Book Review

October 13, 2015
Lindsay Yakimyshyn

New compilation urges teachers to lead education reform

This edited collection, which includes nearly 30 contributors, calls for teachers to become leaders in bringing about a much-needed inversion of the educational system, a “flip” away from an “uneducational economic approach” to a “more humane, more democratic approach.”

For Flip the System: Changing Education From the Ground Up, Dutch editors (and teachers) Jelmer Evers and René Kneyber bring together many of the key players in educational discourse today, including Tom Bennett, Gert Biesta, Ann Lieberman and Pasi Sahlberg, to name but a few. Importantly, the voices of individual teachers from around the world also strongly emerge and the book was “initiated by teachers,” reinforcing the core message of Flip the System, that teachers should be “at the steering wheel” when it comes to education.

Evers and Kneyber open the conversation by clearly articulating the book’s main argument: “the educational system requires to be flipped. Replacing top-down accountability with bottom-up support for teachers.” The pieces that follow the introduction expand upon, dissect and reinforce this point, and the collection’s organization organically supports the incisive examination of education and learning.

The edited collection is comprised of four sections that address (1) the issues that attend neoliberal reforms; (2) the theoretical foundations for shifting from a “top-down” to “bottom-up” approach to education; (3) the potential that resides in spaces where professionals connect as a collective profession and spaces where that collective connects with society; and (4) the potential of a workshop environment, which promotes risk-taking, at the school, board and national levels.

Within the framework of these four sections are chapters and vignettes that, in various ways, build on the theme of “flipping the system.”

The chapters range from conceptual to empirically based. The contributors’ foci include the different dimensions of teacher agency, the reliability of value-added models, the potential of makerspaces and the importance of teachers’ literacy in research. Further, several contributors help unpack—or provoke consideration of—key terms. For instance, Stephen Ball productively outlines neoliberalism and discusses its impacts on relationships and, more specifically, students. Biesta raises the question of what defines good education. Also, several contributors, including Biesta and Howard Stevenson and Alison Gilliland, consider teacher professionalism, the tensions that attend it and how it might be reclaimed.

The system flip that the editors set up in their introduction receives attention from various contributors, with Alderik Visser describing the flip as a shift from vertical to horizontal accountability. Teachers’ unions, some suggest in the collection, can play a pivotal part in flipping the system by facilitating teacher leadership, voice and self-efficacy and supporting the collective autonomy that Andy Hargreaves describes in his chapter.

The key thread that unites these sometimes disparate chapters is the need to empower teachers. Some contributors suggest that such empowerment can be achieved through collective autonomy, while others emphasize democratic conversation or professional honour. Together, the contributors trace neoliberal reform and the rise of top-down accountability, and offer innovative possibilities for change and for teacher leadership.

 

Supporting the arguments that emerge in the chapters, the vignettes are a vital feature of this collection, as they hone in on teachers’ perspectives. More than that, they contribute to the global nature of this project. Teachers from Cambodia, Georgia, Singapore, Finland, Mexico, Sweden, Russia and Australia are represented in these brief but telling pieces. Each vignette provides insight into the effects of educational reforms on practice and underscores the need to engage teachers in the conversation.

Tying together the chapters and vignettes, Evers and Kneyber call for teachers to be repositioned to the “heart of education.” This repositioning necessitates, in simplified terms, trust, honour, purpose, collaboration, support and time. With the right conditions in place, teachers can become leaders, thereby flipping the system and offering renewed potential for a great school for all.

Flip the System is a must-read for anyone interested in purposeful change in education, particularly in Alberta where the political environment has recently shifted.

Dr. Lindsay Yakimyshyn is an administrative officer who’s involved in research at the Alberta Teachers’ Association.