Why the Flipped High School WorksOn February 2nd I got to visit Clintondale High School, aka The Flipped High School, with a good number of other educators. Now, if you follow me on twitter or read this blog, you know how I feel about the flipped classroom. However, even if you are not a fan of the flipped model, I think you would find yourself falling in love with the work of Greg Green, his staff, and the students if you ever had the chance to visit like I did. Let me tell you why...
Greg Green Gets It
That's all I kept thinking as I listened to Greg explain to us why he flipped his school. Simply put, Greg Green just gets it. He understands that you can sit around all you want and make excuses about why your school is failing. You can complain about federal policy, lack of money, kids that don't care, parents who are absent, teachers who are burnt out...you get the idea. Or you can do something about it. That's what Greg did. He researched, discussed, planned, and acted. Greg went to one of his veteran teachers and talked to him about piloting the program. He tested his theory and looked at the results critically to make sure it would benefit his students. In a educational world that seems quick to latch on to the flavor of the month, Greg made sure it was the right flavor for his students and staff. That's what leaders do and that's what Greg is.
Teachers Were Empowered
Greg couldn't bring the change himself, nor could he will his teachers to change. One word I kept hearing throughout the day from everybody was "commitment". The teachers, like their principal, were committed to change. The teacher who piloted the program admitted to us that he enjoys lecturing and he is more comfortable being in front of the class. However, he also admitted that his favorite style of teaching wasn't working and he needed to change. Once the decision was made to flip the school, teachers were given opportunities to create the change needed in their classrooms. Change isn't easy and it takes time. One of the biggest complaints I here teachers make is there isn't enough time to implement change. Well, these teachers were given the time they wanted and needed. Subs were brought in so teachers could create videos. Now, you might think that pulling teachers out of the classroom sounds counterproductive, but when you can't get much lower, what did he have to lose? Teachers were given the time to collaborate, plan, problem solve, and create the change.
Play to Everybody's Strength & Share the Load
*News Flash* If you are a teacher, there are some things you are great at teaching and some things you stink at teaching. When Clintondale teachers started creating video lessons the department heads worked with the teachers in their department and split up the lessons based on people's strengths. This does a variety of things. It allows teachers to shine at what they are good at. Something we all like to do. It also takes the pressure off of teaching something you know you're not good at teaching. I spent one sad semester teaching high school geometry. I apologize to anyone reading this blog that may have had me that semester. I was terrible at it and thankfully only had to teach it for 18 weeks. Sharing video creation also creates relationships between teachers and students, even when they don't have them in class. I've had students ask me to see another math teacher. When I've told them that I teach math, they've looked at me and said, "you teach math?" Because the students have had lessons from every teacher they feel comfortable working with any of them. Finally, by sharing the load it helped teachers not feel overwhelmed with the change. Change isn't easy and it's hard to do it alone.
There Are People Out There That Want to Help
Throughout the visit I could see the fingerprints of TechSmith all over the place. TechSmith, if you don't know, is a software company that specializes in screen-casting. They have jing, snagit, camtasia, and apps coach's eye and screenchomp. Beyond great projects, they are a willing partner They have a great staff that will answer questions, listen to your concerns, and customize to meet your needs at great prices.
I already knew the people of TechSmith before my visit, but I did not know about a man named Prasad Ram. Prasad has a Ph.D. in Computer Science and used to work for Google and left Google to focus on Gooru, a search engine learning. What began as a "20% project" has evolved in www.goorulearning.org. I highly recommend you check it out, play around on the website, and provide feedback. Clintondale H.S. and Prasad are working together to make this website a powerful tool for learning. When I was complimenting Prasad on his passion for education he told me that simply wants to "honor the human right to education." So do I Prasad, so do I.
I also met the Wolverine Tutors. This is a group of students from Michigan University who started this tutoring group that aims to utilize technology to help at-risk students in the Detroit area. Beyond providing online tutoring at www.wolverinetutors.org, they also mentor the students at Clintondale. There are people out there that want to help. Greg Green has found some, and has opened his school to those that have found him.
It's About Relationship
Finally, The Flipped High School works because, in the end, it's about building relationships. The teachers know their students. They spend time with each student, every day. Like I said above, the students I talked to told me that they hear lessons from every teacher and feel comfortable talking to any of them. The teachers I talked to said they get to know every student and are able to address needs, both academic and personal, far more quickly than they ever could before. I don't care what teaching model you are using, if you don't have a relationship with your students, you won't truly succeed.
Now I know I said "finally" in the paragraph above, but there is so much more that is helping this school turn things around. Here's a list that I might elaborate in another blog:
- They know they haven't solved all of their issues. They could articulate other areas they needed to improve upon and are continuing to grow.
- They focus on what's important. Greg grew tired of fighting kids with cell phones. It just wasted his time, the teachers' time, and the students' time. So they embraced their use in the classroom and have taught the students how to use them responsibly. They know that technology isn't the problem, it's behavior.
- They know that it isn't just one thing that has turned their school around. When you hear Greg and his staff speak, you'll hear researched based teaching. You'll hear PBL, formative/summative assessments, common assessments, and so on. It's about more than recording lessons and doing homework in class.
- They evaluate teachers on their abilities to engage and instruct students. Not on how well they can present a lesson.
- Parents are happy because their students are getting the individual help they need and they can see exactly what their students are being taught.
- They tailor to kids who don't have internet access at home by providing space and opportunity for students to view lessons at school. Greg has even had students watch lessons at his desk.
Success can never be attributed to just one thing. There are no silver bullets. While Clintondale High School is very appropriately called The Flipped High School, that title, just like this blog, certainly doesn't tell the whole story.