The Uniqueness of Sustained School Organisational Change

Greg McKay

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The art of sustaining, and in time revitalising core organisational change in schools, and school systems is unique; markedly different to that in other organisations.

It is an emerging reality all interested in school development should consider. 

While there are many similarities to all other organisations in the sustaining of the change it is critical to understand what sets schools apart, and not perpetuate the mistake many have made trying to apply in toto the tenets or models of organisational change in business, and indeed the public service, to schools.

Schools, and school systems are unique organisational forms, requiring apt sustaining and revitalisation strategies.

The school organisational change literature not only doesn’t recognise the marked difference between making the initial organisational change and its sustaining (Lee and Broadie, 2019) but also doesn’t acknowledge schools organisationally differ in at least six fundamental aspects to all other organisations, private and public sector.

Their remit, the societal dependence on them, the time spent developing the nation’s young, school’s perpetual existence, government’s political control, and invariably ownership, and their need to balance ‘normalisation’ with evolution combine to set them apart.

No school can be independent of the education system they are part of, be it local, parochial, provincial, national or international. All must work within the established parameters, address the set targets and meet an array of obligations.

The same combination of factors, plus the many others that impact organisational change make core school, and system change, and the sustaining of that change very challenging, with history revealing the odds strongly favour the retention of, and invariably the return to, the traditional organisational form.

  • Remit

Businesses exist to make money, schools to educate, and to care for the nation’s young, within a physical place called school.

The young, their parents, the wider community, and vitally the electorate expect those schools to play those roles day after day, year after year.

While accepting schools will be efficiently and effectively managed, and make good use of the funding provided schools are not perceived to be profit making enterprises.  

  • Societal dependence

Rather they exist to serve their society, they been given the prime responsibility for educating the nation’s young, and caring for and nurturing them while the parents work.

They are moreover expected to play that role in the contemporary world in a consistent manner, on a specified number of days each year, within given hours, and break for holidays on approximately the same dates year after year – advertising the school term dates several years in advance.

Globally modern societies, and indeed economies build their lives and workings around those school operating times and term dates, with there been virtually no likelihood of ever varying the term dates. Life in the northern hemisphere is for example still profoundly impacted hundreds of years on by a pattern of school holidays that emerged out of the agrarian year.

Societies’ dependence is invariably strengthened by governments’ mandating that all the nation’s young attend school for X years of their lives.

150 plus years on society has also come to expect – rightly or wrongly – schools to ready compliant citizens, ensure the ‘right’ material is taught, sort and sift the students, and certificate the student’s ability. 

  • Time spent developing the young

Schools must factor into any strategy that seeks to sustain change, and particularly to revitalise that change the responsibility they have for educating each age cohort of students over a long, invariably twelve plus year period, and doing so in a lockstep, linear manner.

While most organisations, private and public sector have only a brief interaction with the clients, schools work with them every day, for years, each year taking in a new cohort of students, while exiting another. To create a significant change in the learning behaviour of say nine year olds, it may be necessary to start that change with the children when they are only five.

Approximately 20% of the nation’s young’s learning time annually will be spent at school.

Core organisational change invariably has thus to be phased in, and the change continued with until the last student cohort departs the school.

Schools can’t like most other organisations make, and even markedly refine a core change the moment it thinks apt. They have work with the givens. 

  • Perpetual organisations

Schools as organisations will continue their operations while ever there is a community for which to cater; an electorate to satisfy. While non-government schools might come, and go governments must ensure communities have a school

Schools have literally existed for hundreds of years, and are on track do so for many more.

In marked contrast to business that must operate at the cutting-edge to remain viable, the viability of most schools is seldom under threat.

While it is highly desirable schools provide a quality apt contemporary education in many respects it matters not how poorly run or how dated and irrelevant is the teaching. The government schools will continue while ever there are students wanting to attend.

The demand on their ‘child care’ role, particularly at a point in history where both parents work, will see most average, and even poor schools continue to operate.

It is difficult to imagine any democratic government, wanting to stay in office opting to take up Perelman’s (1992) suggestion of closing the schools, and teaching solely online.

The perpetuity of the organisation, its longevity means staff appointed to schools will, likely unwittingly, play a custodial role in preserving and growing the history of the school, for what invariably will only be a relatively short time in the organisation’s operations. They will play their role and leave it to others to continue and hopefully grow their work. It is not unusual for there to be a 20% plus turnover of staff annually, and only rarely will the teachers stay in a K-12 school the same length as the students.

The same holds at the system level, probably even more so, particularly in those organisations that staff the central office with limited term contracts. 

Interestingly, aside from staff in schools with a long history, the authors’ strong impression is that most teachers, administrators and even politicians don’t see schools operating in perpetuity, or the staff being custodians of but a period in the organisation’s history. While greater research is needed, the authors combined 80 year plus association with schools and systems points to a focus on the now, and the immediate future, that combined with a lack of corporate memory and documented history likely sees few staff regarding themselves as custodians of a heritage. The contrast with role played by staff in a museum, or even the police or fire services is likely marked, with the shortcoming needing to be factored into any change sustaining or revitalisation strategy. 

Schools linked to religious organisations are also invariably limited in the degree of change they can implement by the usually conservative tenets of their governing bodies.

  • Government control, ownership and politics

Another great difference between sustaining, and particularly revitalising organisational change in business and in schools is that schooling is controlled by government, in most instances the schools are owned by the government, and any core change will always depend on its electoral, political and government acceptance.

Globally governments, be they local, provincial or national control the operations of the nation’s schools – even if not directly owning them. While the nature and degree of sway varies the control of such variables as the overarching legislation, working conditions, pay rates, the funding, the curriculum authority, the examination’s board/s, teacher registration, school accreditation and teacher training ensures the government of the day will always have a powerful voice.

The power is amplified many fold when they own the schools.

With government control/ownership there will always be the continuing, often very quick turnover of the senior decision makers. Governments only have limited tenure, the ministers of education even shorter and system chief executive will on experience rarely stay more than six years.

The limited tenure, the electoral imperative to impress in the short time and the constant jockeying for power strongly inclines governments, ministers of education and their bureaucrats to favour shorter term initiatives, and to shy away from change likely to alienate the electorate.

School systems in contrast to business, invariably have senior decision makers who aren’t versed in the business at hand. Contemporary educational administration is highly likely to have a minister, political advisers and heads of the administration with no training in or experience in high level educational change. Most moreover will have little or no corporate memory.

Their expertise is politics and providing the electorate what it finds acceptable.

Sustained change must be electorally acceptable, preferably owned by the community to the extent that successive governments will be wary of intervening other than to enrich the change.

Any major revitalisation of the original core organisational change, such as shifting from a paper to digitally based operational construct will need to be electorally attractive, be embraced by the teachers and school leadership and vitally provide wins for most of the senior decision makers, the political advisers, the minister, the system executive, and in many situations also the union/s. 

While accepting small ‘p’ politics is important in all sustained organisational change with schools the facility to play the small and capital ‘P’ political game is paramount.

  • Accommodating ‘normalisation’ and evolution

Schooling has the immense, and growing challenge of ‘normalising’ the everyday school experience while simultaneously evolving its form to ensure the schools continue to provide an apt contemporary education, and meet their society’s rising expectations.

Much of the business literature regards normalisation as an anathema to sustained organisational change, Lewin as far back as 1947 commented on the necessity of ‘unfreezing’ the organisation. Normalisation is considered by the many of the change theorists to be a sign of failure, an indicator that the organisation had ossified and moved to a state of evolutionary equilibrium.

Those theorists reveal they don’t understand the unique nature of sustaining organisational change in schools.

Swift acceptance and ‘normalisation’ of the change by the students, staff, parents and the wider community is imperative in schooling if the core change is to succeed and be sustained over the decades. In keeping with the above mentioned factors the change needs to be perceived to be successful, and accepted by the electorate for it to have any hope of being sustained as governments and senior executive come and go.

That normalisation needs to be astutely engineered, with the electorate, as well as the staff, students and particularly the parents being educated on the merits of the core change. 

But in so doing the community needs also to understand that in a time of accelerating digital evolution and organisational transformation ‘normalisation’ should be viewed as a continually evolving – not static – concept, a phenomenon where the ‘old normal’ is regularly replaced by the ‘new normal’. This is particularly apparent in the daily use of rapidly evolving digital technologies where the old ways are continually being superseded by the new, without a moment’s thought. It is however apparent in near every facet of life, work and learning where what was normal ten years ago has been supplanted.

This iterative normalisation is particularly important to the evolution of schooling, where a host of often seemingly small enhancements can combine to ensure apt adjustments are made for the evolving context; refinements readily accepted by the students, staff, electorate and government.

We’ve identified six attributes that set schooling apart for other sustained organisational change. There might well be others.

Conclusion

The point remains schools are unique organisations.

That uniqueness needs to be better recognised in shaping the strategies to sustain core school and system wide organisational change, and when appropriate to build upon and revitalise the core change.

While schooling should draw upon the general thinking and research on general organisational change it is imperative the decision makers contextualise their thinking and appreciate schooling is unique.

Sustaining School Organisational Change

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The art of sustaining, and building upon core organisational change is very different to that of making the initial change.

That is something that is slowly being realised in the general organisational change literature.

It doesn’t appear to have been widely grasped in school organisational change.

Rather the focus there continues to be on the initial change, the innovation, with seemingly little thought given to the practicalities of sustaining and growing the change for decades thereafter.

The history of core school change worldwide, of school innovation is characterised by the failure to sustain and grow the change. Only a small portion of the changes of the last fifty years have been sustained, let alone built upon. 

Organisationally schools, aside from some notable exceptions, haven’t as indicated in an earlier post (Lee and Broadie, 2019), fundamentally changed in the last century. Most schools remain site based, linear, hierarchical, paper based constructs, still characterised by Industrial Age thinking, structures and processes.

Part of that shortcoming likely lies in schooling’s failure to successfully sustain, and grow well-conceived, well implemented change. While very aware of the many constraints on, and daily threats to core organisational change and the paucity of the implementation with much change the failure to sustain apt change lies with the decision makers, and often the inability of generations of decision makers, to nurture, sustain and evolve the initial change.

Despite the hype, and vast outlays of monies and effort most change hasn’t lasted more than a decade or two, with much not lasting beyond the change of head, or government. In Australia for example, as likely elsewhere, virtually all the structural innovation of the 1960s and 1970s has disappeared, with most schools regressing to their traditional form.

The marked propensity in the general organisational change literature has like schooling been to focus on the initial change, and to assume the change will naturally be sustained. As Buchanan and his colleagues (2005) note it is only in the last couple of decades has greater attention been accorded the sustaining and growing of the change, and the distinctiveness of that facet of the change process.

One will struggle to find in the school change literature any reference to the art of sustaining organisational or cultural change. The challenge of sustaining the change twenty, thirty years will seldom be mentioned. Likely part of that shortcoming lies in the lack of successful, long term case studies to study.

That shortcoming is seemingly perpetuated on the ground, with generation after generation of change architects concentrating on the introduction, its initial implementation and its promotion. The funding of the change has been invariably short-term, only rarely with monies allocated for the long-term. 

There is an all – pervasive sense that once the change has been made the organisation can move on to the next project.

History underscores the danger of that thinking, it likely guaranteeing failure.

In researching The Creation, Sustaining and Revitalisation of the ACT Secondary College Model (Lee, 2019), a core system change that has been sustained forty plus years, it soon became apparent that after several decades the executive with operational responsibility for the change had little understanding of, or interest in its origins or the philosophical underpinnings of the original innovation. Rather the focus was on the enhancement of the now and the immediate future, done without regard to why the initial change could have been made, why the model had been sustained or why it was, after decades of use, still strong enough to build upon.

There was no sense of history, or desire to draw upon a successful heritage in shaping the future.

At a time, globally where accelerating organisational evolution and transformation is the norm, where increasing use is made of generalist senior executive, staff turn-over is high, corporate memory is often lacking and the analysis of current data is all pervasive it is ever more important for schools and systems to couple the current data with a historical analysis and understanding, and ensure future enhancement is consonant with the principles that underpinned the original change.

It is time to reduce the time, effort and monies wasted, and the inordinate disruption caused by ineffectual short-term change that has little or no ties with the initial core change.

That entails better understanding the total scene, the past, the now and the desired future. 

It moreover obliges decision makers consider the distinct nature of sustained organisational change in schools. While there are many elements common to sustaining and building upon the core organisational change in business and other public sector organisations the signs point strongly, as we discuss in our next post to schooling having to work with a suite of the unique givens.

The understanding those givens can only be gained through historical analysis, the history of the original change, the context, aspirations, shaping philosophy, guiding principles and ascertaining why the initial change had been accepted and normalised, or why the change was never embraced. It requires understanding why the change has lasted, and ascertaining if it has the strength to be built upon and given an extra lease of life.

Importantly only historical analysis can, as Suddaby and Foster (2017) and his colleagues have recently observed identify the key long term and emerging trends, in and outside the school and system, the challenges that emerge from those trends and the lessons to be learned. Data analysis alone can’t at this stage provide that insight.

While still early days and appreciating much more research is needed there is already a suite of lessons school organisational change designers can draw upon, lessons that have emerged out of the inordinate number of failures and the rare successes.

  • Most core school, and system organisational change will not be sustained. Despite the daily hype, and claims about the ease of change it is immensely difficult to achieve and sustain.
  • Very few schools or systems globally have sustained most core organisational change more than thirty years, and successfully revitalised that change.
  • Most core system wide innovation will likely regress to a state of evolutionary equilibrium, and gradually disappear. Likely the pace of regression will accelerate as memory in the executive of the guiding principles wane, and decisions are made that slowly but surely weaken the thrust of the initial core change.
  • Sustained long term organisational change must continually grow, be nurtured, refreshed, attuned to the changing context, and periodically be significantly revitalised.
  • Mistakes will be made. Ineffectual change leaders will be appointed. Poor strategic decisions will be taken. Politicians will meddle. Some mistakes will be fatal, others addressed rapidly will become part of the learning in a long journey. In brief organisational construct change is an immensely challenging, complex, multi-dimensional exercise that is in practise very difficult to pull off. It needs the best people to succeed, not just anyone. 
  • The signs are that the hardest and most expensive part in successful sustained change is getting the start right. Get every facet of the totality right and accepted, and the indications are that the sustaining, and even the periodic refreshment can be done readily and relatively inexpensively.
  • Successful sustained change will move through a series of stages, from the initial start- up, to normalisation, maturation and refinement, and in some instances to revitalisation and further maturation and enrichment.
  • The one organisational change seemingly readily accepted and sustained globally has been the move to add another year or two of schooling. In most instances the move hasn’t dramatically changed the nature of the schooling.
  • Sustained change requires it be normalised and accepted electorally, with the signs suggesting that must be achieved within the first year or two.
  • Allied is the likely reality that the teachers must embrace the change and the guiding principles from the outset, and naturally pass that acceptance orally from one generation of teachers to the next if the change is to be normalised and sustained.  
  • The key attributes of, and the challenges with each phase will likely be remarkably common globally, with the factors underpinning the sustaining of the change and its revitalisation being markedly different to most in the initial phase.  

The research undertaken on the near universal failure of schools globally to move from a paper to digital organisational construct, and the historical analysis of the ACT secondary college (Lee, 2019) provides an important insight into what those factors likely are, but other case studies will be needed to hone the thinking.

Conclusion

The most important insight historical analysis provides is that changing the core organisational structures of schools is damn hard.

It is immensely difficult within individual schools.

It is even harder at the with a system.

It is likely appreciably more difficult to sustain that change and do so over the decades.

The challenge of sustaining while simultaneously also evolving the organisational change is an art few have clearly mastered.

It is a markedly different art to that of making the initial change.

While the theory is important the sustaining, and the opportune revitalisation of the core change is an art that requires a macro understanding of whole school change and a recognition that this very much a political exercise. Sometimes it is small p political, but in mostly it is likely capital p political.

Ultimately it is about orchestrating electoral acceptability, governments winning and retaining office and the executive decision makers securing personal ‘wins’; an imperative rarely mentioned in the school or even the general change literature.

  • Buchanan, D, Fitzgerald, L, Ketley, D, Gollop, R, Jones, J.L, Lamont, S.S, Neath, A, and Whitby, E. (2005) International Journal of Management Reviews. Vol. 7, Issue 3. 2005
  • Lee, M (2019) The Creation, Sustaining and Revitalisation of the ACT Secondary College Model. Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–  
  • Suddaby, R and Foster, W.M, (2017) ‘History and Organizational Change’. Journal of Management.Vol.43. No. I 2017

The Creation, Sustaining and Revitalisation of the ACT Secondary College Model

Courtesy Bill Donovan

Mal Lee

This historical analysis examines the creation, sustaining and the challenges facing the revitalisation of the Australian Capital Territory’s government secondary colleges and its unique, college based Year 12 assessment system.

It is a read for all interested in sustaining school change, and those wanting to revitalise the ACT’s government colleges.

It examines why this core system wide school organisational change could have been made, and why the model could have been sustained forty plus years, when globally virtually all the other school innovation of the 1960s and 1970s has long disappeared.

It asks why the ACT secondary college model has been so successfully normalised as part of growing up in Canberra, why it has been universally accepted by the electorate and why decades after its inception the model still has the strength to be built upon, and readied for the decades ahead.

The analysis provides the ACT education community – the students, teachers, parents, the tens of thousands of graduates, the college leadership, the administrators, Government and the tertiary educators – an insight into the model’s educational vision, its guiding principles, key attributes and culture, and a base from which to discuss the attuning needed for the contemporary world.

The analysis moreover provides educators and researchers globally an important insight into the largely unexplored art of sustaining, and revitalising core system wide organisational change.

The ACT college model remains globally one of the few core school organisational changes that has survived the change of head, the change of government and forty plus years on seemingly has as strong a learning culture as when the colleges first opened in 1976.

What is it that has enabled the ACT change to continue to grow, and now tackle significant revitalisation when near all the other major innovations made in Australia in the mid 1960s and 1970s – and indeed in later decades – have long disappeared?

Published under Creative Commons the analysis can be freely downloaded at –http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–  

Schools as Digital Constructs

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In moving schooling from a paper to digital construct the way is opened to shift to an increasingly sophisticated, powerful, flexible and naturally evolving operational base, and allow schools to continually provide an apt, ever richer, contemporary 24/7/365 education.

Critically the shift in thinking enables schools and systems to better accommodate the world of accelerating, seemingly chaotic, often uncertain digital and societal evolution they are operating within, and importantly to evolve and grow in harmony with the rest of society.

Theoretically, as indicated in the last post (Lee and Broadie, 2019), the possibilities for teaching and learning opened by a digital construct are virtually unlimited, with possibilities being added daily as the thinking develops and the technology evolves. 

While that might hold in many fields of endeavour, schools as formal government controlled institutions with defined obligations, having to contend with societal expectations will always be more constrained than most other organisations. 

That said the success of the schools that have gone digital, and adopted a socially networked mode have demonstrated schools can move some distance along the digital evolutionary continuum, and with apt leadership and support can evolve ad infinitum.

The facility to do so will differ markedly with the type of school, likely the size and type of education authority, and the government of the day. Independent, and largely autonomous schools will invariably have greater scope to move, as will smaller government systems. 

While individual schools can make a significant shift ultimately the government of the day must play a lead role if the schools/system is to move from Industrial Age staff selection criteria, working conditions and remuneration or to remove the blockages imposed by the likes of statutory examinations boards, basic skills tests and inspectorates. 

Tellingly, mostly unnoticed, many nations now have in their distance education schools/system ground breaking digital constructs, that have long abandoned their correspondence schools, which astutely couple the evolving technologies, social networking and face to face teaching, and provide an important insight into what is possible. Significantly many of those schools already have working conditions and remuneration arrangements markedly different to the mainstream schools.

The key variable in any construct shift will be human, with the decision makers opting to move to a digital construct or choosing to reject or minimise the opportunities opened and stay with the lower order variant.  

Thus far, near all the world’s education authorities and schools have chosen, consciously or not, to stay with the latter, to fend off digital disruption and natural evolution, and to largely deny the opportunities opened by a digital construct.

While most schools and systems have chosen to retain, and laud the paper construct, outside their walls the world continues to evolve at an accelerating rate, daily distancing the young’s in from the out of school use of and learning with the digital (Friedman, 2016). The digitally connected young outside the school naturally, and unconsciously employing a digital mindset, embracing networked learning, taking charge of their 24/7/365 learning with the technology, and daily growing their version of being digital (Lee, Twining and Broadie, 2018).

The paper construct, with its focus on learning within the physical site and virtual disregard for any learning outside the school has likely inclined most to disregard the reality that formal schooling occupies less than 20% of the young’s annual learning time. They seem conveniently to forget today’s schools are operating within a rapidly evolving, chaotic, increasingly connected world where most global change happens naturally, unplanned, with myriads of consequences and unintended benefits and disbenefits. Disruption, seeming chaos will invariably result in order, and a new normal.

Among the many challenges in shifting to a digital construct is to obviate the inefficiencies of natural evolution (Pascale, Millemann and Gioja, 2000). There is need to marry the natural with planned change, to continually take advantage of the pertinent global megatrends in creating and shaping the desired learning environment and culture.

The early adopter schools have demonstrated how that can be done.

But ultimately governments must lead the way for school construct change to happen and be sustained widely.

While visionary, often maverick heads and governments have orchestrated pronounced construct change, history reveals all too often that change is ‘rectified’ and the dents removed with the change of head, or government. Invariably the dents are removed by the application of stultifying carry overs of the paper construct. The great dampener, is the use of principal selection criteria that favour those wanting to maintain the status quo, and which accords no importance to the new head being able to grow the construct shift underway.

Governments must be responsible for the human construct it employs within its schools. If it opts to stay with the traditional then it should bear the political, educational and economic consequences. If it chooses to shift it needs to ensure the total construct, the total digitally based ecosystem is attuned to realising the shaping educational vision.

The Opportunities 

Even at this still relatively early phase of the Digital Revolution the opportunities opened for schools moving to a digital operational construct are immense, and largely limited by the human imagination. 

Many of the possibilities the authors have examined in earlier writings, all of which can be read on the Digital Evolution of Schooling website.

There are a few that merit special mention.

The move provides the opportunity to:

  • Return to first principles and clarify the desired shaping educational vision. It bids all associated with the school to question, and to continually question the aptness of all paper construct practises in a digital context.
  • Have all associated with the school/s, but particularly the leadership approach contemporary schooling, and the wider education of the young, with a digital, and networked mindset – not as now with an analogue.
  • Ensure the educational vision, the clear sense of purpose guides the creation and daily shaping of a school ecosystem and culture that facilitates the desired learning and resourcing. 
  • Identify those facets of schooling to be retained within the digital construct – which are likely to be many.
  • Evolve the school/s, largely in step with society’s ever rising expectations – rather than as now daily falling further behind.
  • Have schools play a more integral and productive part within a networked society and economy, moving them out of their current insular situation, making them more efficient, effective, economic and productive, contributing more fully to the growth of not only the young but also the local and national economy. 
  • Transform paper constructs into digitally mature organisations, built in large upon a tightly integrated, ever evolving, increasingly sophisticated, synergistic digital ecosystem, able to readily interface with and contribute to the networked world.
  • Realise John Dewey’s (1916) century old desire of more consciously cultivating both the informal, out of school learning with the formal, in school in the holistic education of each child.
  • Better individualise every child’s education, and build upon the young, from around the age of three taking charge of their use of and learning with the digital, learning to learn and naturally growing their being digital.
  • Have the schools genuinely collaborate with their digitally connected families in the education of each child, with both parties aware of where they should focus their efforts in growing the child’s holistic education. 
  • Accommodate both planned, and unintended change, and to optimise the benefits that flow naturally from chaotic evolution.
  • Grow a set of operational parameters for a continually evolving digitally based ecosystem and culture, where the young are trusted and empowered – rather than, as now trying to accommodate the young being digital within an aged paper construct where they are distrusted.
  • Have the digital underpin all school operations, normalising its ubiquitous use in and outside the classroom, using it to complement the other media, and accrue the efficiencies, economies, synergies and enhancement that can be achieved, intended and unintended.
  • Have the schools, as formal institutions recognise that while they can never lead the way in the young’s use of and learning with the digital they can better recognise, build upon and provide direction to the 24/7/365 use and learning.
  • Rethink the current Industrial Age structures, processes, working conditions and remuneration and gradually move to those befitting a digital construct. 
  • Complement the site based with networked teaching, learning and assessment, that can occur 24/7/365, anywhere, anytime.  In the upper secondary years, strong arguments can be mounted for much of the learning to happen off site, in jobs, apprenticeships, internships or intensive workshops.
  • Employ a more networked mode of school resourcing, where the school and the families pool their resources and expertise, and where schools can draw upon the resources of a networked society, and lessen its near total reliance on government/parent funds.

The educational vision

As we detailed in the last post, the paper construct has led to approaches to schooling, teaching and learning that we continue to accept as ‘normal and correct’ without thinking. Having pursued those ‘normals’ for aeons we understand the type of learning they produce. But we have yet to identify the learning possible within a digital construct.

These now need to become the subject of acute observation and research. 

The most obvious of these new affordances are:

  • Time learning. If students accept and enjoy the learning challenges that schools lead them into, they can radically extend the time they spend learning. This makes student engagement vital, so that learning is driven more by their internal desire to learn rather than external pressures.
  • Just in time access to information. ‘Road-bumps’ in learning, caused by lack of knowledge or understanding can be rapidly overcome, so that they don’t inhibit and damage the flow of learning.
  • Individual learners taking charge of their learning 24/7/365, lifelong. The implications of the learner, and not so much the ‘authority’, taking charge of their use of and learning with the digital, from around the age of three through to death are profound.
  • Connection to people. Ideas can be discussed online, and forums allow learners to follow the discussions of others. This can bring a multiplicity of people into students’ learning networks and raise the importance of students verbalising and discussing their current understanding.
  • The importance of learning to learn, relative to learning a formal curriculum. A key feature of the digital world is the extremely rapid growth of knowledge, which necessitates life-long learning for all. This also implies that state derived curricula and assessments need to focus on competence in a field, and to change as the societal perceptions to be competent evolve.

The Way Forward

The move to a digital operational construct necessitates schools having school principals willing and able to orchestrate the shift, and its continued evolution.

This has been strikingly apparent in the schools that have made the shift(Lee and Winzenried, 2009), (Lee and Broadie, 2018),and indeed in the digital evolution and transformation of all private and public sector organisations.

Without an astute chief executive officer, with digital acumen, able to set the expectations, communicate the vision and daily orchestrate the daily workings and growth of a digitally based school ecosystem there is little chance the shift will occur, let alone be sustained.  Great deputy heads, highly committed staff and supportive communities can all assist, but the head must lead.

The head must moreover understand that the construct shift is first and foremost a human challenge, where the school community shapes – on the fly – an organisation it believes can best deliver the desired education.

It is not, contrary to the current approach, a technological challenge, best left to the ‘ICT experts’. 

For well over a quarter of a century the universal propensity has been for teachers, ICT coordinators, principals, administrators and particularly governments to focus on the technology, and often only the technology (Lee and Winzenried, 2009), (Lee and Broadie, 2018). Invariably the first step has been to purchase the latest gear, and to laud its purchase. Few appear to understand they have simply been trying to shoehorn a limited use of the digital technology into a paper construct, constrained by Industrial Age structures, processes and mindset.

Not surprisingly the billions spent on digital technology for schools hasn’t magically occasioned construct change, nor will it.

The challenge is for school leaders to identify and gradually shape an organisational structure, a learning environment and culture that takes advantage of the evolving digital technology to provide the desired contemporary education.

The schools and education authorities that have moved to a digital construct have recognised the imperative of putting the educational agenda to the fore and then addressing the many human and technological variables that assist further the agenda.

They have also appreciated they can hasten the shift from the paper to digital construct by tackling those variables largely unconstrained within the existing construct. The shift from an analogue to digital mindset, distributing the control of the teaching and learning, trusting and empowering all, enhancing the family-school collaboration, ensuring all students have the technology, recognising out of school learning with the digital, pooling the home and school resources and expertise, the establishment of an integrated school ecosystem, social networking, and the adoption of a culture of change can all for example be fostered within the existing operational parameters, with few involving an overt clash with the established ways.

History suggests the evolution in schools will be gradual, the schools moving along an increasingly higher order evolutionary continuum, shedding the ways of the paper construct, overcoming the impediments to change, working increasingly within a digital construct.

The authors’ research with the early adopter schools (Lee and Broadie, 2016), points strongly to;

  • The schools, while each shaping their own course, in a seemingly chaotic world will move through remarkably similar evolutionary stages as they shift from the paper to increasingly digital construct
  • Each displaying, regardless of type or context, common attributes at each stage
  • Most schools in their evolution and shift to a higher order of operation needing to move through each of the evolutionary stages
  • The evolutionary continuum continually lengthening as the thinking, expectations and technology becomes more sophisticated
  • Primary/elementary schools moving faster along the continuum than the secondary.
  • The schools lessening their dependence on the physical site for much learning, taking increasing advantage of networked learning and teaching. 

Movement along the continuum will rarely be constant, more often it will be the case of two steps forward, and one step back, often with a change of head the school regressing to the world of paper (Lee and Broadie, 2016).

The unplanned commonality evidenced globally in the young’s use of the Net (Tapscott, 1998), and more recently in the children’s use of and learning with the digital (Lee, Twining and Broadie, 2018) is seemingly mirrored globally in schools shift to digital construct. 

Conclusion.

While still early days, with appreciably more research to be undertaken the strong suggestion for any school, or education authority seeking to move to a digital construct is to note the key traits evidenced in the evolution of all digitally mature organisations. 

  • Dewey, J (1916), Democracy and education, New York Macmillan.
  • Friedman, T (2016) Thank you for Being LateNew York Farrer, Straus Giroux
  • Lee, M and Winzenried, A (2009) The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages. 2ndEdition Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2018) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–  
  • Lee, M. Broadie, R and Twining, P (2018) Your Kids Being Digital. A Guide for Digitally Connected Families. Armidale. Australia Douglas and Brown http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2019) ‘Moving Schooling from a Paper to Digital Construct’. Linkedin -19 August 2019 – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/moving-schooling-from-paper-based-digital-construct-mal-lee/
  • Pascale, R.T, Millemann, M, Gioja, L (2000) Surfing at the Edge of Chaos NY Three Rivers Press
  • Tapscott, D (1998), Growing up digital: The rise of the Net Generation, McGraw Hill, New York

Moving Schooling from a Paper to Digital Construct

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

One of the greater challenges facing schooling globally is to open the minds of school educators and governments to the reality that most schools are still paper based human constructs, employing Industrial Age structures, processes and cultures, that will increasingly struggle to provide an apt contemporary education in a digital world.

Daily educators generate reams of paper, and spend millions of dollars in the belief that an aged, inflexible, inefficient, paper based human construct can educate the nation’s young for a rapidly evolving, seemingly chaotic digital and socially networked world, where learning happens 24/7/365, anywhere, anytime.

It can’t.

Business has long recognised the imperative of moving to a digital operational construct to remain viable.

Most educators don’t appear to have grasped how much paper as a technology has shaped and continues to shape schooling, and does so unnecessarily. Nor do they appear to recognise or worry how the paper operational base stymies the evolution of schooling.

This short post is simply intended to underscore the extent to which paper has impacted schooling, to affirm the qualities of paper that obliged a distinct form of schooling and to highlight the imperative of schools, like all other organisations employing a more digital operational construct.

When, many moons ago the wonderful new technology of paper became mature and sufficiently affordable to be used as the core instructional medium in schools, there may well have been some far-sighted educators who warned of its likely impact.

  • Textual ways of describing and explaining would replace oral and visual explanations.  Handwriting would become central.
  • The learners would have to come to where the books were located, instead of teachers being able teach in homes and the community.
  • The opinions of the author of the book chosen as the instructional text, the hierarchical structuring of knowledge and a linear approach to explanation would dominate.
  • The learner would be unable to question the author or seek clarification of how the subject was explained.

·     The learners would need reveal their understanding of the content of the books mainly in writing. The teacher would assess the students understanding predominantly by how well they could explain themselves in writing.

·     Only the teachers – not the parents, the elders or most assuredly the children – would be trusted to assess and report upon the student’s learning.

But those warnings must have been outweighed by the advantages. It was surely advantageous for pupils to read more and to practice their writing. The words of great scholars and experts could reach all young people. The old oral and visual methods of transmitting knowledge were too variable, not precise enough. And teachers by then revered the book technology.

Of course, it worked well for the children of well-off parents, attending elite schools. Sufficient books could be afforded and looked after. The subjects of concern such as religion, the learned languages, the study of great authors and mathematics fitted well with a textual approach. The need for science to generate a visual understanding could be solved by creating a whole vocabulary of specialist words, through which a visual image of a complex leaf shape, or piece of apparatus could be visualised. In more recent decades the print technology likely improved the book learning of science by allowing diagrams and images to be placed alongside the textual descriptions.

It worked considerably less well for poor children with little access to other books through which to develop their reading, but they were of little concern to the elite schools. Subjects needing visual and kinetic understanding could be left to the mechanic’s institutes and apprenticeships, so again could be ignored. And so, textual, paper-based approaches came to dominate and indeed shape schooling.

Such has been the success of the paper-based instructional and assessment industries, and their enthusiastic purchasers in schools, the skewing of the learning and schooling was overlooked.

We are now at another such point. Digital technology has become mature and affordable for schools. And though the imperative is still the same – how best to help children learn – most schools, education systems and assessment organisations, are fiercely resisting adoption of a digital operational construct.

The fears of our invented far-sighted educator have all come to pass. And the affordances of the digital make their importance very clear, not only for schools but for learning beyond school and in the workplace:

  • Oral, visual and multimedia ways of presenting and explaining massively exceed textual ways.
  • Digitally connected young people learn 24/7/365 in their homes and the community, with instant access to orders of magnitude more books, at no virtually cost.
  • Different views can be sought, knowledge and explanations are hyperlinked enabling knowledge construction in different ways.
  • Learners can now question each other, the author and numerous helpful others, to seek clarification of how a subject is explained.
  • But what has not yet changed is that the young are still expected to demonstrate their understanding in writing, on paper. Hand written exams still dominate the end of Year 12 globally. 

And this is not just a technological development that primarily benefits those who can afford the considerable expense of books. With smartphones being sold in Africa for $20 and more than 70% of the world’s young digitally connected (UNICEF, 2017) this is something all with technology can benefit from.

With Ericcson (2019) projecting that by 2024 the 70% will have risen close to 90% the imperative of providing an apt education for the digitally connected young grows. 

While our imaginary educational seer anticipated much of the impact of the paper technology she didn’t foresee the extent to which it would shape the nature of schooling, or why schools globally have been so loath to move to an appreciably more sophisticated technological base, on trend to grow in power and capability exponentially. 

What we know now is that paper as a technology must be physically passed by hand to others. It necessitates bringing all the students together on the one physical site to pass around the paper. 

The technology prompted a pronounced focus on the written word, relegating voice, expression, visual intelligence, sound, images and video to the minor roles they still occupy in schools today. In a world where the young as a video generation happily use all types of digital media in their everyday life and learning scant time is devoted by schools to growing the quality of that wider usage. Rather at a stage where no employer or tertiary institution would accept a handwritten CV or presentation time must still be devoted in secondary schools to physically readying the students for the mechanics of writing three-hour examinations. 

One can argue paper promoted the strongly linear approach to teaching and learning that dominates school teaching. It is likely most teachers and teacher educators still believe the linear, the movement from chapter 1, to chapter 2, and so on is the ‘right’ and only way to learn. Tellingly the approach stands in marked contrast to the non-linear, hyperlinked, constructivist approach to learning with the digital used by the world’s young – and old – outside the classroom (Lee, Twining and Broadie, 2018).

Paper, and the associated linear nature of the instruction enabled teachers to control the flow of information. It helped place the ‘masters’ in charge, using the information flow to manage the class. The astute distribution of paper assignments, readings and tests assisted class control. Many teachers moreover used the book, particularly the text book as the de facto syllabus, teaching program and teaching resource. Turn to page 32, do exercise 12.

Paper as the underpinning technology not only obliged site, but also group based teaching, the sheer logistics of working with reams of paper stymying the forays in to more individualised teaching.  

Paper as a static, unchanging but highly durable technology unwittingly fostered the all-pervasive sense of constancy and continuity, with most schools continuing to operate year after year as insular, stand- alone, inward looking entities reliant on the suite of paper based resources available within the walls. What do we have class sets of?

The introduction of the many digital technologies not only removed the teachers’ and indeed student’s need to work within these now aged constraints but opened all manner of opportunities to learn.

A hundred plus years of schooling, doing much the same thing year after has engendered the belief that the practises adopted to work with the paper technology are the only way to run a school and teach.

What appears to have been forgotten is that all organisations, schools included, are human constructs shaped by the variables of the time and place, whose practises should be continually challenged. It is appreciated many other factors, the likes of educational philosophy, context, culture, resourcing have impacted on the nature of schooling but the remarkably similar nature of schooling worldwide stems in the main from the paper construct.

We are not for a moment suggesting abandoning all within that construct, or doing so overnight. Paper is, and will on current trends continue to be an important instructional technology for many years, but its use is waning, being replaced increasingly by far more sophisticated, efficient, effective and cheaper digital media. In schools the cost of the paper photocopier remains an important (and expensive) part of the budget.

There are many, many vital elements of schooling that must retained in any new construct. The challenge is to decide which and identify how they are best addressed.

Lipnack and Stamps, in commenting in 1994 on the emergence of networked organisations tellingly noted; 

Boundaries are conceptual, not physical, in virtual workplaces and need to be to be completely reconceived so that the ‘physical site’ thinking is no longer a limitation (Lipnack and Stamps, 1994, p15).

The digital construct

A quarter of century on it is time schools understood they are part of an increasingly connected world, and that when learning can and does happen 24/7/365 and is not restricted to the ‘physical site’ they should be employing a digital construct, with the digital underpinning all operations. 

The possibilities opened within such a construct are theoretically virtually unlimited, and are being added to daily.

The limit is largely the human imagination.

The movement to a digital construct obliges the educational decision makers to think about every current school practise and its continued use, the desired and not.

That said, the reality is that the legacy of the paper construct is immense and universal, and it will likely be years before many aspects of the construct will cease to impact. The thinking is ingrained in the minds of generations worldwide, in legislation, bureaucratic procedures, working conditions, salary agreements, law and vitally the culture.

Schools and systems shaping a digital construct must contend with that reality, and the attendant constraints to change.

The great plus in moving to a digital construct – aside from the many opportunities opened, and efficiencies and economies made possible – is that it prompts schools and systems return to first principles, and decide on the education, and indeed teaching they want to provide. That vision, those principles should inform the design of the construct, and the digitally based school ecosystem/s created to facilitate and support the desired learning.

It is the same as in business. The ‘business agenda’ should shape the organisational form and the technologies used.

The history of the use of the digital in schooling in the last 25 plus years (Lee and Winzenried, 2009), (Lee and Broadie, 2018) strongly suggests most school decision makers haven’t appreciated that imperative. Most don’t appear to have grasped successful digital evolution and transformation is first and foremost a human challenge, that requires astute minds to shape the desired operational construct, and then to identify the facilitating technologies. 

The form the digital construct might take we’ll discuss in the next post.

Conclusion

Suffice it to reiterate the crucial point made earlier – it is vital all associated with schooling understand most of the world’s schools are operating within a human construct shaped strongly by paper technology.

The construct served the world well for many centuries but structurally

and culturally it has struggled for decades to accommodate accelerating, digital evolution and transformation, and provide the desired apt contemporary education.

That will only be possible within a digital construct.

  • Lee, M and Winzenried, A (2009) The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages. 2ndEdition Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Lee, M. Broadie, R and Twining, P (2018) Your Kids Being Digital. A Guide for Digitally Connected Families. Armidale. Australia Douglas and Brown
  • Lipnack, J & Stamps, J 1994, The age of the network: Organizing principles for the 21st century, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York
  • UNICEF (2017) Children in a Digital World. UNICEF December 2017 – https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/SOWC_2017_ENG_WEB.pdf

Is Core System Wide School Change Possible, and Sustainable?

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The short answer is yes, on both counts.

But it is extremely rare, far rarer than most governments, politicians, the media and educational leaders would have you believe.

Historically one will struggle to find an education authority, local, provincial or national, anywhere in the world that has achieved core system wide school change, and then sustained that change for more than a few decades.

Virtually all the system wide innovation made globally in the 60s and 70’s has largely disappeared, with the schools returning, some might say regressing, to the traditional mode.

One will moreover struggle to find a major change that has not only been sustained, but built upon in a significant way.

And yet daily academics, the media, politicians and educational administrators glibly envision markedly different schools of the future. 

Most schools in 2040 will, on current trends likely be the same as today, the same as they were fifty years ago, the same as they were a century ago, only they will be more dated relative to the rest of society.

The current indicators strongly suggest many could be more regressive than the schools of the 1970s.

Most will likely still be paper based constructs, site based, linear, hierarchical Industrial Age organisations, using Industrial Age processes, micro-managed by governments and bureaucrats to the nth degree.

New technologies in Industrial Age classrooms doesn’t change the nature of schooling. They never have, and never will.

There will be notable exceptions globally led by governments that recognise the imperative of providing an apt contemporary education for all, that understand the immensity of the constraints to be overcome and what is required for successful sustained digital evolution and transformation, conscious of the time and effort needed to make the paradigm shift, but they will be few. 

The rarity of sustained system change has not been for any want of desire, effort of investment.  The last century plus has seen all manner of thoughtfully conceived, well-funded initiatives, the likes of model schools, the Dewey based progressive school’s movement, the many ‘schools of the future’ and lighthouse schools, open plan schooling, vast national initiatives like the UK’s ‘Harnessing the Technology’ and more recently the various national ‘digital revolutions’. Some of those initiatives made a difference, at least for a time, but importantly few got anywhere near 100% school uptake, and have been sustained over time. 

We’d like to table for discussion the seemingly outrageous proposition that core system-wide school change might in most situations be impossible, particularly over a sustained period.

We’re most assuredly not making this observation as cynical old pessimists, but rather in the quest to assist principals, education authorities and politicians, wanting to move from a paper to digitally based construct to understand the magnitude of the task ahead, and the reality they’ll have to address. 

History says that while change has been possible at the individual school level sustained core change across a total system, be it parochial, provincial or national level, has been much rarer.

That rarity should set off the warning bells.

Political challenges.

Sustained, core system change is only possible if both the political and logistical elements are successfully addressed from the outset, and then on an-going basis.  While for convenience we’ve separated the political from the logistical challenges the two are invariably intertwined.

Within the democracies of the world using the Westminster system of government, or a variant thereof core system change in government schools can only happen when led and supported by the leader of the government and his/her minister/superintendent. It is a given, without which there is no chance of sustained success. 

History reveals much, likely most system wide innovation did not pay due regard to the politics of the change. Invariably the focus has been on the mechanics of the change with scant thought was given to the reality of political churn, the continual change of governments, the seemingly endless cycle of progressive and conservative governments and electoral acceptance. History is festooned with educational innovation that died with the change of government, and even change of minister. Invariably new governments, new ministers of education, school superintendents like to quickly display their credentials, happy to throw out millions of dollars of achievement to demonstrate their way is best. 

Core system change is very unlikely to be sustained unless it is accepted, and in time normalised by the electorate. Experience suggests all too often well-intentioned educators have mapped out major change without giving a thought to the political context, implications or long term community acceptance. One will struggle find mention in the educational change literature the imperative of factoring into the change implementation the electorates likely acceptance of the innovation.

Logistical

Logistically the many challenges facing change at the individual school level, that we identified in ‘The Challenge of Creating a Digital School’ are amplified many fold at the system level, and to those many considerable constraints are added those at the system level. 

These are but some of the hurdles to be overcome.

The challenge of simply running an education system in a time of accelerating change is immense.

Running that system while also implementing core system wide change takes the challenge to another, for many possibly unattainable, level. In analysing the history of one of those rarities that has sustained the system change forty plus years ago while the challenge of making the change in the 1970s was immense the system was, in relative terms working with largely known constants. Paper as the technology core to the construct was largely unchanging. That was a world where it was accepted that one had around a week to respond to an important letter, a ‘leisurely’ turnaround that continued until the early 1990’s.

Fifty plus years after the identification of Moore’s Law (Wikipedia, 2019) the rate of digital evolution continues to accelerate largely as projected, with few organisations, let alone school systems, able to stay abreast of the rate of technological change (Friedman, 2016), (Deloitte, 2017). To the already considerable challenge of conducting a complex human organisation is added the pace of continual social, political, economic, environmental and technological change, including uncertainty, disruption, digital convergence, evolutionary chaos, and continual unintended and unplanned global change. 

An allied challenge, all education authorities will eventually have to a face, is that they are operating – whether desired or not –in a world of chaotic change (Pascale, Millemann and Gioja, 2000). They’ll need to grasp that within that world their long-held belief that development can only occur when rationally, logically planned and implemented must be tempered by the reality that increasingly much development will occur as a natural flow on of digital evolution; unplanned, unintended and remarkably similar worldwide.

Governments, education authorities and schools have ultimately to accommodate both planned and unplanned change, and be aware of, and be ready to optimise the unintended benefits, and the new normal that emerges out of the seeming chaos. Near all the major global changes in the learning and education of the world’s young in the last twenty-five years have flown naturally and unplanned from the Digital Revolution. No planned national or international educational change comes close to having anything near the global impact of unintended, unplanned change (Lee and Broadie, 2018). 

Business from the mid 1990’s recognised in their planning they had to accommodate the intended and the unintended change (Thorpe, 1998).

The digital masters in schooling also appreciated this new imperative (Lee and Broadie, 2018).

The history of schooling since the world went online in 1993 with Mosaic reveals most schools, and education authorities didn’t (Lee and Broadie, 2018), but recent conversations suggest some are, and in so doing are aware they will need to bring the teachers and community with them in that realisation.

Natural evolutionary change is invariably inefficient (Pascale, Millemann and Gioja, 2000). It needs to be shaped to advantage by astute leaders aware of the world megatrends.

Core system change must thus still be planned astutely, with due regard given the many interconnected parts but that planning and the outcomes desired should be more open and flexible, able to accommodate the naturally emerging unintended benefits, and to address the undesired disbenefits.

A telling feature of the successful system change analysed was the integrated totality of the change design and implementation (Lee, in press). It was built on core, timeless educational principles that underpinned every facet of the change. Forty plus years on that was still apparent.

All too often efforts at core school change are piecemeal, delivered by discrete cells within the central office, without regard to the desired totality or electoral acceptance, that soon wither with the change in government, and funding priorities.

The immensity and complexity of the challenges to sustained core system change demand leaders in Government, the central administration and every school capable and astute enough to normalise the desired change.  It necessitates systems continually having educational leaders able to sit in the helicopter and understand the evolving macro scene, the interrelatedness of the many parts, able to ensure evolving, increasingly integrated and complex digitally based school ecosystems sustain and grow the desired change.

The challenge of growing and appointing school leaders able to play that role, and to do so over the decades might be a step too far for most education systems, struggling as most are to find principals simply able to manage the status quo.

To normalise, sustain, and in time grow the core change over the decades the system requires leadership identification, growth and appointment processes that will go a long way to providing the desired personnel.

Most systems, where the focus is very much on appointing heads to manage the status quo, are years away from the desired, with the question having to be asked if the desired can ever be achieved.

A related ‘leadership’ challenge facing near all systems is that the implementation of the change is invariably entrusted to a mature, invariably highly segmented bureaucracy. They use staff, structures and processes employed to maintain the status – quo. That group likely not only lacks the understanding, mindset, drive to implement significant organisational change but also the structural agility to do so. 

It is a recipe for failure, that can be obviated, but from the track record is rarely done. 

Successful sustained core system requires the designers to accept school change must be done from within the school, and increasingly the school community, and done eventually by every school in the system.

The designers can’t wave a magic wand, or simply issue a media release and assume the change will happen.  It won’t.

Allied is the imperative of recognising that every school is unique, with each requiring its own change strategy.

It is appreciated this runs counter to the prevailing views of many bureaucrats and likely governments, but every school has a unique context, history, community, culture, mix of staff, challenges, and sits at different points along the school evolutionary continuum.  Moreover, each has a head with his/her own desires, capabilities, leadership style and facility to orchestrate major organisational change.

While Government and the system leadership must provide direction and support history affirms that leadership must be willing to trust and empower its professionals and communities if it wishes them to normalise, sustain and in time grow the core change.

The willingness to distribute that power is something historically few systems have been prepared to contemplate, but until they do, and cease micro managing and distrusting their professionals the chance of sustained core change will remain remote. 

A telling but largely unacknowledged factor in achieving core system change, that stood out in the analysis of the successful change, (Lee, in press) is the timing of the change.  Achieving the initial momentum and acceptance is the hard part. Normalising and sustaining the change is that much easier if the ball is rolling. It was likely somewhat easier to innovate in the socially progressive world of the late 60s and 70’s than immediately post 9/11. Similarly, it is often easier to introduce major change after a resounding electoral success than at the end of a tired government.

It bids Governments and system administrators to think carefully about context and the timing of a change they want sustained for decades to come. 

Conclusion

Yes, core system change is possible, and sustainable, but it is easy to see why the track record globally is so poor, and likely to remain so.

If, and it is a big ‘if’, governments want to provide an apt contemporary education for all its students and to make changes that will be sustained governments, policy makers, educational administrators, and indeed teachers, the media and society in general must appreciate the immense difficulty of the move, and the real chance of failure.

They need also understand in a world of ever accelerating technological and social change the challenge is growing daily.

It is time to cease being glib about core school change, to appreciate the magnitude of the constraints, to approach the change with the eyes wide open to both the political and logistical challenges and to laud those systems that have made and sustained core change over the decades.

Bibliography

  • Friedman, T (2016) Thank you for Being LateNew York Farrer, Straus Giroux
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2018) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–  
  • Lee, M (in press).Creating, Sustaining and Revitalising the ACT Secondary College Model.
  • Pascale, R.T, Millemann, M, Gioja, L (2000) Surfing at the Edge of ChaosNY Three Rivers Press
  • Wikipedia (2019) ‘Moore’s Law’, 2 July 2019 at – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore’s_law

Reality, and Leading a Digital School

R

A message for the visionaries

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Schools, like every organisation should be operating within a digital construct, with the digital underpinning all learning and operations, continually shaping their digitally based ecosystem to ensure all students secure an apt, contemporary, holistic and strongly individualised education.

All principals, at least in our mind, should be leading in their schools digitally mature organisations (Kane, et.al, 2016), working with a digital mindset and using their very considerable talents, visioning, drive, knowledge, experience and people skills to continually provide a learning environment and culture that will assist ready the students for today.

The stark reality is that if you agree with our stance you are very much in a minority.

Most schools and educational administrators, from our experience and research don’t share that belief.

Most still work with an analogue mindset, seeing no need to move from traditional mode of schooling.

The related reality, you may well have encountered is that most educational decision makers don’t understand what it means to shift from a paper to digital operational base, and to lead a digital school.

Most likely see a digital school as one that makes extensive use of the appropriate digital technologies. 

It entails being digital, not simply doing digital.

They don’t seemingly grasp that schools globally invariably fit the use of the digital into what still is a paper-based construct, where the paper technology impacted how the school was structured and run. The use of paper obliged the teachers and students to come together in a physical site where the paper could be readily passed by hand. The teachers control of the paper based information placed them in charge of the learning, managing the flow of the information how they saw fit. If the digital technology is perceived to disrupt the paper based mode its use is rejected, the schools continuing with its traditional ways, albeit with some digital trappings. 

In moving to a digital operational mode, in the digital being so normalised in every school operation as to be largely invisible the organization is, as the digital leaders in business have long recognized, (Westerman, et.al, 2014) free to throw off the shackles of the paper technology, and rethink its structure and every facet of the teaching and learning.

The change coming from digital is so fundamental that we have to question everything we have in the organization. Julian Weber, Head of Retail Shell (Durham, Fross and Rosethorn (2019, p6).

That fundamental rethinking that is now happening across both the private and public sectors holds equally with schools that move to a digital operational mode.

Reality says however that digital schools must attune their operations to the contemporary context and reality, charting their growth and evolution ever conscious of their client’s expectations and aspirations, and their local and national obligations and constraints.

If you are of a mind to take on the challenge of leading a digital school do so with your eyes wide open, and factor in to your planning the educational enhancement made possible by working within a digital construct but temper that thinking with a good portion of reality.

The assumption, as we’ve indicated, is that core educational change is relatively easy to achieve. It is not. And yet every month you’ll likely have received invitations to workshops and conferences, locally, nationally and internationally detailing how it can be achieved and sustained.

While those gatherings are likely great social occasions very few address the reality that most schools haven’t fundamentally changed in over a century, that near all core innovation has not been sustained, and that there is a plethora of barriers to be addressed to achieve the sustained shift to a digital operational mode.

In retrospect most of us, the authors included, likely haven’t given due regard to the historical reality, the myriad of constraints to core school change, and how we might better have addressed those constraints. While it is likely most heads have always been a general appreciation of those constraints, one will struggle to find in the literature and the school’s plans a recognition of the constraints, those can be overcome and that can’t.

Most will have their SWOT analysis, but within the ‘threats’ most will likely rarely have included the stark realities of school change.

History affirms the following, salutatory realities.

The first, and most pleasing of the realities is that astute principals can create and continually grow a digital school. But it is a challenge.

The digital evolution and transformation of a school is only possible if the principal is willing and capable of leading the operation. It is same as business, where the CEO must lead (Westerman, et.al, 2014).  It is non-negotiable. It can’t be achieved by great deputies, the best of committees, great teachers or external advisers. They can assist. It must be led by the ultimate decision maker, the head working in concert with the rest of the school’s community. 

Principals will only lead the school for what is in historical terms a relatively short time,and as such possess the facility to orchestrate core change.

Little core school change has thus far been sustained.The moment you leave a school, and a new head is appointed history reveals most, invariably if not all, the changes you’ve orchestrated will be ‘rectified’ and the school will return to its traditional ways. 

Most principal appointment processes are not intended to identify heads able to lead and sustain core change.They are designed to perpetuate the status quo.  Most do poorly in selecting a leader able to sustain and grow the changes made.

Only a relatively a relatively small proportion of schools globally have normalised the use of the digital, and operate in the state of being digital. Despite the hype, the global digital transformation of business, a quarter of a century of schools operating within the Digital Revolution near all schools only use the digital technologies within the existing paper based structures and processes. 

Most principals don’t want to lead a digital school. Most as indicated don’t see the need for change, and are content to manage the status quo. Many in fairness lack the skills to orchestrate core organisational change and will struggle to even maintain a good school.  The BYOT research (Lee and Levins, 2016) suggests only 20%-30% of heads are willing to tackle the challenge of digital transformation. 

A century plus of scant sustained core school change highlights the challenge of successful digital evolution.The remarkable constancy of schooling detailed in the earlier posts, coupled with the magnitude of the constraints to core change and the marked disinclination go digital should be foremost in the minds of every head wanting to lead a digital school.

Understand where change is likely possible, desirable and sustainable, and where likely impossible. Do so in the context of your situation, understanding each school is unique. 

Anticipate the school community’s educational desires. Bear in mind Steve Job’s telling recognition that in a rapidly evolving chaotic digital world the leadership needs to identify and articulate what the clients don’t yet appreciate they want. Part of the change process lies in educating the clients on the value of the new ways, sharing how the change will assist enhance the learning of all, and securing their sustained support.

Be aware of the personal risks associated with going digital. Protect your back. Anticipate the frustration and likely stress. Adjudge how far you can push, understanding that in most instances there is little those in authority can do with successful maverick heads.

Use the school community support to ‘protect’ and sustain the going digital. Politicians and senior bureaucrats historically are highly reluctant to interfere with changes when the school community strongly endorses the change.

Once the school begins to go digital it will evolve at an accelerating rate, in many unintended ways.After the hard work is done seemingly overnight the school will shift from a world of relative constancy and certainty to accelerating, exhilarating uncertain change.

In closing there is another stark reality to bear in mind.

Don’t expect any rewards for successfully leading a digital school.  Anticipate significant opposition and put down, from both peers and at least some within the bureaucracy. You’re undermining their power. As a female head, you’ll likely incur the wrath of the boys’ club’. You will however have life long memories of great staff, wonderful parents and kids whose lives and life chances you’ve enriched.   

Conclusion

Take seriously the warning inherent in the absence of sustained core school change.

That said don’t allow that warning to deter your quest to lead the desired digital school. 

It simply means being smarter in realising your vision.

Bibliography

  • Lee, M and Levins, M (2016) BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Westerman, G, Bonnett, D and McAfee, A (2014) Leading Digital. Turning Technology into Business Transformation, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press

The Challenge of Creating a Digital School

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The challenge of leading, growing and sustaining the evolution of a digital school is immense.

Few globally have succeeded in creating, let alone sustaining the evolution of such schools.

Few school leaders have moved schools from a paper to a digitally based construct. Hundreds of thousands have acquired extensive digital technologies, with many teachers making astute of that technology, but virtually all are doing so within the traditional paper based construct, continuing to use the traditional. linear Industrial Age organisational structures and processes.

The schooling remains site based, unilaterally controlled by the head, with the teaching conducted within specified dates, at set times, for a prescribed period, with defined outcomes, invariably taught by solitary teachers who control everything within their classroom.

Most schools today structurally and organisationally are much the same as those 60-70, likely 100 plus years ago.

There are many reasons why, but likely the greatest is the constraints societies, their governments and bureaucrats impose on schools. They are immense, multifaceted and likely growing.

They are rarely mentioned in the school change literature or considered when major school change, like moving from a paper to a digital operational mode are contemplated.

History strongly affirms their consideration is far more important than the actual technology, both as relates to creating, and sustaining the evolution of a digitally mature school. 

That said schooling’s poor track record, and propensity for near all core school change to regress to the traditional ways does not mean that digital schools can’t be created and grown.

It will simply be challenging.

The key is to understand both the constraints and the factors that will allow you to go digital, and what it meant by create a digital organisation.

In researching the digital evolution of schooling globally (Lee and Broadie, 2018) and the young’s learning with the technology in and out of school over the last twenty-five years the authors’, as two experienced school administrators, were struck by the enormity and array of constraints facing today’s heads.

For a time, we seriously asked ourselves whether any change was possible, but slowly as we reflected on the ways forward, and Mal examined a core whole of system change that has been sustained for forty plus years we appreciated it was achievable, provided one observed the key tenets of organisational change, understood the constraints, and appreciated that working within a digital paradigm would allow astute, committed heads to overcome most of the hurdles.

The major constraint facing most of the world’s schools today is that very few governments or bureaucracies are committed to genuine school change. Every so often there is a committed national or provincial government wanting to provide an apt contemporary education but if you look back fifty years at your situation you’ll likely find few. Indeed, where fifty years ago school innovation and change was deemed paramount, today the focus of most governments is fine tuning the status quo. Most want to continue their control of all schooling, universally reluctant to foster the digital evolution and transformation of schooling.

Aiding their cause is the suite of structural, organisational, cultural, human, legislative, historical and societal impediments that most societies have unwittingly grown, most of which are intertwined, and many of which likely can never be varied. 

Atop those institutional constraints is a layer of society wide realities that impact school operations, the likes of OHS, sexual harassment, bullying, the privacy laws and the mandatory reporting of child abuse.

The Constraints.

  • Structural  

Schooling globally is still largely conducted in linear, hierarchical Industrial Age organisations, employing many Industrial Age practises and processes, still employing a paper based construct, readying students for the 1960s.  

As the world has found in its quest to accommodate accelerating digital transformation this type of rigid structure lacks the agility and flexibility needed to accommodate the rapid, unintended, uncertain change of the Digital Revolution.

The corporate world soon appreciated substantial restructuring, and a move away from the model was essential if organisations were to become digitally mature, able to continually meet rapidly evolving client expectations.  

That need seemingly has never been recognised with schooling, and indeed over time the workings of ‘schools’ industry’ has acted to reinforce the existing structure.  Procedures have been documented, institutionalised and handbooks written declaring what can and can’t be done. Funds have been locked away in time honoured budget categories, with it near impossible to free them for new priorities. 

Most school systems continue to employ a variant of the ‘Westminster’ system of administration with ‘ministers of education’, who invariably have no teaching experience, are advised by ‘departmental heads’ who increasingly are public service administrators with no background in schooling; lacking the educational understanding, drive and vision to lead or even facilitate core change.

Structurally teaching still mainly occurs within the physical place called school, within the prescribed dates and hours.  The focus continues to be site based, schools largely rejecting any moves to recognise out of school learning, or to collaborate and network with any other parties in the education of the young. 

The schools, like the factories of old, still operate as stand-alone entities, the curriculum, teaching, student assessment and everyday operations intended for use only within the classrooms, in class hours.

Physical and digital access to the school’s workings continues to be limited, with the parents having scant understanding of and no say in the teaching occurring behind closed classroom doors. 

The students move as age cohorts along a 12/13 year ‘production’ line, where there is still a strong division of labour, with the students invariably taught in class groups, with solitary teachers teaching their designated part of the K-12 curriculum. 

In being obliged to focus on the micro most classroom teachers, particularly at the secondary level, are professionally disempowered, lacking the macro understanding of the school’s total workings needed to assist bring about organisational change.

The teaching, like the movement of the age cohort, continues to be linear in nature, planned, tightly structured, teacher controlled, with most areas of learning taught year on year. In most situations, the time to be spent on teaching various areas of the curriculum is prescribed, with there being little scope for spontaneous, integrated, collaborative teaching or the use of micro-credentials.  

Most school teaching, learning, student assessment and certification continues to have a strong academic focus, with tertiary academics invariably shaping the teaching program, ensuring academic ‘standards’ are maintained and that the ‘right’ students are readied for university.  The workplace continues to have relatively little sway on school teaching, running a distant second to the academics.

Globally schooling, through the internal and external testing regime continues to sort and sift, with the final, invariably paper based handwritten exams rewarding future management personnel.

Significantly the data gathered in conducting the Industrial Age academic tests has grown its own industry, private and public sector, who in turn use that data to reinforce the status quo. 

The ‘quality’ and ‘effectiveness’ of the production line is tightly overseen by a brace of in and out school authorities. Within the school the teachers are controlled by their unit managers, who in turn are obliged to follow the dictates of a suite of external control groups, the likes of the central office bureaucrats, auditors, inspectors, curriculum agencies, exam boards, and the teacher registration, and teaching standards authorities.

Staff remuneration and rewards, for teachers, the professional support, executive and heads is still based on the traditional thinking. Reward is given the ability to maintain the status quo, in a risk-free manner, with rarely any incentive given to innovate. 

While governments globally continue to laud the opening of their latest ‘school of the future’ the system school building code invariably continues to ready plant for running the traditional school. 

  • Organisational

Organisationally schools continue in the main to be strongly hierarchical, with the principal atop the pyramid being the prime decision maker, mostly unwilling to distribute the unilateral control, and empower others.

Most schools, heads and even governments moreover seemingly believe that only the professionals, working on the school site can and should teach, invariably unwilling to recognise any out of schooling learning or teaching. 

Student assessment and credentialing is zealously monopolised by the schools and education authorities.

It is appreciated that over the last century there have been schools at all levels that sought to flatten the hierarchy and empower more of the community, and shift away from the bell curve, but they remain as ever a minority.

In most the head, and a small executive run the school.

Most teachers and professional support staff remain disempowered, micromanaged, restricted to their area of responsibility, with little or no say in the macro workings of the school.

The parents and students, the clients, sit at the bottom of the pyramid, having no real say in the school’s operations, with the children, having no voice in the teaching or their learning, obliged to instantly comply with all staff demands.

The professionals know best, with the clients expected to appreciate that expertise.

While over the decades, significant organisational change has been attempted, most schools today, and particularly the secondary remain strongly segmented, with the units/faculties having significant authority over ‘their’ operations, and the teachers continuing to work alone with ‘their’ students’. Efforts to better integrate the teaching, to have teachers collaborate are often frustrated by faculties refusing to cede power.

  • Cultural

Culturally most schools have changed little in the last century.

The ‘masters’, even though now mostly female, remain very much in control, dictating the students’ every move.

The learning culture is invariably autocratic in nature.

The students K-12 are distrusted, disempowered, having no voice in their learning, what is taught or assessed, when or how. Their very considerable out of school learning with the digital is rarely recognised. The contrast between in and out of school learning cultures is ever greater, with the digitally connected young globally being trusted and empowered to take charge of their learning with the digital.

While the schools continue to ban the in-school use of the young’s personal technologies the student’s families actively support their children’s astute 24/7/365 use of those technologies in their learning.

Fear remains very real from the early childhood years onwards. Today, as was so a century ago, the students are expected to immediately comply, to conform, understanding that if they don’t they will be disciplined, no matter how petty or daft the instructions.

Likely most parents, except on special occasions will be reluctant to enter the school, particularly if to see the head.

The ‘jocks and burnouts’ scenario so aptly described by Eckert in 1989 still holds globally. The academic achievers, who know how to play the game are rewarded, and those whose interests and talents lie elsewhere are largely disregarded, unless they act out.

  • Human

The human resources provided the schools are those readied by the universities and employers to maintain the status quo, where everyone knows their place.

Few, if any of those institutions have sought to develop principals with the appropriate skill and mindset, able to successfully lead and grow a continually evolving, increasingly integrated, highly complex digitally mature organisation.

The small cadre of heads able to play that role and successfully lead a digital school are largely self-developed.

Their leadership, like the CEO’s of the digital master’s in business (Westerman, et.al, 2014) is critical to the successful digital evolution and transformation of schooling.

While employers speak continually about appointing ‘leaders’ as heads they invariably appoint ‘managers’ who can do the state’s bidding, lacking the ability or desire to markedly change a school, or importantly continue the work of an innovative head. 

Those ‘managers’ are one of the most telling constraints on significant school change, regardless of how good is the staff. 

The authors know of few selection criteria designed to appoint leaders of digital schools.

Interestingly in a connected world few schools or education authorities have opted 

to take advantage of what Shirky (2012) terms the cognitive surplus of networked societies, that seemingly unbounded willingness for people online to assist others.

Rather the focus appears to be on imposing ever more controls on the existing limited human resources, lifting the accountability, restricting the ability to draw others in to the learning, obliging police checks, mandating national standards and requiring regular accreditation.

Conclusion

To these already considerable constraints one needs to add the many legislative, historical and societal hurdles.

You’ll invariably think of others.

It is easy to see why most schools haven’t fundamentally changed in the last fifty years, why so little innovation is sustained and why most schools will likely stay the same for many years to come – despite the need to evolve.

Pleasingly the experience of the pathfinder schools reveals the shift from a paper to increasingly digital base enables the school to overcome many of the impediments, but others will remain, frustrating your efforts.

The key is to understand they exist, that some can’t be changed or even by-passed but most can if approached astutely as a school community.

 Schools as formal state approved organisations will never have the freedom of digitally connected families but as digital constructs they can be configured to provide a far more apt contemporary education than now.

In opting to lead a digital school, and to provide what you believe to be the desired education you could well be flying solo, without the support of most heads, the education authority, tertiary educators or government. 

Some might even actively oppose your quest.

But that said change at the individual school level is possible.

So too is the capacity to sustain that change.

But it requires astute committed heads with vision who understand the challenges and realities, and who are willing to bear the burden that comes from wanting to do best by one’s students.

Bibliography

  • Eckert, P (1989) Jocks and BurnoutsNY Teachers College Press
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2018) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–  
  • Shirky, C (2012) Cognitive SurplusNew York Penguin
  • Westerman, G, Bonnett, D and McAfee, A (2014) Leading Digital. Turning Technology into Business Transformation, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press

The Traditional Features of Schooling

Graphics by Greg McKay

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Most schools worldwide today have the same core features as those in the 1960’s, with many the same as schools in the late nineteenth century.

In examining the history of schooling over the last century, and particularly since the shock of Sputnik in 1957, and reflecting on our own sixty years’ plus experience with school change and innovation one must conclude that the core features of schooling have not changed. There is moreover scant suggestion that they are about to, with few if any governments contemplating the kind of digital transformation seen in business and other public-sector organisations. 

It is a reality that needs to be better understood if schooling is to have any hope of evolving at pace with societal change and providing an education relevant to the digitally connected young.

It is appreciated that many visionary and highly committed governments, public benefactors, educators and schools globally have made concerted efforts to innovate and enhance the holistic education of all children in the last century, particularly since Russia put a satellite into orbit.  Many will remember the immense investment in model schools, the Dewey based progressive schools, educational television, reticulated video, computer aided instruction, open plan schools, alternate schools, school based curriculum design, the many national innovation programs, future and lighthouse schools, and more recently all manner of digital technologies and STEM.

History affirms that invariably the dents made in the traditional form of the school have been ‘rectified’ and the school/s returned to the old ways.  

Schooling globally is still conducted within the physical walls of the place called school, within specified times and dates, with solitary teachers teaching class groups, invariably behind closed doors. The teachers still invariably teach the curriculum determined by the authorities, in the manner prescribed, following a structured, linear teacher controlled instructional program, continually measuring, and reporting upon student performance, always comparing the student attainment, from the early childhood years onwards.  The assessment continues be of sole performance, never the ability to work with or to relate to others.

The students still move in a lock step manner through their schooling, moving as age cohorts, from one year to the next over twelve, thirteen years to graduation – the decision makers understanding that a significant part of the age cohort, identified by the academic criteria as of lesser quality, will ‘drop out’ before the final exams.

The schools remain strongly hierarchical, linear Industrial Age organisations, obliged to follow the dictates of government, whether state or independent. The head, often with the support of a small executive continues to decide on the workings of the school. Most teachers and support staff continue to be disempowered, obliged to do as told, closely micromanaged by both the school and government authorities, expected to conform with the national standards and mores. 

In many situations, particularly in the rural areas the students attend the same schools as their parents, the schools often being over a hundred years old.

The students remain at the bottom of the pecking order, invariably distrusted, obliged every minute of the school day to do as every adult instructs, with their every movement controlled and monitored, fearful that any transgression will be punished. They invariably have no say in what is taught or assessed, when, where or how, and as such have little or no influence or control over the in-school education. The experts know what is best. Student alienation with schooling remains high and likely growing globally, particularly among the non- tertiary bound, with recent student Gallup polls revealing in developed nations like the US 50% student disengagement with the schooling (Gallup, 2015).

The contrast with how the young learn with the digital outside the school globally is increasingly marked. Outside the digitally connected young have since the mid 90’s been trusted, empowered, and provided the tools, freedom and support to take charge of their learning with the digital 24/7/365, anywhere, anytime. They, and not the authorities decide what they want to learn, when, how and where (Lee and Broadie, 2018). 

Schooling is still characterised by its constancy, continuity, sameness, paper base and adversity to risk, with schools, year after year, decade after decade following a remarkably similar calendar, running the same events, using the same livery and ceremonies. Heads and teachers move on or retire, replaced by colleagues who invariably continue the routine. 

It is understood most systems structurally have added a year or two to the schooling but the nature of the schooling in the added years remains basically the same.

The increasingly greater monies spent by governments from the 1960s in the supposed quest for school change and enhancement brought no sustained change to the traditional form of schooling – for many good reasons.

Society relies on schools minding the young while the parent/s work, and keeping the unemployment figures down with the older students.  This is ever more so with both parents working, and governments globally having to contend with structural changes in the job market. 

Term dates largely determine the family year everywhere. Any variation to those dates or the school hours is guaranteed to generate all manner of flak and disruption. 

Society expects the schools to manage and control the nation’s young, and ready them to be largely compliant members of society. School exist to inculcate the young on the nation’s ordered ways, with ‘revolutionary’, non-conformist activity invariably repressed and/or criticised by the media.

They are the organisation society has given a monopoly to decide on who will be the future leaders and who the workers, and to ensure that sorting is reflected in the qualifications provided. One will struggle to a find a nation today where the final school exams don’t complete 12/13 years of sorting and sifting, with those in authority and the media lauding the ‘successful’ students, and largely dismissing those who don’t succeed academically.

While that observation might appear harsh success at school is still adjudged, as it has for a hundred plus years by performance in academic, paper based exams.

Tellingly the schools that go digital will not only not markedly improve their ability to meet any of the above-mentioned givens, but will open the doors to on-going digital disruption and evolution, and a shift away from many aspects of traditional schooling.

With its continued existence guaranteed, schooling is one of the rare ‘industries’ today that doesn’t have to worry unduly about productivity, efficiency, continued viability or the workers being ‘restructured’. Indeed, in most situations they currently don’t, unlike business, need to address ‘digital Darwinism’ (Solis and Szymanski, 2016) or the very considerable challenge of digital transformation. Globally political parties still pander to the parent self-interest, and campaign successfully on the promise of spending more on dated, inefficient, inflexible schools and processes, fully aware the extra monies spent on the likes of smaller classes won’t enhance student attainment, educational relevance, school efficiency or productivity.

There is moreover little or no pressure for schools and their heads to change their ways, to accommodate the world going digital. The rewards go to those teachers and aspiring heads that provide a good traditional schooling, who manage the status quo well, meet the government specified outcomes and whose students perform well in the final exams.  All the staff remuneration models are still those of an analogue world. 

Conclusion

Ironically, as we discuss in a later post the greatest pressure is placed on those highly capable educational visionaries who try to educate for a world of accelerating digital evolution and transformation and seek to take advantage of the facility to learn 24/7/365.

Governments seemingly globally do their utmost to control rather than encourage the mavericks.

The continued constancy of schooling globally points to the enormity of the challenge of initiating and sustaining core school change and the imperative of better understanding the constraints to change, and how desired change can be sustained.

  • Gallup Student Poll (2015) Engaged Today: Ready for Tomorrow Fall 2015 Gallup – http://www.gallup.com/services/189926/student-poll-2015-results.aspx
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2018) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–  
  • Solis, B and Szymanski, J (2016) Six Stages of Digital Transformation. The Race Against Digital Darwinism April 2016 Altimeter @Prophet – http://www.altimetergroup.com/2016/04/new-research-the-six-stages-of-digital-transformation/

Is Sustained Core School Change Possible?

I

An alert for those wanting to lead a digital school.

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The historic, universal, unwritten assumptions are that fundamental school change is not only possible, but is desired by those in authority and can be readily sustained.

Underpinning virtually every education plan and staff development program in the last century has likely been the desire to change and enhance schooling. Myriads of books have been published, studies conducted, reports written and likely millions of conferences conducted globally detailing how. 

Daily politicians continue to espouse the changes they are initiating, giving the impression that the governments of the world actively want significant educational innovation and change.

We’d suggest the time has come to seriously question all three assumptions. 

We accept that merely questioning the assumptions is akin to killing Bambi, but if schooling is to educate the young for a rapidly evolving world the validity of these first order premises should be examined, and the reality addressed.

COSN recently released an excellent study on the hurdles constraining Driving K-12 Innovation (COSN, 2019). The problem was that barriers identified were second order and assumed governments and schools wanted to innovate, could do so, and could sustain the changes made.

It is suggested that

  • For most it might be impossible to fundamentally change the traditional mode of schooling in a sustained way. It can in exceptional circumstances happen with individual schools, at least for a time, but as we explore in later posts historically it has been near impossible to sustain across a total system.
  • it is extremely unlikely most schools will evolve as digitally mature organisations (Kane, et al, 2016) being digital (Negroponte, 1995) in the foreseeable future.
  • most governments and educators have no real desire to significantly change the nature of schooling. They want constancy, continuity, sameness and control, free of electoral risk.

School leaders should better understand what is possible to change and is sustainable, be aware of the myriad of constraints to significant school change, and appreciate where transformation is possible, and likely impossible. 

History reveals that sustaining the change is likely as difficult as making the initial change. It also suggests this key facet of organisational change hasn’t been given the attention due. 

It is time to mix vision with pragmatism, to adopt a more reasoned approach to change, to accept there are givens, and to stop tilting at windmills in areas when there is little or no likelihood of marked variation of the current practises. 

In talking about core school change one is addressing fundamental variations in the traditional mode of schooling. New buildings, technologies, curriculum or assessment procedures don’t in themselves mean core change, particularly when they are simply a variant of the old. One is looking at the likes of schools without walls, open plan schools and the move to a 24/7/365 mode of schooling that integrates the networked with the site based learning.

Heads must recognise from their appointment they will lead the school transformation process for a finite time, with very real likelihood that any significant changes they make to the traditional ways being reversed on their departure. Despite the best efforts of likely millions of very capable heads globally history is festooned with examples, particularly within systems, of the laudable efforts being dismantled or abandoned by less able replacements.

For centuries school planners have worked on the assumption they can, with calm rationale thought shape whatever kind of schools they want. They can’t.  There are immense, likely growing constraints and barriers inhibiting core change. 

It is time for all educational decision makers, but particularly principals to better understand, and work with that reality. We now know what can and likely can’t be changed, that which is immutable and that where enhancement is possible. For example, after two hundred plus years of governments in the northern hemisphere basing their school term dates on the agrarian year, and those dates impacting near every facet of life, the economy, and learning there is no way to markedly change the term times. There are like givens those wanting change must work with.

School leaders should also appreciate that most governments and education decision don’t want any significant change.  Most educational administrations are about control and being risk adverse, committed to ‘protecting and promoting the minister’, concerned not to alienate the electorate or media. While politicians and their educational administrators speak of change the difference between the rhetoric and the reality can be vast. Granted some governments have genuinely wanted enhancement, but history reveals most only want controlled change. Twenty-five years on from the world going digital, and the Digital Revolution transforming all manner of organisations worldwide most of the world’s schools have avoided or been sand bagged against any significant digital disruption (Lee and Broadie, 2018a). Most schools use of the digital the same way as they did a quarter of a century ago, albeit with access to the online.

Conclusion

In the coming weeks, we’ll explore through a series of short blogs the realities facing all school leaders, but particularly those wanting to lead a digital school.

If you would like to comment further do write Mal Lee at – mallee@mac.com

Bibliography

  • Kane, G.C, Palmer, D, Phillips, A.N, Kiron, D, Buckley, N (2016) Aligning the Organisation for its Digital Future. MIT Sloan Management Review, July 2016, Massachusetts MIT SMR/Deloitte University Press – http://sloanreview.mit.edu/projects/aligning-for-digital-future/
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2018) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–  
  • Negroponte, N (1995) Being DigitalSydney Hodder and Stoughton