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Cross-Boundary Leader: Kathleen Fulton (DC EPFP '04-05)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Cross-Boundary Leader: Kathleen Fulton
(DC EPFP '04-05)

Kathleen Fulton is a writer and education consultant specializing in teaching quality and technology. Her book, Time for Learning: Top 10 Reasons Why Flipping the Classroom Can Change Education, was released in June 2014. After a decade serving as Director, Reinventing Schools for the 21st Century, at the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF), Ms. Fulton retired in 2011. Prior to joining NCTAF, she was project director for the Congressional Web-based Education Commission, served as associate director of the Center for Learning and Educational Technology at the University of Maryland, and worked as a policy analyst for the U.S. Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. Since her retirement from NCTAF, Ms. Fulton has been consulting with a wide range of clients, including the National Council of Teachers of English, the State Education Technology Directors Association, the U.S. Department of State, and others. She has also written articles on the topic of flipped classrooms for Phi Delta Kappan, School Administrator, and other publications.

EPFP Experience

EPFP was a great experience for learning about all of the different places where education policy is conducted in a variety of settings and organizations here in Washington and beyond. It also provided great opportunities for networking! I found that the Fellows brought diverse perspectives and enjoyed hearing of their work and challenges. I loved our field tours, especially when we visited the statehouse in Virginia and saw state legislators in action. I thought EPFP was a great chance to do the equivalent of graduate-level work with focused and thoughtful discussions and challenges. EPFP can get you out of your own little niche and help you to see the broader education space.

Time for Learning: Top 10 Ways Flipping the Classroom Can Change Education

My new book, Time for Learning, is about just that: how precious classroom and teaching time can be used in different ways to support learning. It’s also about how students can be engaged in different ways. The book is illustrated with vignettes that describe how a variety of practitioners are flipping their teaching. I believe this is something educators want—and need—to learn more about. It is also written for policymakers, suggesting ways to consider this new educational phenomenon, give it perspective, and show how it fits into today’s education reform movement. I would like for the book to be a resource that helps to expand our conversations about technology and teaching and how technology can offer opportunities for greater student engagement and achievement.

Research on the Flipped Classroom Approach

One pleasant surprise to me was the amount of work that teachers have put into learning a new approach, aligned with their willingness to take risks and go out on a limb and do something differently, especially if they’re the only teacher in the school who has tried flipping their teaching. It truly shows the power of teacher grassroots creativity. My research on flipping also provided concrete examples of teacher collaboration in some school teams. It’s definitely a bottom-up approach to change, and it appeals to teachers because it’s teacher-led and directed; in fact, it could be problematic if teachers were required to flip their classrooms. It then might be seen as “just another reform du jour” and teachers could lose that buy-in and creative spark that makes it so unique. It has been interesting to follow an innovation coming from the grassroots that is having a broad impact in a pretty short amount of time and is creating so much positive momentum. I learned that this fast pick-up is largely because of the visibility and collaborative aspects of social media and the internet—it’s not just about technology, but technology is a key driver for the spread of innovation. 

Cross-Boundary Leadership

I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had many experiences in cross-boundary leadership throughout my career. Much of my first experience with school policy came from volunteering, as a PTA president in my children’s public schools in Washington, DC. My first paid position in education was as a staffer for a member of the DC school board and I have also been fortunate to have experience working at the federal level (for the U.S. Department of Education), for Congress (in the Office of Technology Assessment), in higher education (at the University of Maryland), for a private sector consulting firm (Issue Dynamics), and then, at NCTAF, a nonprofit with state-level partners. As a result, I was able to see education through a variety of lenses. Having those experiences has helped me reach across silos and see things from the teachers’ perspective, the administrators’ perspective, state and local policymakers’ perspective, and higher education perspective. This also inspired me to write my book in a style that would speak to and reach a broader audience than just teachers or just administrators.

Challenges to Leading across Boundaries

I’ve always heard about silos within education and that groups don’t connect with each other, but that has not been my experience. I’ve found that if you have a problem that everyone cares about and you have a wide-reaching voice, you can really work across groups. Part of the challenge in education is balancing the Washington and policy vision with that of people who are “in the trenches,” i.e. teachers, principals, and local administrators. It’s an inside the Beltway vs. outside the Beltway kind of mindset. I’ve had the opportunity to spend time on both sides of this divide and gain a perspective of how they each work. Too many people have a view and lens developed from just their one career role—and that’s where something like EPFP can make a big difference.

Leadership Lessons Learned

Respecting the perspectives of others with whom you are working is very important. As a leader, you have to listen to all sides, and do your best to understand the constraints and challenges each person faces, and be realistic about where and how you can be most helpful. It’s also important to trust your instincts. They’ve been developed over time and are built on knowledge, experience, and, hopefully, wisdom, so they’ll probably serve you well if you pay attention to them. I call my career one of “focused serendipity”—always making connections and following those leads to ever more interesting and challenging opportunities!

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