Think Digital, Not Analogue

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In undertaking your digital journey your mindset – and that of your school community – will gradually change and evolve, slowly but surely moving away from the traditional paper based, strongly analogue way of thinking, shifting to a far more digital and socially networked mindset.

The change – based on the experiences of the pathfinder schools – will likely be gradual and for a period one will default to the traditional ways but over time the digital mindset will become so natural as for you not to think about it, until you encounter those still operating in the analogue mode!

Examine the attributes at each of the key evolutionary stages (Lee and Broadie, 2016)) and you’ll note the pronounced change in thinking that occurs as the schools evolve and how by the Networked stage the school, the teachers and indeed the parents have adopted a very different mindset – a very different outlook and set of expectations to those at the Paper Based and Early Digital stages.

The digital mindset is in many respects antithetical to the analogue.

Bhaduri and Fischer in a 2015 Forbes business magazine asked ‘Are You a Digital or Analogue Leader? While directed at business leaders the two-page comparison of the distinguishing features of each type of leader remarkably parallels the change in thinking identified by the authors in the leaders in the pathfinder schools.

Download the comparison from – http://www.forbes.com/sites/billfischer/2015/03/19/are-you-an-analog-or-digital-leader/ – discuss it with your colleagues and position yourself.

By virtue of brevity the comparison verges on the black and white but critically it makes the point that it is the mindset of the CEO/the principal which strongly impacts the nature of the organisation and its culture.

Principals operating within a digital and networked mindset will run a very different kind of school to those ensconced within an insular analogue mindset.

Interestingly many of the pathfinder principals commented on their difficulty in explaining to traditional principals and teachers the nature of the schooling they were providing – so different were the two modes. Even in 2016 many school leaders can’t envision schools changing. They genuinely believe they know everything there is to know about schooling. In contrast the digital leaders are highly ambivalent about the form their schools will take in future years, even five years hence. While the former’s is a world of constancy and certainty the latter’s is world of rapid uncertain change and evolution where one forever on will be leading the school into uncharted waters.

What can you do to expedite the change in mindset in your school? We are not really sure.

Those associated with the pathfinder schools – and that includes the staff and the wider school community – have made the shift as part of the school’s evolution, it invariably taking years.

Logic would suggest the later adopter schools should learn from the early adopters and be able to hasten the change in thinking but the authors’ strong suspicion is that the deep-seated change in mindset will only come from the everyday association with evolving school ecosystems and cultures.

You’ll lose little by discussing the shift with your staff, by publicly noting significant shifts in thinking but bear mind historically you are talking about changing a mindset that has shaped schooling for hundreds of years. Moreover on your evolutionary journey you will need to change the thinking of all your staff, the students, the current and prospective families and indeed the wider school community while simultaneously addressing the plethora of other key variables.

That said the school will be operating integrally within an increasingly socially networked society, where most in the school’s community will have normalised the 24/7/365 use of the digital technology, will have rising expectations of the digital and where many of the parents will in their work be employing a digital and networked mindset

There is much to be said for being conscious of shifting the mindset but letting the continued evolution of the school and the societal pressures naturally do the job.

Bibliography

 

The Educational Power of Digital Ecosystems

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

What we are about to suggest will for many be contentious.

It is a suggestion that Mal has elaborated upon at http://educationtechnologysolutions.com.au/2014/07/15/digital-technology-and-student-learning-the-impact-of-the-ecology.

It is to our minds a logical extension of all the previous writings on the growing power and impact of increasingly focussed, more tightly integrated digitally based school ecosystems and a rejection of the current naïve assertion that the digital instructional technology will somehow of its own volition enhance student learning in particular subjects. The technology alone never has and never will (Higgins, et.al, 2012). It is the way that digital tools and the connected word make much better practice possible that has the impact on learning

That said ask any parent or indeed anyone in the street and they will tell you the normalised use of the digital has markedly impacted the lives of all but in particular the world’s young. Globally they have embraced it outside the classroom from a very early age, have become very confident and proficient in its use and daily use it in a remarkably universal manner, consciously and unwittingly to enhance their learning.

Our belief is that is that the power of the digital is far more deep-seated than currently envisaged by most. The power is not to be found in simple linear, A then B relationships, but rather in the interplay of the myriad of variables within highly complex adaptive ecosystems. Led astutely, these act to increase engagement with learning and time on task, levels of concentration and the help in learning students get from their peers as well as their teachers

The signs are increasingly suggesting that the greatest impact the digital technology will have upon student learning in the school will come from

  • the technology’s underpinning all-pervasive role within an ever evolving digitally based school ecosystem enabling all to work and interact much more efficiently and effectively
  • highly capable leaders and teachers able to make the best educational use of that digital ecosystem and to operate at a significantly higher professional level.

It is the educational power of tightly integrated, focussed digitally based, socially networked school ecosystems which allow teachers of all types to simultaneously address 24/7/365 all the variables – in and outside the school walls – that enhance student learning. This far exceeds what is possible within a loosely coupled, largely insular paper based school where the teaching occupies less than 20% of the child’s learning time each year.

Critically while the power of the underpinning digital technology will grow at pace and the digital ecosystem will evolve, mature and move to an ever higher order, the capability of the paper based school has long been maximised and as such will basically stay as now.

No one in 2016 would suggest that a carmaker would enhance its productivity by simply installing a robot or that Apple’s success is solely dependent on a single piece of technology like an iPad. The enhanced productivity of the digital masters in the corporate world (Westerman, et al, 2014) comes from skilfully shaped, expertly led and staffed, highly focussed, tightly integrated, ever evolving digitally based ecosystems.

And yet in 2016 teachers, principals, governments, some technology companies and journals globally perpetuate the myth that one has simply to acquire the latest digital kit and as if by osmosis school learning will be enhanced. Decades of research (Higgins et al, 2012) affirm there is no significant linear connection between the use of digital technologies and enhanced student attainment. The randomised controlled trials on which this research is based cannot adjudge the individual attitude changes that occur in pupils’ and teachers’ brains, which foster the willingness to commit greater time and concentration, and that enable the higher order interactions and better learning

However until schools develop an apposite digital school ecosystem, adopt a culture therein that empowers the teachers, students and parents, and actively support all to take a lead role in the astute use of the digital in the 24/7/365 teaching of the young and which positions the school to grow schools won’t be able to take advantage of those opportunities and continually enhance their productivity.

It is time to appreciate the traditional, simplistic way of looking at the impact of digital technology on student learning has to fundamentally change.

Bibliography

Higgins, S., Xiao, Z., & Katsipataki, M. (2012). The Impact of Digital Technology on Learning: A Summary for the Education Endowment Foundation London: EEF. Available at: http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/uploads/pdf/The_Impact_of_Digital_Technologies_on_Learning_FULL_REPORT_(2012).pdf

Lee, M (2014) ‘Digital Technology and Student Learning’, Educational Technology Solutions – July 15, 2014 – http://educationtechnologysolutions.com.au/2014/07/15/digital-technology-and-student-learning-the-impact-of-the-ecology/

Westerman, G, Bonnett, D and McAfee, A (2014) Leading Digital. Turning Technology into Business Transformation, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press

Distributed Control of the Teaching and Learning

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

If schools are to normalise the whole of school community use of the digital and to create a 24/7/365 mode of schooling they’ll need to trust and respect the contribution all within its community and distribute the control of the teaching and learning.

The total school community, all the professional staff – the executive, the classroom teachers and professional support staff, the students, the families and the wider school community need to be empowered, to understand the school’s shaping mission, to appreciate its macro workings and to play a significant part in the teachings, operations and growth of the school.

They need to ‘own’ their school.

In a socially networked society where learning and teaching can, and does take place anywhere, anytime it makes sense to actively involve – in an appropriate way – all the teachers of the young, and not as now focus simply on what the professionals are doing within the school walls.

Within that socially networked school community the principal and the teachers will need to continue to play the lead role – they having both the expertise and the time to so – but that role should also entail empowering the volunteer ‘teachers’, giving them the desired direction and support.

Probably more than ever the principal must continue to play the lead role but not in an autocratic sense but rather as the school’s chief conductor, orchestrating the school’s daily operations and deriving the utmost from all the players in the workings and continued growth and evolution of the school.

In playing this role the principal, like all good conductors and CEOs, has to be the final arbiter. He/she listens, collaborates, delegates and takes on board the decisions made by others but in the end the principal has to make the final decision, even if the decision is not to do anything.

More than ever the shaping of an increasingly complex, more tightly integrated school ecosystems requires principals and professional teachers who can provide the desired instructional leadership while also having a strong working knowledge of all the other major variables, human, educational, political, financial and technological that will grow the school’s ecosystem.

It requires astute, sensitive principals happy to empower others but knowing when and where to intervene to ensure an operation assists realise the school’s shaping vision. It moreover necessitates having an empowered, highly professional staff – teaching and support – with the macro educational understanding, confidence and the people skills to genuinely collaborate with and enhance the ‘teaching’ contribution of the non-professional teachers.

Traditionally within the strongly hierarchically school the principal and the others atop the apex unilaterally controlled the total operations of the school. In so doing they disempowered most of the teachers, ensured the support staff played a subservient role and the students, their families and the local community had no real say.

When schools move to a digital operational base, begin socially networking in a significant way and recognising the value of genuinely collaborating with all involved in the teaching of the young, in and outside the school walls one sees notes in the pathfinder schools a significant letting go of the control from up high and concerted efforts to empower all within the school’s community.

The growing collaboration with the student’s homes and the school’s community has been discussed.

There has been in the pathfinder schools, particularly when they move to the Early Networked evolutionary stage a recognition of the importance of getting the most from the professional staff and listening much better to the students.

At the Digital evolutionary stage, while the staff are using the digital technology most remain relatively disempowered and underused as professionals. The strongly hierarchical organisation model promotes in most staff a micro focus, a focus on playing just their part in the production line. Most have a limited understanding of the macro workings of the school, so essential in growing an integrated school ecosystem.

One needs to markedly enhance that macro capability of staff as soon as is feasible, but it will take time and needs to be done on the fly.   What hit home in the pathfinder schools was how accepting were the staff of the empowerment, the efforts made by most to lift their professionalism, their relatively rapid embrace of change and willingness to take professional risk and their preparedness to genuinely collaborate with their students, the parents and the school’s wider community.

How long it will take in your situation we don’t know. There are so many variables at play.

What we do know is that until the control of the teaching and learning is genuinely distributed digital evolution will be stalled, the successful whole school uptake of BYOT impossible and digital normalisation but a dream.

Home – School – Community Collaboration

Collaborative Teaching 2Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In moving to a digital operational base the school begins collaborating evermore closely and genuinely with its homes and community, in time marrying the in school teaching, learning and resourcing with the out of school.

It is a marked contrast to most traditional schools where most of the collaboration with the homes is tokenistic (Lee and Ward, 2013) and often one way, with the school informing the parents what they need to do for the school (Grant, 2012). While the literature, government policies and the research (Hattie, 2009) have long advocated genuine home-school collaboration it has rarely been achieved in a significant way until recently (McKenzie, 2010) with most parents reluctant to enter the school gates.

All that invariably begins to change, and to change rapidly and markedly when the school goes digital, and the principal and the teachers begin using the technology to reach out beyond the school walls and ‘socially network’ – using the latter term in its wider sense of ‘a network of social interactions and personal relationships’ (OED).

What one sees is a natural, largely unprompted change with the school becoming increasingly aware of the nature of the teaching, learning and digital resourcing outside the school walls, and the educational – and indeed social, economic, administrative and promotional – benefit of the school and its homes collaborating more closely in the holistic teaching of the young (Project Tomorrow, 2011).

Invariably the initial moves will be diffident, by the homes, community and the school, with it often being two steps forward and one back but in time with the school showing by deed its genuine desire to collaborate and the wider school community recognising the old barriers have been removed and the school gate opened the collaboration becomes normal and begins providing all manner of benefits.

With the collaboration comes:

  • a greater respect for the part the families play in the teaching of their children from birth onwards
  • a recognition of the extent and value of the student learning occurring outside the school walls, unharnessed by the school
  • a greater appreciation of the children’s 24/7/365 use of and proficiency with their personal digital technologies (Project Tomorrow, 2014)
  • an insight into how a collaborative, digitally based 24/7/365 mode of schooling where the young can be taught in context anywhere anytime can markedly improve each child’s learning
  • an awareness of why the school should empower its homes and the local community and enhance their ‘teaching’ contribution
  • the realisation the school should in a socially networked society distribute the control of the teaching and learning and over time to marry the in and out of school teaching
  • an appreciation of the wisdom in a socially networked school community of pooling the expertise and resources of the home, the community and the school in the 24/7/365 schooling of the young
  • a plethora of both intended and unintended benefits – with the latter likely growing as the level of collaboration and social networking grows
  • the recognition that schooling in the networked world should transcend the physical walls of the classroom.

The collaboration will, from the experiences of the pathfinder schools place an extra load on the school and the principal in particular. However over time the astute all- pervasive use of the digital technology will help lessen that load.

Almost inevitably there will be teething problems, dealings with over enthusiastic parents that will likely incline the principal at times to say ‘forget it’, but that downside is more than offset by the immense contribution the homes and the local community will bring to the school’s teaching, operations, its resourcing and its continued growth, and the continued evolution of an increasingly powerful and productive school ecosystem.

When schools open their doors, involve the parents in the school and genuinely collaborate with them in the 24/7/365 teaching of their children the nature of the schooling will be irrevocably transformed, with the parents forever onwards expecting to be involved in all the school’s work – and not shut out and disempowered as in the past.

  • Grant, L (2010) Developing the home-school relationship using digital technologies A Futurelab Handbook February 2010
  • Hattie, J (2009), Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement, Routledge, Abingdon
  • Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: transcending the classroom walls, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Mackenzie, J (2010) Family Learning: Engagements with Parents Edinburgh Dunedin Press
  • Project Tomorrow (2011) The New Three E’s of Education: Enabled, Engaged and Empowered Speak Up 2010 National Findings Project Tomorrow 2011. Retrieved 24 June 2014 at – http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/pdfs/SU10_3EofEducation_Educators.pd
  • Project Tomorrow (2014) The New digital Learning Playbook: Understanding the Spectrum of Students’ Activities and Aspirations Project Tomorrow 2014. Retrieved 24 June 2014 at – http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/SU13DigitalLearningPlaybook_StudentReport.html

 

 

 

Trust and School Evolution

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Trust is critical to the digital evolution of the school and achieving digital normalisation.

The principal needs to trust and empower all staff, the students, the parents and the supporting community. That trust will be repaid in numerous, very positive ways.

Trust fundamentally changes the nature of the schooling and opens the way for a more collaborative 24/7/365 mode of schooling and resourcing.

The traditional hierarchically structured school is based on distrust. It is deemed imperative that a small executive team exercises unilateral control over all school operations. Neither the classroom teachers, the support staff, the students, the parents or the community can be trusted, and their roles must be carefully managed from on high. The ethos is at root one of teachers and pupils doing what they are required to do on pain of sanctions, rather than an ethos of mutual expectation that what is required will be done because that is the job that the whole community is collaboratively engaged in.

The history of the use of instructional technology in schools (Lee and Winzenried, 2009) over the last century has been characterised by its distrust of teachers to use the technology wisely. That history sees teachers being obliged to secure licenses to use the gear, instructional technologies being ‘teacher proofed’ and ironically from around 1984 the ‘ICT experts’ controlling every facet of the digital technology. That distrust extends through to current times, as witnessed by the California iPad debacle.

That distrust might well be evident throughout your school operations today.

The distrust stymies the school’s facility to make best use of its greatest resource, its people – its salaried staff, students, families and community. All feel disempowered and unrecognised, most unwilling to put in the extra yards to assist the school’s growth.

The experience of the pathfinder schools, extensively documented in the authors’ Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages (2016) is that when schools move to a digital operational mode they begin to use the technology to reach out beyond the school walls, to genuinely collaborate with their parent community and to recognise and respect the contribution the teachers, support staff, students, families and wider community can make to the holistic teaching of each child. If this process is not led by the Principal it is very likely to start happening surreptitiously, particularly amongst the pupils but with aware teachers also starting to use online systems and social networks

These schools begin to appreciate the benefits of more fully trusting all, empowering them and distributing the control of the teaching and learning.

That said it invariably takes time – likely years – before the leadership, and indeed the teachers, are willing to cede some of their power and distribute the control of the teaching, learning and significantly the digital technology resourcing.

In many school settings, as the work by Lee and Levins (2016) will attest, some of the most reluctant to cede that control and trust others are the ‘ICT experts’. Yes – for many the ICT ‘empire’ has been their power base, but if schools are to normalise the whole of school community use of the digital the control has to be distributed and all within the school’s community trusted.

The principal’s willingness to trust will be crucially tested when faced with the decision of letting the children use in class the suit of digital technologies they already use 24/7/365. Is the head prepared to trust the children and parents and go with BYOT or declare his/her continued distrust by going the BYOD route where the school specifies the personal technology? Is the principal willing to trust the students and parents, accepting what to him/her might not appear be a perfect solution but which in time with genuine collaboration will not only work well but yield many other dividends?

It is a critical decision in the school’s digital evolution.

Until the principal is willing to trust and respect each student’s and parent’s choice of technologies, and to genuinely collaborate with them in the teaching, learning and technology resourcing the school’s digital evolution will be stalled and digital normalisation unachievable. While there are schools with ‘successful’ (though expensive) approaches that provide all pupils with the same device, at the root of this is the school wishing to dictate the use of certain software or device. This puts the focus on the technology rather than on the task to be achieved and denies innovation as the devices and software inevitably age. Far better to decide what human and interaction functionality is necessary for all pupils to use their devices.

Reflect for a moment on your children’s normalised out of school use of the digital and you’ll appreciate it is dependent on your trust in them to use and maintain the technology wisely. Your children will invariably respect and build upon that trust such that in a relatively short time their use of the technology becomes so normal as to be largely invisible.

That is what is wanted within the school walls, but it is only achievable when the school has created a whole of school culture – ecology – that trusts, respects and empowers the students and their parents, and values the contribution they can make to the workings, safety, resourcing and growth of the school.

  • 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. 2nd Edition Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Lee, M and Levins, M (2016) BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/

 

 

 

Operating Your School in the Digital Mode

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Schools need all, or near all, of their teachers using the digital technology in their everyday teaching before they can move to a digital operational mode and build the base that will enable the school to evolve digitally.

It is most assuredly not enough for all teachers to have the kit – they actually have to use the technology integrally in their teaching.

While that might seem blindingly obvious, the reality is that in 2016 many school leaders, educational administrators, governments and indeed media commentators don’t appear to have grasped that necessity.

As the logic and experience affirms until the school’s main operation, its teaching actually makes use of the digital the school will not move to a digital mode. It will remain operating in its traditional paper based base and mindset.

Commentators incorrectly assume that all teachers are using the latest technology, and using the technology astutely.

The rhetoric far exceeds the reality. A survey of 35 Australian state schools by Mal Lee in mid 2015 (unpublished) revealed on average that around 65 % of the teachers were using the digital technology naturally in their everyday teaching. Roger Broadie found that matched his UK experience. The actual figures could be lower or higher.

Before a school can make any significant progress in its digital evolution it has to have 95%-100% using the digital in class. Having 60% – 70% – 80% is not enough. We’re aware of schools still at the 30% level.

What is the figure in your school?

Recognise that while achieving that 95% -100% figures is critical, it is but a step in the evolutionary journey. It will literally take years and much astute and concerted effort to build upon that whole of teacher usage and create the school digital ecosystem and culture that will allow the total school community to normalise the use of the digital. It takes years of operating on the fly to grow the total staff, the student group and community and replace the paper based practises with the digital.

The digital base is essential. You’ll require an ever evolving, evermore sophisticated digital ecosystem that allows all within the school’s community to naturally use the growing power of the digital in every school operation – in its 24/7/365 teaching, assessment, administration, finances, communication, social networking, marketing, accountability and growth.

What you are looking at in the total teacher usage is a crucial step in getting the teachers, the school and its community to think digitally (Bhaduri and Fischer, 2015).

While only an early step, it is, as the number of schools globally that have yet to reach this point attest a difficult move to make.

Indeed it is important to openly acknowledge that difficulty and recognise the challenge of getting the school to the starting line.

The major challenge will be human but the school will require the finance, technology and network infrastructure to make the desired human change possible.

Critically all the teachers – virtually all of whom will have normalised the use of the digital outside the classroom – need perceive the importance of using the digital in their teaching and every other school operation, often in environments where paper based external exams are deemed life changing and the facility to write a three hour exam paper remains vital.

Teachers need appreciate that in time the digital has to underpin every school operation if the school is to shape an increasingly integrated, powerful and productive ecosystem. They need to see the big picture and not simply consider the digital in relation to in class performance. It is the totality that matters.

The expectations set– and given teeth – by the principal in relation to the use of the digital technology are vital to instilling the desired importance. The astute principals moved quickly to ensure the core administration – the marking of rolls, staff communiques, recording of student performance and the like – was all done digitally. When the staff selection criteria address digital teaching capability, the daily operations of the school oblige its use and the fulfilment of contract obligations specify the astute application of the digital the importance of the digital is readily understood. When the principal sets no such expectations the status quo will prevail.

The apt, highly reliable digital technology has to be available for all to use.

Every teacher, every member of the professional support team must have the apt suite of current digital technologies. The traditional approach has been for the employer to provide that technology but increasingly schools are recognising the value of financially supporting a BYOT approach.

The total school campus requires apt Wi Fi network coverage, and every teaching room an appropriate digital presentation facility and the digital tools for the students to use when opportune.

The movement of the school to that vital digital operational should be a priority – if your school has not already reached that position. Experience reveals it will take time, likely years, and that each school will likely need a strategy that fits its situation but regardless of how it is done you need make that crucial step.

  • Bhaduri, A and Fischer, B (2015) ‘Are You an Analogue or Digital Leader?’ Forbes 19/2/2015 – http://www.forbes.com/sites/billfischer/2015/03/19/are-you-an-analog-or-digital-leader/

 

 

Shaping the Desired Ecosystem

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The ultimate challenge as the leader of a digital school is to shape, week after week a school ecosystem that simultaneously, and most effectively addresses all the variables that enhance each child’s learning.

Where in business the focus is on shaping highly productive digitally based ecosystems that improve the financial bottom line in schooling it is the continued improvement of an ecosystem that will allow the school to realise its shaping vision and provide each child an education that surpasses good traditional learning.

The focus in both is the desired totality, and not as stressed in earlier blogs the discrete parts therein.

In both the schools and business one is looking at continually evolving, increasingly complex and at times seemingly chaotic ecosystems where the principal and the CEO are virtually daily entering unchartered waters, encountering never before experienced challenges. It is seemingly chaotic and complex because the key job of the principal is to empower people at all levels in the school to innovate and improve. It is not chaotic or complex to the individuals doing this, it only looks complex and chaotic from the leadership perspective because of the huge range of innovation – and improvements – all are happening together.

The authors have identified in the pathfinder schools the need to simultaneously and successfully address in the region of fifty key variables (Lee and Broadie, 2016), and to do so with in a socially networked society that is also continually evolving.

It is an environment where

  • all the operations of the school, the educational, financial and administrative are increasingly interconnected and where the complex adaptive system is naturally generating all manner of synergies, and intended and unintended benefits

 

  • one poor decision amongst thousands can have considerable ramifications

 

  • even when the leadership address all the known variables there is no guarantee that the ecosystem will function as desired

 

  • the rapidly evolving but sometimes fragile ecosystem needs to work appropriately week after week, year after year, with student cohort after cohort even when contending with the unknown

 

  • it is vital to always have a school leader – be it the principal or deputy – shaping the daily workings and growth of the ecosystem, with the wherewithal to immediately address any malfunction. The having of that able deputy in a smaller school can be an issue that will impact the robustness of the school’s ecosystem.

It is a very different to the world of constancy, continuity and risk aversion that schooling has thus known, where every move was carefully planned and shaped by past best practise.

The authors have used the term ‘shaping’ very advisably. Traditionally terms like ‘building’ and ‘creating’ are used with school development, both implying the designers had full control of all the factors impacting the school’s growth.

The reality is that amorphous entities like digitally based school ecosystems operating with a socially networked society, amidst the Digital Revolution will be impacted by many major forces that can only ever be shaped. And indeed shaped bearing in mind the forces at play at a particular time, which change. Yes the pathfinder schools have had their vision, plans, implementation strategies and on-going measurement but they also have had the agility and culture to take advantage of the unexpected.

While governments and indeed many educational decision makers like to perpetuate the myth that they have full control over the evolution of complex adaptive systems they don’t.

Reflect on the impact of the iPhone alone since 2007 on every digital ecosystem, and indeed school community and its expectations, and you’ll begin to appreciate how powerful are the forces impacting on schools, and why even the best of principals can only ever shape those many forces to best educational advantage.

The shaping of continually evolving school ecosystems calls for very capable principals with the people skills to conduct an international standard ensemble, and an understanding of all the finer nuances of the orchestral score. Their key skill is the ability to keep the vision of the school focused on what is most important, and to ensure their whole team agrees and drives this vision.

Of note is that none of the very successful principals in the pathfinder schools had that wherewithal before they embarked on the digital evolutionary journey. All have learnt and grown on the journey.

You can do the same – however with the benefits of the insights provided by the pathfinders and their affirmation of the necessity of daily shaping the desired totality.

 

  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages: Evolution within the Threads, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/

Optimising the Intended and Unintended Benefits

This is an extension of the earlier observation about linear and non-linear growth, and how schools should ready themselves.

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In going digital and creating an increasingly mature digitally based school ecosystem factor into your school’s growth and enhancement the very real likelihood of reaping an increasing number of unplanned, unintended benefits.

Be on the lookout for their emergence and be prepared to optimise those that will advance the school.

Watch also for potential disbenefits, the unintended undesirable developments.

Address the digital evolution of your school with what Bhaduri and Fischer (2015) refer to as a digital mindset – and which others refer to as a networked mindset – that recognises in the midst of Digital Revolution it is impossible to identify with 100% certainty all the benefits that will flow from the introduction of new approaches and programs.

It is appreciated that is contrary to the long held belief of the educational administrators that school leaders have some divine ability to identify every benefit and measure the realisation of each over X number of years.

The reality, stressed in the earlier writings on the evolution of complex adaptive systems and natural non-linear growth, is that in most areas of schooling it is only ever possible at the outset of an initiative to identify a portion of the program benefits.

The business management literature has long understood this reality and advocated organisations employ appropriate benefits realisation processes.

Thorp writing as far back as 1998 observed:

Benefits rarely happen according to plan. A forecast of benefits to support the business case for an investment is just an early estimate. It is unlikely to turn out as expected, much like corporate earnings are forecast (Thorp, 1998, p38).

That observation was made in the relative stability of the 90’s well before the Digital Revolution took hold, the social networking of society and the digital transformation of all organisations had begun to impact in a significant way. One is talking pre Google, pre Facebook, pre smartphones and pre iPads, long before society in general had normalised the use of the digital and social networking.

The message coming very strongly from the pathfinder to the later adopter schools is that:

  • seek as usual to identify the desired benefits of each initiative

 

  • monitor and measure the realisation of each of the benefits, but at the same time
  • observe the emergence of any unintended benefits – and indeed disbenefits

 

  • work to optimise the desired unintended benefits and remove the undesirable effects

 

  • don’t automatically regard an initiative as a failure – as is now often done by administrators – simply because it doesn’t yield all the projected benefits. Understand the initial aspirations are but educated guesstimates and that it is crucial to factor in to any judgement the unintended benefits

 

  • the number of unintended benefits is likely to grow as the school’s digitally based ecosystem matures, becomes more tightly integrated, sophisticated and complex and interfaces with other ecosystems.

Be conscious that many of the unintended benefits singly appear small but when combined with many other seemingly small changes can significantly vary the school’s practises and enhance the productivity. For example the adoption of a seemingly simple school app can significantly impact the school’s communication and its relationship with its community.

In brief – in marked contrast to now – identify and measure the total impact of the program, looking always at both the intended and unintended benefits.

  • Thorpe, J (1998) The Information Paradox Toronto McGraw-Hill

 

Accommodating Linear and Non Linear Growth

In posting this piece we appreciate we are – once again – addressing a development that has likely never been considered in school growth, but it is a reality found in the digital evolution of all organisations.

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The shaping of the desired school ecosystem entails, likely increasingly, the school leadership being able to simultaneously accommodate both planned linear and unintended non-linear growth.

School leaders globally have been schooled on the belief that schools will only grow, and grow in the desired fashion if the development is fully planned and its implementation carried out in an appropriately linear manner. The desired growth is achieved by doing A then B and finally C. So strong is that belief it is rarely questioned. It is taken as a given.

Globally governments and educational administrators reinforce that assumption by obliging schools to submit all manner of finely calibrated linear plans. In addition to the seemingly universal long-term school plans – that assume schools can divine the scene years ahead – there are also all manner of plans schools are obliged to submit to secure and retain grant monies.

The assumption is that only meticulous planning, that minimises risk can yield the desired school growth.

That thinking accords no recognition to the now substantial body of research on digital evolution and transformation (Pascale, et al, 2000) (Westerman et al, 2014) (Lee and Levins, 2016) that reveals when organisations move to a digital and networked operational base they will as complex adaptive systems experience considerable natural, seemingly chaotic non linear growth in addition to that planned.

As the power and sophistication of the organisation’s digital base grows, as that growth disturbs the existing practises, as the staff’s understanding of what can be done with the digital technology increases and the client’s expectations of the digital rise so all will work to further the growth of the organisation.

What is becoming apparent is that as the school’s ecosystem matures it will increasingly socially network and interface with all manner of other digital ecosystems and in so doing will not only realise the desired benefits but will increasingly provide the school and its community with many unintended – most assuredly unplanned – benefits.

In creating tightly integrated, closely interconnected, increasingly sophisticated ecosystems that simultaneously address all the variables that enhance student learning in and outside the school walls the schools are simultaneously creating a highly complex, ever evolving environment that will generate all manner of synergies and unintended benefits.

The ripples generated by that ecosystem will transcend the school walls and impact the school’s total socially networked community.

The digital masters have learned the art of accommodating planned and unintended growth (Thorpe, 1998). They understand that in the midst of a Digital Revolution even the most prescient and capable of planners can only ever ‘guesstimate’ the benefits of a new program and that the organisation needs processes to optimise the unintended benefits – and disbenefits – that will inevitably emerge.

That is what the authors saw transpired with the pathfinder schools when they moved to a digital operational base. Seemingly overnight the schools experienced considerable ‘natural’ growth. The astute principals soon appreciated the importance of giving the developments the space and time to grow (Lee and Levins, 2016).

The further schools moved along the digital evolutionary continuum, the more tightly they integrated the school’s ecosystem, the more they embraced a culture of change, trusted and empowered their staff and community, promoted risk taking and thrived in uncertainty, mess and seeming chaos the more became the natural non-linear growth and the greater the unintended benefits.

Unwittingly the leaders of those schools, like the CEOs of the digital masters in business, learned to accommodate both the planned and unintended.

The challenge for all embarking on the digital evolutionary journey is how best to do that.

It is highly likely the pragmatics of your situation will oblige you to simultaneously play the old and new planning games, and to do both well. There is the strong possibility you will be obliged to experience the pain and waste of time inflicted by bureaucrats set in their ways, desirous of maintaining their ‘control’, who don’t understand the digital evolutionary process. It is probable that like the pathfinder school heads you’ll need pay token attention to the ‘official plans’ while adopting a big picture development strategy able to accommodate both the linear and non-linear growth.

In saying that it must be stressed up front is that the successful schools, like their industry and public sector counterparts have to plan their desired journey and will in many areas need to employ apt linear plans – albeit being in the lookout for the unintended.

All this affirms the aforementioned mention of the shaping school vision and an organisational culture and agility to vary that planning when the need arises.

  • Lee, M and Levins, M (2016) BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling, Armidale, Douglas and Brown – at  http://edfutures.net/Lee_and_Levins_2016
  • Pascale, R.T, Millemann, M, Gioja, L (2000) Surfing at the Edge of Chaos NY Three Rivers Press
  • Thorpe, J (1998) The Information Paradox Toronto McGraw-Hill
  • Westerman, G, Bonnett, D and McAfee, A (2014) Leading Digital. Turning Technology into Business Transformation, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press

 

Selecting the right principal

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In general terms the choice of principal will make or break your school’s immediate digital evolution and possibly its long-term viability.

The position is critical.

An astute principal, with the digital acumen and people skills who is willing to lead a digitally evolved school can move the school at relative pace along the evolutionary continuum and markedly enhance its performance and attractiveness.

A principal, lacking the vision and drive, unwilling or unable to lead the digital evolution will at best place the school in a holding pattern and might well take the school backwards – all the while diminishing its client attraction.

Some make the fatuous suggestion that when a culture of change is embedded the school can withstand the appointment of an ineffectual head. While it might well help, globally the authors have witnessed the deleterious impact of principals unwilling or unable to evolve the school digitally and create the desired culture. Decades of astute effort by a school and its community can be soon dismantled by the poor choice of head.

Improved learning in a digitally evolved school stems from all enhancing how they interact to help other learners learn and teachers teach. If the Principal does not understand the importance of this and continuously promote it pupils and teachers can quite quickly start putting their own needs ahead of the needs of the team. A Principal who does not understand a socially networked way of working can easily destroy the culture.

It is thus critical that every effort be made to select the right leader.

It is the appointment that will determine the school’s immediate future.

While it is appreciated that no selection process is infallible and that many ‘state’ schools use processes where the school and its community have little say, do all you can – formally and informally – to get the right person.

Don’t leave the appointment to chance.

Put in place the thoughtfully crafted selection criteria and questions that will bring the desired leaders to the fore. Look at the skill set fleshed out in ‘Leading a Digital School’ (Lee, 2015). Specify if you can, demonstrated performance.

Ensure the actual selection processes identify those able and willing to lead, and if needs be weight certain criteria.

If the opportunity exists opt for a fixed term, renewable contract and the capacity to terminate the contract even earlier if the person selected fails to demonstrate the desired leadership in the first year. That said also be realistic about your situation, the challenges to be addressed and the time it will take the new principal to shape the desired school ecosystem.

If you have the facility be prepared to pay above the norm.

Use your personal networks to ensure the right kind of people apply, and if needs be assist folk with their applications.   Do your homework.

From the publication of the initial advertisement stress the applicants will be expected to indicate how they will lead the school’s continued digital evolution, shape the desired culture and strengthen its ecosystem. Set the bar high, and expect the applicants to have done their homework on the school’s current situation.

Ensure the panel selection processes do address the demonstrated capability of the applicants to lead a digital school and are not preoccupied with the lower level mechanics that can beset public sector interview processes.

Do your utmost throughout to ensure you look only for those who have demonstrated they can perform at the higher level and genuinely lead. All too often ineffectual people are ‘refereed’ up and out of a school to clear another school of its problem.

If the opportunity exists and the concerns remain be willing to interview non- specified referees. It is the right principal that is the key. View the processes simply as a means to selecting an apt principal.

If the field of applicants is found wanting be prepared to re advertise. Better to wait than to be sorry.

The ramifications of a poor choice are too great.

Conscious of the likely shortage of quality applicants, particularly those able to take over the reins of a rapidly evolving school be willing to grow a person, even in a temporary role before re-advertising the position.

In your planning for the appointment identify the support processes the school will use to assist the new principal get up to speed as soon as feasible. Even the best of principals find new appointments challenging and lonely. All too often good people fail from the want of support.

Understand the critical importance of the principal’s position in a digitally evolving school and do everything to choose and to appropriately support the right person.

Earlier we made mention of the vital role of the principal in fostering a culture where all the ‘teachers’ within the school’s community collaborate and support each other, challenging all to reach greater heights and grow the thirst for learning and teaching across the whole school. The importance of that capability cannot be over emphasised. Though we are in some ways still short of the vocabulary for this conversation, it can be incorporated into the central mission of the school. For example in the way Showk Badat, Principal of Essa Academy (UK) describes his school’s mission as “All children will succeed”, adding “And that’s ALL not most and WILL not might.” Or in the motto of Trondheim School (Norway), that is drilled into the children from the day they arrive, that “Nobody is perfect but a team can be”, reinforced by the way the teachers found ways to ‘reach’ all children and give them success as the basis on which to build challenge (their key way of ‘reaching’ the children being music – 98% played a musical instrument). Note that these ways of talking about the impact of digital evolution focus not on the digital but on the human reasons why digitally evolved schools achieve more.