A SWAS Moment: Could Micro-Schools Be Part of the New Normal?

Uncategorized / April 30, 2020

– Maureen O’Shaughnessy, Ed.D – 

You have done it! You have created a flipped micro-school! Imagine it…you are a 7th grade flipped learning science teacher. Your four 7th grade colleagues teach math, English, social studies, and a foreign language. You have convinced them to create a flipped middle school strand in your larger middle school! Your five groups of 7th grader students spend five of their six classes in your flipped micro-school. During your prep, students take an elective like choir or PE in the larger school. Your micro-school students are confident, engaged, and completely invested in their learning because they have a voice and your student-centered learning reaches them where they are. Congratulations!

What did it take you to get here? And how did you know your school would have the potential to create a flipped school-within-a-school (SWAS)? Let’s see.

First, you did your homework and developed a list of the reasons a flipped micro-school would benefit your students and teachers. There are many benefits to teacher collaboration. A University of Texas article on the benefits of teacher collaboration states:

Statistics from schools across the country clearly show the benefits of teacher collaboration. Not only does it foster a sense of community among teachers, but it also encourages critical review of instruction and classroom management. One of the most important benefits, however, is that teacher collaboration leads to overall school improvement.

The article continues by sharing research that shows even experienced teachers overwhelmingly benefit from sharing ideas. Teaching the same group of students and taking time to collaborate allows for rich reflection. Teachers can study lessons together and make changes based on the experiences of the group members. The feedback loop of peer input and then applying new ideas to instruction creates a reflective process of building and evaluating lessons. Teachers can compare strategies for reaching or challenging individual students. A bonus is that it is enriching and takes away the feeling of isolation when teachers have a chance to share successes and challenges with one another in a safe and supportive environment. 

The ASCD writes about collaboration via collaborative inquiry. While it is not easy in the individualistic model of teaching, they find that “teachers can make better use of data when they work together than when they go it alone.” They emphasize that this rewarding process takes common time, effort, patience and persistence. “Collaborative inquiry is not for the faint of heart, but it can be well worth the effort.”

Another study finds that “When teachers are provided structured time within the school day, meaningful collaborative data analysis that leads to instructional adjustments and targeted student interventions can occur.” Your list of benefits will probably also include anecdotes of the success you have achieved as a Flipped Learning teacher and how it has positively impacted your own school.

Some of the reasons on your list might include:

  • A flipped micro-school has more traction and can serve more students than a single, often lonely, Flipped Learning teacher. 
  • Agency jumps when students get to repeat a habit. Students with five Flipped Learning core classes would grasp the methodology and be able to take greater ownership than students in a single flipped classroom grappling with a myriad of teaching styles and expectations for the rest of the day. 
  • The collegiality when teachers work together allows for more innovation and honing of the craft. 
  • Parents and students have waited to have your class and ask for more Flipped Learning classes. A flipped SWAS would answer this parent request.
  • Shared students creates the opportunity for interdisciplinary studies. Studying WWII in history? Perhaps the English teacher will use the novel Night at the same time to provide a powerful and rich narrative to the topic.
  • Your administration has seen the increased scores, engagement, and student-directed learning in your classroom and has pondered with you how to spread this vision.

Second, you convinced colleagues to try teaching in this Flipped Learning SWAS model for a year. Start with getting one other teacher to share this SWAS vision. Building alliances with your colleagues can be delicate, but very rewarding. Who is a teacher who seems receptive, one you know that “goes the extra mile” and tries new methods? Talk to them about wanting to create a learning community, sharing the same students for the core classes. Ask if you can visit their classroom and if they will visit yours, to learn more about your teaching styles. 

If there is interest, build on it. Spend time together creating a list of the benefits of collaborating and sharing students. Ask them who else might be good additions to your core of teachers. Create a win-win scenario. You have training and experience in FL 3.0 to share. Chances are, they have some active learning strategies and insights to contribute. Collegiality is built on each partner contributing and feeling valued. Together, the two of you recruit three more teachers and sell them on the idea of a village of student-centered support for these 150 students.

Third, you took the pilot plan to your administration and explained there would be minimal added costs, just a need for logistical support. You showed them the statistics and evidence of the student-driven mastery learning that happens in flipped classrooms that feature differentiated instruction.

Ideally, this administrator would jump at the opportunity to add Flipped Learning quality in such an organic and do-able manner. Ways the administrator could assist? 

  • Provide your team with release time or a stipend for the needed pre-planning.
  • Consider assigning rooms in proximity to one another.
  • Develop a master schedule where your team could have common planning–or at least math/science with the same prep, and English/social studies/world languages with a similar common prep. 
  • Provide additional planning time, if a common prep is not available. Perhaps relieve your team from lunchroom duty or committee responsibilities? Or offer a monthly release day to collaborate?
  • Smooth the way with colleagues. Teachers of new programs are sometimes perceived by other teachers as the “favorite children.” Have the principal create a deliberate plan to share this pilot with the faculty and explain the expected gains. The principal needs to remind the faculty that the school needs a variety of models to reach its diverse student population.
  • Assist in student selection. While it might be a random computer process to schedule students, attention needs to be given to this process. More student-centered programs often find themselves with higher percentages of special needs or behavior-impaired students. This unintentional “dumping ground” syndrome needs to be circumvented.
  • Sell your concept to peers and the district office leaders. This Flipped Learning SWAS pilot should be known and celebrated at all levels.

By working closely with your school administrator, you can set clear expectations and get the support needed to make your pilot project a success.

Of course, your micro-school could be a vastly different configuration from the example above. Maybe it is a middle school humanities micro-school, where you encourage other English and social studies teachers to create a three-year succession of flipped humanities classes. Or perhaps you are a department in your high school. Regardless, your process will include analyzing the potential in your school and comparing the scenario above to your school and your context. 

As you make this comparison, answer these questions:

  1. Would the same or similar benefits of a micro-school exist for your students and teachers?
  2. Do you have colleagues who would be willing to try this model with you?
  3. Is there an administrator in your building who has observed your class and sees the obvious ways students are reached and empowered in your flipped classroom? Would that administrator support your SWAS?

The good news is, if you answered yes to at least two of these questions, FLGI is here to support you with the details needed to create this SWAS. Let’s evolve our individual Flipped Learning classroom into Flipped Learning communities to reach even more students. We can make it happen!

Maureen O'Shaughnessy
Dr Maureen O'Shaughnessy
Maureen is the founding director of FLGI’s flagship flipped school, Leadership Preparatory Academy, a 6-12th grade micro-school with campuses in Seattle and Kirkland, WA. She also founded a micro-school in the Andes and a school-within-a-school in a large suburban high school. A fierce and dedicated mother, Maureen is passionately determined to create schools that work for ALL learners. Her K-college teaching has focused on gifted and at-risk learners, and includes leading and creating a community of learners for the Washington State Kaplan online Academy. Dr. O’Shaughnessy is a career educational innovator and school leader who has served in seven international schools and stateside. Her masters and doctoral work focused on systems, educational innovation, and the dilemmas that face innovators. She has served as an accreditation lead for AdvancEd and WASC and is the author of Creating Micro-Schools for Mismatched Kids. Maureen is Flipped Learning 3.0 Level-II Certified.

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