotation I used at the beginning of this post. The flipped model became a symbol of our response.
Flipping faculty meetings gave us all a feeling of some control. Let’s face it, we all need a bit of control in what we do. Without it, we lose our inspiration. So, we decided as a leadership team (teachers, teacher aide, special area representative. I didn’t have an assistant principal) what we wanted to focus on, and then I found an article or blog that aligned with our focus and sent it out to staff a few days before our meeting. Staff read the article, and we discussed the article, and how we would move forward, at the faculty meeting.
During this pandemic, as I started to see my workshops go from in-person experiences to remote learning experiences, I decided to give the flipped mode a facelift. The reality is that I usually sent an article or blog ahead of time for workshops, but I wanted to make it flipped learning 3.0 for the remote workshops.
How It Looks
Last week I was working with a group of building leaders, instructional coaches, and district leaders from Colorado Springs, Colo. My usual full-day workshop has now been divided into three two-hour interactive webinars. To be totally honest, I did not always like webinars. I felt like it was very one-sided and I needed to find ways during this pandemic to change that dynamic. This particular group is one that I have been working with for two years, so I felt like I could take risks with the group of close to 90 school leaders and instructional coaches.
Leading up to the workshop, the content was decided, which was my work around instructional leadership from a remote perspective. However, even though the content is decided, I still need to get a sense from individual participants, so these days I have been using FlipGrid a lot. FlipGrid is the tool but the questions and conversations built around the tool is where the real learning takes place. The week before Days 2 and 3, I had the participants record a FlipGrid around a specific question so I could elevate their voices in a remote way, and their feedback provided me the opportunity to get a deeper sense of their perspectives around where they needed me to focus. That focus was on instructional strategies and how leaders can work with coaches to model how teachers can elevate the voices of students. That article we flipped was Reciprocal Teaching’s Untapped Value (Educational Leadership. ASCD) by Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey.
If you’re unfamiliar with reciprocal teaching, Fisher and Frey describe it as:
- A reading-comprehension strategy
- 4 students read and discuss a text
- Text is segmented into 3-5 short passages
- Students are assigned 1 of 4 specific roles:
- Summarizer - helps the group identify key points
- Clarifier - invites questions about confusing vocabulary
- Questioner - poses questions to confirm understanding
- Predictor - encourages speculation about information the next passage may reveal
Between Day 2 and Day 3, participants had to read the short, but really informative, Educational Leadership article. When we came together in the webinar, I placed each participant in random Zoom breakout rooms (it’s a function we used many times), and each person had a job to do in the breakout room, which is illustrated in the image below.
The purpose was to model the same lesson that they could then do with teachers, who could then use it with their students. During this time it’s important to develop remote ways to build discussions around important areas of learning, and using those different tools and strategies allowed us to do that. Many participants said it led to great discussions, and some used the chat box to say that they were going to use it for their meetings.
Learn From Mistakes
For full disclosure, the lesson I designed for the group did not work out how it was supposed to. What I mean is that I had intended to put groups in breakout rooms in Day 2, where they had to go into the Google Classroom that I created for them, find the article on reciprocal teaching, read it individually, and then have a discussion. Unfortunately, not everyone could get into the Google Classroom, and the time was ticking away, so I had to come up with Plan B very quickly, so we could move on. Plan B meant that we spent more time in one area, and then I gave them the assignment of reading the article overnight so we could do the activity during the third session. To be honest, I felt that the mistake led to a much better discussion.
Steps to Flipping Remotely:
- Find a Focus - With a group of teachers or a group of students, decide on the focus for the flipped article and lesson.
- Flip the Article - Send the article or blog to teachers or students a few days before the meeting or class.
- Breakout and Discuss - Put participants in reciprocal teaching groups and give them the opportunity to choose the role they want to take on during the breakout session. During a remote session, we may have 10 minutes for the breakout session, but depending on the size of the group and the content, groups can always have a longer period of time in the breakout room.
- Chat Session - After the breakout rooms come back together, it’s a good idea to deepen the dialogue a bit. I use the chat box to discuss the highlights and focus on how participants will use the same procedure in their own faculty meetings or classrooms.
In the End
Remote teaching is exhausting, and it will never feel the same as our in-person sessions do. However, the reality is that this is our reality, and we have to find moments of creativity and inspiration to engage our students or participants.
The flipped model has always been about giving a voice to students, and when I flipped our faculty meetings, it was about giving voice to teachers in a time where they felt they lacked a voice. During this pandemic, we often feel like we are sitting on the other side of a screen and not always feeling like we have a voice. Using a combination of the flipped model and reciprocal teaching may help change that.
Questions to Ponder:
- Can I use the flipped model and reciprocal teaching next year?
- Are these techniques age-appropriate for who I teach?
- As a principal, have my teachers been able to have a voice in their meetings previously? If not, this flipped model will take some work.
- When I’m teaching and leading, how do I engage in dialogue more than I engage in monologue?
Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including his newest release Instructional Leadership: Creating Practice Out Of Theory (Corwin Press. 2020). Connect with him on Twitter or through his YouTube channel.
Image courtest of Getty.
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.