Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Selling Your Administrators on Flipped Classrooms

First, why sell your administrator on flipping your classroom? If/when pushback come from parents about how I am structuring my history class, I want to make sure that my administrators know both what I am doing in my class on a daily basis as well as my rationale for flipping my classroom. As teachers, we all hope for administrative support in the face of angry or disgruntled parents: being transparent with administrators helps to keep that support but also allows administrators to speak knowledgeably about your classroom structure to unhappy (or happy) stakeholders.

So before I begin this semi-advice section, a bit of context – I’m a history teacher, we love to contextualize things. Two pieces of needed context: what I define the flipped classroom as and administrator competence/willingness to support innovation.

Let’s start with the administrator part. I met with two of the three administrators that work at my high school yesterday. They are both very supportive of innovation in the classroom and are hands-off in terms of what happens in my classroom. I don’t know if that means I’m doing a good job, or if not a ton of parents complain about me, or if I have their trust. Regardless, it is a pretty sweet set-up; I didn’t anticipate having this be too hard of a sell. And I’m not just saying that because they may stumble upon this blog someday…

I define a flipped classroom as having two components. These are no means original ideas – you will recognize them. Promise. In my mind, flipped classrooms flip the responsibility of learning from the teacher to the student. That doesn’t mean I don’t teach, it means that students are responsible for taking ownership of their learning. Second, flipped classrooms consciously make the teacher reflect and adjust their instruction based on the question, “What is the best use of my face to face time with my students?” I’m going to drop this next section bold and centered, because I think it is important:

In my mind, the flipped classroom is not a pedagogical technique, it is a mindset.

Many flipped classrooms leverage technology to help deal with these two aspects of a flipped classroom, but I do not believe that in order to flip you must use technology. In order for my classroom to be self-paced, I will be screencasting short lectures to provide students with the necessary context to do the evaluation and creation of history that is focus of my class, and my students will be utilizing technology where it is appropriate within my curriculum. However, technology is not a prerequisite of a flipped classroom the way I believe the other two pieces of my definition are.

Enough context. How can you gain administrative support for your flipped classroom?
  • You must, must, must know what your classroom structures and unit progression will look like. For me, blogging about this and writing it up on my class website helped to clarify this in my mind. I went into the meeting with my administrators well prepared to both explain what my class would look like on a day to day level and on a unit level, but also prepared to defend why I was choosing to structure my class this why. (In super-brief, I am going to run self-paced, mastery-based world history class – this is known to some as the flipped-mastery model.)
  • Being able to clearly articulate the differences from my old classroom set-up (students are self-paced), but also the similarities (emphasis on reading, writing, and the creation and interpretation of history; Humanities focus) was something I was glad I was able to do. A flipped-mastery history class sounds big and scary and imposing, and the changes will be big, but there will be numerous similarities in the kinds of thinking that students do on a daily basis in my classroom.
  • I did my best to guess what questions I expected to hear from my administrators. How can you know what these might be at your school? Know what your school (or principal) values in a classroom. I was able to tie my decision to flip to our school cornerstones, our history department philosophy, the common core standards, and the 21st century skills our students will need as they move on from high school.
  • Be prepared to answer the tech question. It will come. For me, the answer is easy: in a self-paced classroom, the videos aren’t homework (Digression: I wish more education experts understood this, but I’ll stop here before this becomes a rant.) There is a classroom desktop to upload the videos to and play the videos on, as well as a school-provided laptop, and, if need be, my personal laptop. I will upload videos to students’ phones and iPods. Plus, those with internet access can watch them at home if they want to.

So what questions did my administrators ask?
  • What will you do with students who fall behind? Our school is divided into smaller learning communities (SLCs – more about them here). I will communicate with parents and guardians when students are slipping, as well as looping in the student’s advisor (either myself or the English, math, or science teacher who shares the same group of students with me). If need be, I will un-self-pace my class for students, requiring them to spend lunch and my office hours with me until they have gotten closer to the suggested dates of completion I lay out for the students for various parts of a unit.
  • What about the Humanities focus? I work in close contact with an English teacher who teaches the same students that I do. We run overlapping English and history units (reading All Quiet on the Western Front while studying World War I, for example) that end in some really neat, memorable projects. Similar to the more conventional history class that I have run in the past, unit end dates are somewhat synchronized so that time can be blocked out to work on these projects in class. This was an easy answer: the Humanities focus remains unchanged.
  • Won’t this decrease the amount of reading that students will do? Nope – students will still wrestle with primary and secondary sources on a daily basis in my classroom. The amount of reading (and writing, though this was not asked) will remain unchanged, and may actually increase thanks to the Blank White Page project.

And how did the conversation end? Administrator number 1: “This sounds fascinating. I’m looking forward to coming into your class this year and seeing what it looks like. Thanks for looping me in.” Administrator number 2 (a former history teacher): “Share your unit calendar with me. I’m looking forward to seeing what this looks like on paper.”

And that is how I got administrative support to run a flipped-mastery world history class.

Veterans, any advice for those seeking administrative approval for flipping their classroom? Add what I missed below.