SWAS: How to Existing Resources to Flip a School, Within School

Out of the Box March 20 / March 30, 2020

– Maureen O’Shaughnessy, Ed.D – 

In last month’s column, we suggested that as a Flipped Learning 3.0 teacher, you are an education pioneer. Your focus on active learning is garnering good results in reaching every student, but you can’t get maximum traction when students are not engaged in other classes and bring that apathy to your class. Let’s look at how a school-within-a-school (SWAS) can use existing resources to create a flipped micro-school within your larger school.

Why would you even want to consider a micro-school? 

Chances are you are seeing three key problems that limit your overall effectiveness as a Flipped Learning teacher:

    1. One flipped class a day doesn’t help rewire kids as active learners.
    2. Specialists, such as counselors and resource teachers, in large schools aren’t reaching all kids.
    3. The traditional model does not allow for the varied pace of mastery learning.

You may be tired of this uphill battle and ready to look at creating a smaller flipped community that addresses all three of these concerns.

Rewiring kids to be empowered, self-driven learners

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if each teacher in the students’ day had this same goal? If each was a Flipped Learning teacher with the same expectations for our students? If teachers did not have to awaken students from their stupor or justify the expectation that students need to dive into active learning? Flipped Learning teachers could get right to the business of guiding individuals and small groups. And students, who are often overloaded with today’s pace and technology, would have peace of mind knowing that each of their teachers consistently operates with the same basic principles and expectations. 

Over time, this daily experience of going from flipped class to flipped class would rewire kids from passive learners being lectured to by an adult who hasn’t had the time to nurture the relationship, to active learners feeling seen, heard, and valued…and much more willing to engage as active learners. With this foundation of a student-teacher relationship and clear, consistent expectations, teachers would be able to dive into being sure that each student demonstrates mastery of the content at a predetermined level (mastery learning) before shifting to new content.

 No more relying on overloaded counselors and resource teachers

In past high schools where I worked, school counselors have had caseloads of over 300 students each. Counselor priorities tended to be on triaging students, testing, and college applications. It was an impossible situation for them… they wanted to have time to build relationships and follow up with students, but weren’t given that ‘luxury.’ And resource teachers are only available for specific subjects or to help with study skills, leaving a gap where students with learning challenges are left to navigate learning independently.

It would become easy to rationalize that the student isn’t trying or it’s the school’s fault, or the school’s job to motivate students. Blame aside, students who don’t have a strong relationship with any adult in their school can feel completely disconnected and, therefore, lack the needed motivation. 

In a SWAS, that student is a part of a smaller community. He goes from one flipped teacher to the next. Chances are, she forms multiple relationships with adults in the school. Since those adults share these students, they can brainstorm with each other and use their shared knowledge to help that student engage and take ownership of his learning. Suddenly, the teachers have the capacity to do what large school specialists are unable to do. The result? A potential dropout is now an engaged learner who feels known and appreciated by multiple adults in the school. Teachers are working in community to better support a struggling child.

Mastery learning can happen!

When we are Flipped Learning guides, we use formative assessment and adjust learning targets for varied student spaces. Students understand the Flipped Learning model and are active participants, so the time we previously spent begging students to engage now becomes time that we pre-assess, reteach, or add enrichment options for kids who demonstrate early mastery. The varied pace at which students attain mastery is no longer an issue; it is easily accommodated in the SWAS.

The beauty of a micro-school

Smaller-scale models mean that personalization and differentiation can occur. How does this benefit each of our stakeholder groups? 

    • Students? Students feel good knowing that the teachers are on their side, instead of on their case. This hard-won trust creates the needed relationship for students to dive into the active learner’s pool. 
    • Teachers? Teachers enjoy getting to collaborate with like-minded peers to implement best practices. They are talking a common language and can gain traction that really allows them to use their skills and reach every student. They also get to share strategies and resources, supporting each others’ efforts and celebrating each others’ successes. And, of course, teachers love the personal connections they are making with their students, too!
    • Parents? Parents, as you know, are thrilled at the quality of learning in a flipped classroom. This results in school administration being happy that their “customers” are satisfied. 
    • Specialists? Our specialists want each student to achieve and are happy to have a resource that they can offer to students who are struggling.

Intrigued? You now see why you may be interested in creating a SWAS. This column will continue to address how you can create a SWAS to reap these benefits and more for your students. In future columns, we will address the following:

    • How realistic is this SWAS option for the typical teacher? 
    • How do I know if a SWAS is a viable option for me at my school? 
    • What is involved in the process?
    • Where would I start?
    • How would pursuing a SWAS impact my career?

As a flipped teacher, you have the tools to create a smaller learning community with other flipped teachers that can help students be re-engaged in learning and empowered all day, every day. Let’s do it!






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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