Flip the System Australia

The Flip the System movement was born in the Netherlands in 2016 when Jelmer Evers and Rene Kneyber produced the original Flip the System book and Jelmer then followed this with a TEDx talk. The message was about trusting the teaching profession and promoting teacher agency and collaboration. Here is my favourite quote from the original Flip book:

“In the neoliberal perspective, the teacher is viewed as a trained monkey, and it is simply a question of finding the right stick to beat him with, or the right brand of peanuts, to make him do the desired dance in front of the audience. The teacher is no longer viewed as a professional, but as a labourer who simply has to follow evidence-based methods in order to secure externally determined goals.”

Flip the System UK was then edited by Lucy Rycroft-Smith and JL Dutaut in 2017 focusing on elevating teacher professionalism and empowering teachers. My favourite quote from it comes from contributing author Phil Wood:

“Professional capital is not driven by a top-down model dictated by senior leaders fulfilling their own agendas or those of government, but is faciltitated by senior leaders giving teacher groups the space to exercise their own professional judgement.” 

Now Flip the System Australia: What matters in education is due to be released in December this year. I was privileged to co-edit the book alongside two brilliant editors – Jon Andrews and Deb Netolicky.

At its core, the book is about teacher agency – empowering teachers to shape their profession, democratising education, replacing top-down accountability with teacher-led reform, and elevating the voices of those working in schools. It contains 27 chapters by a range of Australian educators and some perspectives from outsiders looking in from around the globe. Deb wrote a blogpost earlier this year which explains the purpose and the rationale of the book. You can follow the emerging Flip the System Australia discourse on Twitter @flipthesystemoz and #FliptheSystemOz.

Our first presentation/book launch was held at the ACEL conference this week. In our panel presentation, Jon persuasively argued against creeping corporatism and centralised compliance in schools, taking aim at education celebrities and charlatans. Instead of technocrats and martyrs he wants to see more locally produced solutions and collaborative expertise. Deb pressed for teacher voice, arguing that the power to transform schools lies within schools, and there is a need to create humans rather than scores and numbers. Here is Deb’s blogpost and Jon’s blogpost of their comments.

My chapter for Flip the System Oz was co-authored with Keren Caple from the Innovation Unit. In it we advocate generating networks of teachers across schools to learn from each other, placing trust in the grassroots, and creative reimagining. I used the term “Strategic Corporal”, which is the notion that leadership in complex, rapidly evolving environments devolves lower and lower down the chain of command to more effectively incorporate the latest on the ground data into decision-making. Too much education reform remains top-down, imposed on schools without drawing on or supporting the development of capacities within the system. We need to shift the narrative and reform from the bottom up.

For my part of the ACEL panel presentation, I quoted Jelmer Evers’ Foreword for our book, in which he claims that he has been able to see the challenges more clearly over the last couple of years. He describes these as: rising inequality, the mainstreaming of white supremacy and misogyny, the capture of states by the happy few, the failure of globalisation for the majority of the world’s population, surveillance capitalism, deregulation and automation, and the use of Big Data and Big Tech. He writes, “These factors are interrelated and profoundly impacting our liberal democracies in a negative way. These same issues are affecting our schools and our profession.” This statement framed my panel comments.

Democracy is facing a performance crisis. White supremacy, the use of social media, inequity, globalisation are tearing at the seams of political stability and it would be wrong to assume that democracy is anything but a historical blip. History is full of examples that suggest that stability might be temporary. Current threats to democracy in Australia include apathy and disillusionment with politics, the rise of Chinese soft power, hacking, decline in press freedom, and ongoing issues around race and identity. We know that democracy requires active work and, if we are serious about democracy, it is about how we teach. It’s about living democracy in the classroom. This includes: supporting curriculum disobedience in the same manner that academics protect their academic freedom, and advocating for professional ethics in the same manner as the medical profession adhere to the Hippocratic Oath.

At a moment in time when we are splintering into filter bubbles and echo chambers, it falls to teachers to create safe spaces for students to make sense of their multiple identities. In some examples from our book, Kelly Cheung speaks up for the working class girl voice, Melitta Hogarth discusses the silencing and marginalising of indigenous people, Dan Haesler and Melissa Fotea write about a program with Youth Off the Streets, and Pasi Sahlburg looks from the outside in to challenge Australia to equitably fund our education system.

In conclusion, I spoke about how the tacit knowledge of teachers is often devalued and teachers are often voiceless in discussions about education policy. If we are to remain the lucky country we need an informed and engaged population. This starts with teachers. Ultimately we believe that education is a political act. All teachers are activists and the Flip the System movement is a call to resistance. Our message is one of hope and empowerment. We invite you to flip the system with us.

4 thoughts on “Flip the System Australia

  1. I look forward to reading the book and your chapter Cameron. Having been a part of a collective investigating reporting, there is real power in working together. My only wondering is the role of the central, top-down system, which often ironically maybe supports and facilitates such initiatives.

    Syndicated at Read Write Collect

  2. Hi Aaron, I completely agree and this comes through in my chapter when I refer to John Kotter’s work on hierarchies and networks. Best, Cameron

  3. Teacher democracy: I would suggest not stopping there. Democratic schools have school meetings, with one attendee = 1 vote. That means kids. Otherwise, they’re merely enlightened tyrannies. Or is that too hard?

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