It’s Hard, but It’s Worth It

Breaking News / Special / September 21, 2019

 – Errol St.Clair Smith –

Exhausted and exhilarated! How can those two emotions possibly live together at the same time in the same body? Who would expect that incredibly low energy could routinely be found hanging out with intensely high spirits?  But in education, these two emotions are a couple attached at the hip and date night is almost every night.

I spotted the couple together this week at a restaurant bar in Mexico City. It was the end of a two-day Flipped Learning master class at Anahuac University. After teaching all week at Baypath University, Dr. Tom Mennella, an FLGI faculty member, caught a red-eye from Boston and headed south of the border to meet me. We’re still not sure whether it was Tom’s bad luck or mine, but his connecting flight was delayed at JFK in New York. Argghhh!  The dreaded nightmare of missing a workshop with 35 professors was becoming a reality. No rest, no shower and no idea what would happen next, ensured that if (big if) Tom did make it to the university, he would be operating with less than a full tank.

Fast forward 24 hours or so. The master class was behind us; we were sipping the local Cerveza and debriefing on the day. The emotional tax of playing two positions until Tom showed up left me sitting on a barstool in a modified fetal position barely able to mumble, “Yes, I’ll have another one.” But there was Tom… exhilarated!

Before our rendezvous, he had gone back to his room to grade some projects. Now between sips, he was rattling off the list of things that had gone well during the master class — two letters received from attendees –both professors were transformed and inspired. An email that showed up minutes before the workshop ended from a student Tom taught two years ago. She was thanking him for what she learned in his flipped classroom, and her note arrived just in time to demonstrate to this cohort why he flips. I called it a God thing, but after two beers, Tom was still looking for an explanation. As the night stumbled on, Tom grew more exhilarated, “We should do this, and that, and…” and finally, he got to the statement that I’ve heard from flipped educators so often that I’ve wondered whether it’s the subliminal message you see if you read the term “Flipped Learning” backward. What we do is hard, but it ‘s worth it.  

Is it really worth it?

This month’s issue of FLR is dedicated to Mastery Learning. Read the articles and it doesn’t take long to see that Mastery Learning is not the easiest way to teach. There are a bazillion moving parts that all have to come together in the right way at the right time to make this magical learning strategy work well. Even with years of experience, the right strategies, and the right technology, Jon Bergmann and others acknowledge that Mastery Learning is like herding cats. The regimentation of a traditional classroom gives way to controlled chaos as students all proceed to learn in their own way at their own pace. How long will it take them to learn the content? Who knows. How many tests will you have to give each student to confirm their mastery? Who knows? So tell me again why do you use mastery learning in your classroom?  In this issue teachers answer unequivocally:

Peter Santoro

“If you have ever struggled with differentiated instruction, as I did for many years, the combination of Flipped Learning and mastery allows me to differentiate my instruction in such a way that even my weakest students are able to achieve success in Introductory Calculus. My classroom has become a place of learning where students feel safe and can make mistakes in an environment where learning is fun and they are supported and encouraged.” Read more >>>

 Steve Griffiths 

“In Bloom’s quest for group instruction that is as effective as one-to-one tutoring, he recommended Mastery Learning with teaching practices that promote active learning and regular feedback and clarification. Flipped Mastery ticks all these boxes and is a powerful tool that can potentially transform the way that students learn.  Flipped Mastery can be hard work to implement effectively but can be very effective and worth the extra effort.”  Read  more >>>

Jake Habegger

“This may sound like a lot of work. True. To believe in something requiring this level of investment, I needed to see proof that it is really working and is best for kids. In the 2017-2018 school year, our 8th-grade history department was in the top 2 percent in the state of Tennessee for student growth. This year, out of 577 schools, we were ranked number 1. When students are given high standards to meet with the aid of motivation, encouragement, and guidance, they will always surprise you with what they are capable of achieving. If you only plan for the ‘average’ student, you will get average results.” If you plan for students on every level to be pushed, the results will amaze you!”  Read more >>>

Dan Jones

“For far too long, I taught social studies. Now, I can proudly say that I teach students because of Mastery Learning.”

Read more >>>

Jon Bergmann

 “My daughter (who is also a teacher) called me the other day and said, “Dad, you are having fun!” And she was right, I am! “

Read more >>>

Easier, more effective and fun

This issue offers a window into the mindset, strategies, tools, and technology educators are combining with Flipped Learning to make Mastery Learning easier, more effective, and fun.  They all acknowledge that getting the many pieces to work together is as hard as herding cats, but Peter Santoro said it best:

“Flipped Learning + mastery allows me to Reach Every Student, in Every Class, Every Day, and it’s definitely the best way I know how to deliver the best education to my students.”

Mastery Learning TV

You can see for yourself what’s really involved in setting up Mastery Learning in your classroom by following the monthly video series. Back 2 School with Jon Bergmann and Mastery Learning. After seven years on the road, Jon Bergmann is back in the classroom teaching high school science with mastery learning.  You will get practical lessons from his up’s and downs,  trials and triumphs, progress, and setbacks every month on this new series. If there were a reality show about mastery learning it might look like this. Special thanks to D2L our technology partner in Mastery Learning.


Errol St.Clair Smith
I am the Director of Global Development at the Flipped Learning Global Initiative. I joined the education community in 2005, working closely with national education organizations on community outreach and professional development. Over the last decade, I’ve led the development of community platforms for The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE); the Association of Curriculum Developers (ASCD); the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Associations for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA), and the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO). I'm honored to have received four Emmy nominations and an Emmy Award for public affairs programming. In 2017 I co-authored Flipped Learning 3.0 with Jon Bergmann. The book was updated based on the AALAS Global Elements of Effective Flipped Learning in 2019.

Previous Post

Mastering Assessments in Your Mastery Learning Classroom

Next Post

How Flipped Learning Makes Mastery Learning Possible

0 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *