Flipped, Blended, and the Teacher’s Union

--Originally published at FLN – matthewtmoore


Do we ever think about our rights to content we create when we flip or blend our classrooms?

Have you ever gone on a trip and wake up startled, afraid you left the garage door open?

Have you ever traded in a vehicle for a different one and had a nagging fear that maybe that minivan was really a better fit than your new SUV?

I had a similar moment of fear in the last few months related to my role as a teacher.  I woke up in the middle of the night and sat straight up worried that I was not protecting myself and others by not addressing flipped and blended learning in our district’s contract, or more formally the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

A little background…

I was the union president (association or federation in some states) responsible for the collective bargaining agreement in our district that will expire this July. That contract from 2012 was written before I flipped my classroom.  Okay full disclosure it was written before I had even thought about bringing my classroom into the 21 century that was already twelve years old. Since that time I have flipped every  purse I teach at both the high school and local college utilizing different varieties and methods of flip as appropriate.

Warning signs….

The warning signs were there.  I had met @Kenbauer and @bennettscience in 2015 and had joined Twitter chats like #flipclass and had  overheard, with little interest, discussions about ownership rights, copyright implications, and a host of other worries that sounded like tinhat talk about such a little thing like using YouTube in class.

I also met @gm8585, Gerry Marchand, and heard all about his “blended” classroom he taught at his high school.  As a college adjunct I was familiar with non-digital “hybrid” classes but determined that there was no way to teach a hybrid math class non-digitally with academic integrity. (Remember, I am a slow learner). Both blended and hybrid just seemed to be a way for schools to pack more kids into a class in order to pay fewer teachers and it seemed shortsighted on the part of the teachers.

But now…

I flipped my first class almost five year ago when I was looking to re-energize my classroom; as nothing detracts and distracts from good educational practice like a contract negotiation.  Since then I have created hundreds of instructional components I call D.I.B.s (Digital Instruction Blocks). I have moved toward non-linear frameworks for learning, and worked toward mastery learning.  With all the work I have put I to my instructional blocks, including videos, activities, learning projects, etc. Ownership issues and property rights don’t sound like tinhat talk anymore.  To be clear, I am not getting rich off my work (or made a penny), but if I change schools, who owns my work done while in the employ of my current district?

What about protections?

As teachers we are held to professionalism standards both inside and outside the classroom but as we forge ahead into new methods and technologies do the protections we enjoy within the school building apply when  our classroom is expanded digitally?  What expectations are reasonable on the part of the school district for my digital availability beyond school hours? What limitations or expectations can the district impose on my online presence?

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What about class size?

I have endured contract negotiations at the negotiating table twice and every time class size is an issue.  Let me clarify, it is a big issue for teachers who wish to have class size restrictions, and it is a subject met with anger and the “see no evil, speak no evil, hear, no evil” monkeys by the district.  In my experience, class size in practice is defined by the limits of physical space more often than collective bargaining, but this does present an issue as educators and districts look to expand flipped, and particularly blended, learning. How many students can a blended learning teacher be responsible for, what is the compensation structure, and educational expectation?

What about reduction in staff?

Opening the Pandora’s box of class size also leads naturally to staffing levels.  While many administrators and districts seek to implement flipped and blending learning with consistency and integrity, monetary pressures and fluctuating funding levels place a constant pressure on many districts to operate as “efficiently” as possible.  Effective flipped and blended learning absolutely requires relationships to differentiate learning and move students to high order thinking,  placing more digital desks in a class short circuits a primary benefit of flipped and blended learning.  As an aside, this is also something eager teachers must keep in mind.  The offer of an additional section, class, or check may sound like an appealing use of time but the time required to build the additional relationships must be taken into account.

I don’t have the answers…

A new educational methodology does not solve all the problems of education. Collective bargaining also does not solve all the problems of education.  While I am a vocal proponent of flipped and blended learning, and a reluctant participant in my local collective bargaining process, in both cases it is because I want the very best for my students. However, when we look at ourselves as professionals and creators, we need to also take into account the creativity, effort, and limitations we have as people.  Time is not infinite and valuable time for creativity and relationship building must be protected. Professional expectations must be managed to allow for innovation, growth, and successful failure.  Although I just signed my name to a five year commitment that took into account NONE of these concerns, as a profession we need to be thinking proactively and strategically about the systematic impact of flipped and blended learning.


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