jonHelping Teaching is fundamentally about human interactions, and that can’t be replaced by technology.

I was once asked by a group of educational state representatives if the flipped classroom would allow them to hire less teachers.  They surmised that in this day and age where you can find virtually anything on the Internet, and any subject taught on YouTube, what is the value of the classroom teacher?  When I heard this question, I came unglued. They had missed the point of the flipped classroom.  They had the misguided notion that teaching is the pouring out of information from one person (the teacher) into another (the student).

Fortunately, I was able to explain how teachers are in fact more valuable when they teach using a flipped approach.  If all teachers did was deliver content, then maybe the legislators were right.  But I believe students need teachers physically there. This is because we humans are, as a whole, relational beings.  And teaching is a social interaction between teacher and students and students and students.  Our students need us more than they need a video made by someone they don’t know teaching them something they may or may not want to learn about. Teaching is fundamentally about human interactions and that can’t be replaced by technology.

The reason Flipped Learning makes teachers more valuable is that it changes the dynamic of the classroom.  No longer is content delivery the focus of the class, nor is the teacher’s main responsibility the dissemination of knowledge. Instead, teachers take on the role of a facilitator of learning.  They are able to work with students in small groups and have more one-on-one interactions.  The simple act of removing the direct instruction (lecture) from the whole group changes the dynamic of the room and allows the teacher to personalize and individualize the learning for each student. Each student gets his/her own education which is tailored to his/her needs.  Instead of a one size fits all education-each student gets just what they need when they need it.

2 thoughts on “Why Teachers Matter More in a Flipped Classroom

  1. Interesting post. I wholly agree with you that teachers matter more in a “flipped” environment than in a “traditional” one. This fact, I think, is often lost on administrators, parents, and other outsiders. We resort to lecture and didactic instruction sometimes out of necessity (I believe that there is still a time and place for the teacher to be the expert), but mostly out of insecurity.
    It just *feels* good to instruct and weave a compelling story for students. It *feels* like you’re doing work. It also *looks* like you’re doing work, which keeps the parents and admins happy.
    One point: I teach English, and I have always felt that most English education in the past 20 years is already “flipped.” Students internalize information at home through reading their text. In class, 90% of what I do is facilitating discussion. This is how I was taught in the 1990s, so I don’t think too much has changed. I speak maybe 5% of the time in class.
    In this way, I think English has paved the way for the other subjects. I also teach history, and we’re just starting to embrace that model in history. Math and science are coming around very slowly.
    What do you think; has English been two decades ahead of this curve?

    1. I used to say that yes, the English class was the first flipped class. But I have recently met several English teachers who don’t take that line. They insist that Flipped-English is different. I think maybe it is because there are many English teachers who still resort to lecture too many times. This doesn’t mean that we forsake students reading at home, but there is more to the flipped class than just coming to class prepared for an interactive activity. Flipped class is only a starting point and we want to get folks to flipped learning. See my post: where I discuss how the flipped class can lead to so much more.

      1. I agree that many English teachers resort to lecture more often than they should, but I think that the basic philosophy of American literature instruction is essentially “flipped.” (I taught literature and history at a bilingual Russian school in Moscow, so I’ve experienced first-hand what a VERY traditional classroom looks like!).
        My take is that English is a special case, at least in the AP-free independent schools where I’ve taught. Every other subject has a discrete knowledge base that students need to master before moving to the next level. English does not. I don’t care whether my students remember anything about Macbeth or Frankenstein or whatever. I care deeply about whether they internalize the analytic process that we practice. I care that they understand how to use evidence in an argument and how to use writing as a tool for thinking.
        I think this frees us in English from the roadblocks that get in the way of flipping (you’ve posted a few times about the hurdles teachers face in this process). Certainly, compared to my history classes, it’s much easier to give students ownership of the process: English is almost entirely skills-based. I have found history much harder to let go of.
        Either way, an interesting conversation. Thanks for the reply!

        1. I think the way you are teaching is the ideal. I would want my children to have you as an English teacher. Keep it up. Let me give you an example from a flipped English class I recently sat in on. The teacher had here students watch a video on literary devices as HW. Then in class the students were put into groups of three, with a very large white-board, and given a playing card which had one literary device on it (similie, metaphor, etc). The were given a prompt where they had to use their literary device in their writing. The teacher circulated and helped them on their writing and then they got a new card with a different literary device and they continued their story.

          That is an example from writing. I also have seen literature clasess flip the introduction to the piece of literature. Before you teach MacBeth I assume that most teachers will give students the historical background of Elisabethian England and also some of the biography of Shakesphere. This isn’t a total flip, if you will, but rather a partial flip.

          Make sense?

  2. Thanks for the post Jon. I’ve been entrusted with guiding our push to flip our classrooms and have spent a lot of time contemplating how to leverage the support of administration.

    Even with the academic side of administration on board I think there can always be resistance from the “bean counters” that are (rightfully so) trying to increase income while reducing costs.

    The plan of course is the classic “quality leads to savings”. Intuition tells us that quality learning with quality teachers leads to retention (of students and good teachers) and increased enrollment (from satisfaction and success in visible factors like competitions, awards).

    Any leads to studies or literature backing this up would be appreciated, I’m working on compiling these resources informally (FAQ for admins) as well as formally as I move forward.

    1. Not sure if the research I have is exactly what you are looking for, but go to to get a link to the literature review that we had done which summarizes all of the research around flipped learning done before about March of 2013. We are doing another one because so much has been published since that time.

  3. I certainly agree- Teaching is about interaction (about relationship), but education is not necessarily. No disagreement about the importance of teachers. What I think is missing from the conversation is the importance of the student. Where are they and where is their connection to the learning- that’s the question I think flipped learning was trying to answer- (at least in my district 😉
    couldn’t get them to practice at home so couldn’t get them to bring questions to the classroom the next day. Switch it around and make them practice in the classroom. (Madeline Hunter thought this important a generation ago…)
    The students making the media rounds are the ones who are connected- the young man who watches the video on his way home on the bus ‘cuz he has to go to work until midnight, for one famous example.
    I would love to see the conversation expand to the responsibility of the student, the family and the community to help students make the commitment to the teacher working to connect WITH them in the classroom.

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