How principals are a key part of the flipped learning team.
I have done flipped class under three different principals in the last seven years. This is not to say that I’ve had very many principals overall. I began my flipped class journey under a long serving and veteran principle that was very much old school. My next principal was a younger gentleman who spent 3 years with us before moving on to new adventures. My current principal is a lady of varied educational experience that came up through the special education ranks, spent many years as a successful elementary school principal, and was ready for some new challenges that happened to be in my high school building. The background of each of these people is important because everyone we work with, whether colleagues or administration, comes from somewhere and has a perspective that’s been developed by that somewhere. As flipped class teachers we are more often than not agents of change in the classroom and we need to know who we’re partnered with because they can be a key part of the flipped classroom.
In a definitive case of “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do” I started the flipped classroom without telling my principal seven years ago. I only invited the principal to see my flipped classroom after I had a semester of early success under my belt. One of the best things about of my first principle was that he allowed you space to do your thing and I found him to be very supportive, but it was a lot better if you proved it worked first. Case in point, when I first arrived at my district I used an auditorium style seating arrangement. He later shared with me that he had serious reservations about my seating arrangement, but was impressed at how well it helped classroom management. In the case of flipped learning, I had enough years of experience with that principle to know how best to introduce something new in his building. The answer was to try it a little bit at first and make sure you get the kinks worked out, then expand from there so that we could both tout the success. A point to remember is that I had worked with this principle for nearly 10 years at this point.
The young leader
My second principal was far more open to new and fresh ideas and I invited him into my classroom soon after his arrival to see the process the students experienced in my classroom. This is a very positive course of action if you are a flipped learning teacher because, much like baseball, to explain it you have to have seen it, otherwise your administrator is left like the fellow on the news trying to explain what the tornado sounded like. The reason it is important that your administrator can explain your classroom is because the differences and changes that flipped learning brings are positive, but they are changes, and some parents and students are reluctant to accept change without multiple recommendations. The best example of this is a board meeting I was attending in which my principal was approached by a parent whose child I would be having the next year. The parent expressed concerns about how their child would do in the flipped learning environment. My principal’s unwavering response was that he had seen my classroom, had heard many good things from students and parents about the process of flipped learning, and had seen my classroom in person. Ensuring that my administrator knew my classroom and felt comfortable talking to the parents that inevitably come to the principal’s office about all manner of worries or anxiety with regard to their student means that we are solving problems before they start and allaying fears that are just fears of the unknown.
The learning leader
Of my three principals, by far and away, my current principal is the most student learning focused and instructionally based. Having been a college teacher, a special education administrator, a teacher, and a principal she has the provenance and experience to truly dig into the classroom at many different levels of student learning. I invited her into my classroom to see the very first day of class, and it says a lot about her focus on the classroom that she was present on day one. Day one in my class is a quick highlight of the flipped classroom syllabus that I send to the students prior to school, followed by an origami activity teaching students how to watch videos for information. From day one, it was clear to her and clear to me that the creativity that could be brought to the classroom was only limited by good planning and solid instruction. Beyond those requirements, method of delivery, activities in the classroom, and all the other components that make up teaching could be tried, adapted, retried, and adapted again as long as student success was our goal.
As an example, I just had my pre-evaluation conference this past week and we discussed her two daughters, one of which I had a few years ago and one of which I have now. Her older daughter was very shy, very intelligent, but was not particularly gifted in math. Nor was this young lady vocal about her needs in the classroom. In fact it took me quite some time to come to understand where her daughter was in terms of understanding, but also how to communicate with her. However, once we began communicating and developed a student-teacher relationship that is at the heart of flipped learning, I ended up being among her most favorite teachers, and that was still meaningful to her mother years later.
My principals youngest daughter, that I have presently, is very different in personality and learning style. We discussed that this early in the year I don’t have a bead on her yet, but that as always flipped learning is going to allow me to try to develop that relationship. I may not end up being her youngest daughter’s favorite but I think we are both confident that her younger daughter will learn what she needs to learn in my classroom.
If you have an administrator like my current administrator, and the sky’s the limit, just be careful that like Icarus, you don’t choose to fly to high too soon. Take the time to put in the proper planning, the proper reflection, and the proper educational diligence to ensure that your flipped classroom isn’t flipped for the videos but it’s flipped for the quality education and relationships that can develop.
The moral of the story
The moral of the story is that you will need your principal’s, or supervisor’s, support at times as we are in a people business and people are among the most fickle and anxious creatures on earth. Students will use your class format as an excuse, parents will be anxious about deviations from the norm, and no matter how many pre-year introductory videos or open house nights someone will darken your principals door and you will need their support.
A principal postscript
In a strange twist like those dreams where people from different points in your life interact when they shouldn’t even know each other, my first principal from my first job in a different district was my teacher’s aide last year. It is a rare thing indeed that your very first principal that saw all of your first year failures and triumphs becomes part of your classroom twenty years later. Mr. Ford was and is the most supportive educator I have met in my career. I had his children in my classes in my first year teaching, and he is an aide in my classroom in his retirement. I have had the opportunity last year for him to be a part of my flipped classroom with some of our academically neediest students and get his perspective and input on how best to tailor flipped learning to their needs. While he is no longer in the role of principal, his “principal’s eye” provided invaluable perspective and input. Moral of the story, work with your administrators on your flipped classroom because they can be a powerful resource.