Flipping The System: Part One

I’ve been inspired by the Flip The System movement for a couple of years now; I like the fearless way they’ve embraced the challenge of finding and amplifying teachers’ voices in the current educational climate. So, it was with a fair amount of enthusiasm that I ordered the Australian version, edited by Deborah Netolicky, Jon Andrews and Cameron Paterson, when it was available.

I’ve started reading it in the last couple of days and so far it’s everything I was hoping for. I’ve got at least a couple of vested interests in reading it; firstly, anything to do with teaching and learning in Australia is broadly of interest for me – after all, it’s how I ply my trade. Secondly, my own educational interests are closely aligned with notions of student and teacher voices and the questions of power and how it is enacted, described and resisted within schools and education systems. Finally, as someone who works for one of the education unions, I’m particularly interested in notions of teachers regaining their agency, and specifically the role of educational unions in that action.

This will be the first of an occasional series as I share my thoughts stimulated by the book – I don’t mean to consider every chapter, but I think it might be useful to share my thoughts – even if it is just with myself.

Chapter 1 is by Deborah M. Netolicky, who is a teacher and academic in Western Australia. SHe’s well placed to speak both as a teacher and for a teacher, as she straddles the worlds of academia and teaching. In this chapter, she shares some of her research from her PhD (and I wanted to read more of it) about the formation of teacher professional identity. She focuses, in part, on teachers and middle leaders – two groups who are often overlooked when it comes discussions of middle leaders. This is one aspect that Netolicky identifies as being central to the work of ‘flipping the system’ – the promotion of the voices of teachers ‘on the ground’, as opposed to the voices of academics, senior leaders, policy makers and ministerial offices.

It’s not a hard message to support – and I agree wholeheartedly with it – but I think Netolicky very astutely identifies that there is a messiness at the heart of teachers’ practices in schools that means that there might not be a common consensus on some or any of the issues that affect teachers. The solution to that, however, is not the top-down imposition of accountability regimes in order to manufacture a standardised, commercialised product; rather, it is the promotion of more voices.

It’s great stuff – and I’ve only captured a part of the chapter. There’s far more about how teachers develop – and continue to develop their professional identities over the course of their career – that’s well worth considering.

But the part that really interests me is the conversation about flipping the system. Specifically, Netolicky identifies that school culture plays a role in the shaping of teachers’ identities. What other actors are involved, too? What is the role for unions, for example, in both shaping teachers professional identities, and also pushing back against other agendas? Or in amplifying the voices of teachers, so that they are heard?

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