If You Have a Teacher Absenteeism Problem, Flipped Learning Has the Answer

Teachers are absent from school an average of 9.4 days a year (Education Next 2014) for a variety of reasons: sickness, personal days, and professional learning days. This represents 5.2% of learning time; however, these numbers can be misleading as different states report absences differently. When you add the number of days set aside for state-mandated testing or other disruptions like snow days or holidays, it is no wonder that students are struggling compared to national and international norms.

Often, little meaningful learning occurs during class when the teacher is absent. As a Chemistry teacher, I especially found it hard to miss a day, because it was very rare that a qualified Chemistry substitute teacher was available. My sub days consisted of students working on previous assignments or some sort of educational video that, though science-based, did little to progress student understanding of Chemistry.

Enter Flipped Learning. Instead of a day where students don’t progress in their learning, teacher absenteeism is transformed through students engaging in meaningful content-based learning. This past week I led follow-up flipped training for a group of teachers in Texas. This session was the fourth day of five that I will spend with them this year. Since this was a school day, each teacher had a substitute. I asked how many of them had utilized flipped learning principles for that day’s sub plans and all but one of them raised their hand. We then had a brief conversation about how flipping substitute days has the potential to really transform a school.  

They agreed that their students were getting significant learning done even though they were away from their classrooms.

I experienced this transforming reality myself when I taught. I remember one student telling me: “Mr. Bergmann, you weren’t really here, but you were here. It was kinda weird.” Students need more face-to-face time with their teacher. A short micro-video (flipped video) creates an asynchronous way for students to have contact time with their teachers while they’re away.

Here are a few ways to flip substitute plans.

    • Create a flipped video of you for students to watch in class (This is known as the In-Flip model). It is best if the video is watched individually as this gives students more control of the speed of delivery.  The rest of class should be a follow up to the flipped video – an activity which allows the students to apply what they have learned.
    • Expect students to watch the flipped video before class. The beauty of a flipped class is that it creates more student ownership and initiative. So, students essentially know the drill. Since the content is available via the flipped videos, then the role of the substitute is to keep students working in engaging activities.
    • If teachers adopt a Flipped Mastery model,  the impact of teacher absenteeism is even less significant. In this case, students by definition are self-directed and the learning is personalized. In this instance, students really do know what to do and just get on with it. A common refrain from substitutes in these classes is that they feel like they don’t know their role as students just get busy.

If you want to know more about maximizing the value of class time when teachers are absent through flipped learning, contact us at If you have already employed these methods, please comment below.


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