Empowering the Professionals

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

empowering

While the empowerment of the total school community is very important what is critical is the empowering of all one’s paid staff – the teachers and the professional support – and having them use their full professional capability to continually grow the school.

For too long schooling has failed to get the most from its professionals.

It is not the fault of the staff but rather poor and dated organisational practises, and in many situations the authorities lack of trust in the professionals and belief they have to be micro-managed.

Rapidly evolving tightly interconnected, increasingly complex higher order school ecosystems cannot afford that waste, inefficiency and distrust.

It is easy to forget in all the talk about the digital and the social networking that the school’s greatest resource is its professional staff. 85% plus of the school’s recurrent funding is spent on staff salaries and on costs. 3%- 4% of the funding if lucky is spent on the digital technology.

The scarcest resources in any organization are performing people (Drucker, 2000, p121).

Within the traditional strongly hierarchical silo like school the vast majority of the teachers and the professional support staff have for generations been disempowered and their professional capability markedly underused.

Within that ‘factory’ model only a few atop the apex – the management – have a macro appreciation of the workings of the school, with the teachers – the production line workers – expected to follow orders and focus on the micro applying their expertise to their part of the production line. We have thus maths, chemistry, history and English teachers whose very title communicates their limited role, micro focus and contribution.

Examine the likes of the national standards for Australia’s teachers (http://www.aitsl.edu.au/australian-professional-standards-for-teachers/standards/list) and you’ll see classroom teachers are still expected to focus on their area of expertise and not have any significant understanding of the macro workings of the school until they reach what is termed the ‘Lead’ level and even then the involvement is limited.

The same micro focus is true of the professional support staff with most expected to look after a narrow area of operation, often being explicitly denied any wider involvement. How many schools today actively involve the professional support staff in their ‘staff’ meetings? It is likely most traditional schools wouldn’t contemplate involving the professional support, believing such meetings should be restricted to those who know, the ‘academic’ staff.

The dated – factory derived – assumption is that a strong division of labour, controlled by a small management team will provide the most efficient holistic education for each child in an increasingly inclusive digital and socially networked society.

That is somewhat questionable.

Little is the wonder that few of the teachers or the support staff in the traditional settings have come close to realising their full professional capability, and acquiring and being able apply the kind understanding and expertise needed to assist operate and grow a tightly integrated school ecosystem. There is no expectation they should do so, most accepting their lower order standing until they retire.

For too long schools have made limited use of highly educated, well-paid staff, providing neither the expectations, support or in many respects the rewards deserved of professionals. The treatment of the professional support staff, many of who have degrees, has been particularly wasteful, with their talents invariably underused.

Of note is that all the pathfinders began their evolutionary journey with this staffing scenario, with the normal mix of staff, the good and indifferent.

The creation and growth of a tightly integrated digitally based school ecosystem where every facet of the school’s operations is directed towards continually realising the shaping vision in an ever evolving complex adaptive system requires all paid staff – teaching and support – contribute to the macro workings of the school as well as their area of expertise. Every professional should rightly be expected to assist grow the school and their own expertise, and to do so as the school moves to an ever higher plane (Lee, 2015).

Within a tightly interconnected, naturally evolving ecosystem any initiative is likely to have as indicated both its intended and significant unintended benefits that could be manifested any part of the of the school’s operations, its teaching, administration, communication, resourcing or marketing. Any of the staff, teaching or support, could be impacted and thus all need to play their part in optimising the unintended. The introduction a new school app, a seemingly simple initiative, will for example likely impact many parts of the school, educational and administrative, yielding both the planned and very likely unintended benefits..

In going digital and increasingly integrated, with the operations transcending the school walls, the old divisions of labour – the old internal and external walls – soon disappear and the school needs professionals able to flourish in that interconnected environment, understand the links, thrive on the seeming chaos and uncertainty and to go the extra mile when needed.

Tellingly newly appointed staff within the mature digital organisations are expected to make that professional contribution from day one – contrary to the view expressed in the teaching standards. While it is recognised it takes time for even the most capable of professionals new to the organisation to get up to speed there is nonetheless the expectation that as a professional they lead within their speciality and organisationally.

The case studies have revealed that likely the only way to create this type of higher order staff is to empower all and assist each person grow his/her professionalism and understanding of the macro workings of the school in situ, and by ensuring all are provided the apt digital kit and support.

It will take time and be closely aligned to the evolution of the school, the change in its culture and mindset and the movement to a higher order mode of schooling.

The authors have considered ways of accelerating the staff empowerment and cultivating the higher order skill and mind set out of context but we strongly suspect – at this stage at least – the professional enhancement is best done primarily in house, in context, with the aid of mentors and apt professional learning networks.

  • Drucker, P (2001) Management Challenges for the 21st Century, NY Harper Business

 

Cutting Through the Technology Hype

Minimising the waste and maximising the effectiveness

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

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A growing and perpetual challenge schools will face in their digital evolution is that of successfully cutting through the immense and often very sophisticated hype associated with all emerging digital technologies, to acquire the technology needed and to avoid wasting scarce monies, social capital and teacher’s time with the unnecessary and the ineffectual.

This is where the principal’s digital acumen is tested.

While the technology companies have over the last century plus displayed considerable marketing expertise in winning over the school market globally (Lee and Winzenried. 2009) their efforts in recent years have become that much more sophisticated – and in some instances one might say insidious. Most of the companies are simply doing their utmost to sell their product, but recent studies on a development known as ‘edubusiness’ indicate a few could be using their involvement in educational testing to ‘validate’ the selling of their instructional technology.

The studies by the likes of Hogan (http://researchers.uq.edu.au/researcher/11666, http://www.aare.edu.au/blog/?tag=anna-hogan) and Lingard (http://www.educationincrisis.net/blog/item/1243-complementarities-and-contradiction-in-the-pearson-agenda) provide an insight into the techniques some of the multinationals employ to secure and hold the school’s custom.

Those studies underscore why the head, as the school’s chief architect and final decision maker, has to be able to cut through the technology hype (Lee and Finger, 2017), and why it is vital the school has a ‘chief digital officer’ (Lee, 2016, 1) who can provide the principal the requisite expert advice.

While those of us studying the evolution of the digital technology in schooling have observed the finite hype cycles of all the major instructional technologies over the last fifty plus years, and the often still very considerable gap between the technology rhetoric and the reality, daily we continue to watch schools and governments spend vast monies on dated and dubious technological ‘solutions’.

Schools, education authorities and indeed governments globally have over the last forty plus years wasted millions of scarce dollars acquiring inappropriate and unnecessary digital technologies. They continue doing so today. Election after election globally one sees the ‘in technology’ offered up to the voters. The poor decision- making is not only costly but also wastes the teachers’ time and impairs the productive use of the apt technology.

Disturbingly this has been so with all manner of instructional technologies since the magic lantern (Lee and Winzenried, 2009) and is likely to continue until schools – and principals in particular – exercise the requisite acumen and leadership in shaping the desired totality.

How great that waste of money and time has been no one knows. Suffice it to say any who have been associated with digital technology in schools for any time will be aware of the monies that have been, and are currently being wasted, the staff’s frustration of being lumbered with inappropriate technology and the damage caused the digital evolutionary quest when ill conceived decisions are inflected on the school. For example in the recent elections in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) the subsequently successful Labour Party pledged to provide every student an iPad. This ‘one size fits all approach’, that would be controlled by the Government’s ICT experts, without regard to each school’s situation was offered to some of the most affluent electorates, in one of the world’s most affluent nations. No thought was seemingly given to the reality that virtually every child in that wealthy city state already had a suite of personally selected digital technologies, that the children from a very early age had already normalised the use of the digital 24/7/365 and that the government was both duplicating the home buys and imposing a ‘solution’ that would stymy the digital evolution of its schools.

Sadly the ACT scenario is being replicated worldwide, probably daily by other governments, education authorities and schools. All are still focussing on the parts, and not the creation of the desired tightly integrated digitally based ecosystem (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 17).

It takes astute decision makers, supported by apt processes to acquire and secure access to the digital technologies required, to see through the hype and spin, to reject the unwarranted, and to minimise the waste and maximise the effectiveness of the technology.

It requires of them very good crap detectors.

Fortuitously it would appear the first of the schools have attained a digital maturity and an understanding of the desired totality where they can markedly minimise the risk of acquiring the unnecessary technologies, while simultaneously ensuring their staff, students and parents have the digital tools and resources required.

That said we’d suggest it is impossible for schools not to make mistakes. Digital evolution and transformation is by its very nature risky, the way forward uncertain and while the digital technology has improved markedly there is still often a large gap between the promised and actual performance. Mistakes, some substantial were made by all the schools studied. All one can ever do is to minimise the risk.

That risk can be markedly reduced by:

  1. Giving schools the power and responsibility for ‘acquiring’ the digital instructional technologies they require, getting the central office ‘ICT experts’ out of the play with the personal technologies (Lee and Levins, 2016) and having the latter focus on providing the bandwidth and where apt the network infrastructure. Be willing to say no to undesired technological solutions offered by the ‘ICT experts’, be they in or out of house.
  2. Ensuring the Principal and ‘CDO’ oversee all key digital technology decisions. All buys should enhance the desired school digital ecosystem and as such one needs both a whole of school digital technology budget, and most assuredly not the traditional discrete faculty/unit budgets, and simple checklists and processes that lessen the chance of the school purchasing inappropriate technology solutions.
  1. Moving the school to an increasingly mature digital operational base, distributing the control, empowering the school’s community and having all better understand the role the balanced use of the digital and socially networking can play in creating the desired culture and digital ecosystem. Having all, rather than a few ‘experts’ understand the desired role of the technology is vital.
  1. Pooling the digital technologies of the student’s homes, the school and its community and distributing the risk, particularly with short life cycle technologies. Schools don’t have to own the desired personal technologies to ‘acquire’ them. Indeed it is far wiser not to buy them, except in special circumstances.
  1. Adopting a BYOT policy, and in turn normalising the whole of school use of the student’s own suit of evolving digital technologies. BYOT – and having each student select, acquire, support and upgrade each of his/her chosen suite of hardware and software places control in the hands of each user and largely removes all the risk for the school and government associated with most of the short life personal technologies. With BYOT the school basically removes from its remit the near impossible task of continually funding and selecting the desired personal technologies for each child, while at the same time empowering its clients. By all means offer advice but the school and vitally government has no longer to worry about all the hype and risk surrounding the plethora of short-term personal technologies.
  1. Appreciating that the richness of the educational resources on the Net and the multi-media digital creation facilities and apps in the student’s hands significantly reduces digitally based schools having to buy packaged teaching resources – digital or print.
  1. Networking or working collaboratively with other ‘educational’ services, distributing or totally removing the risk to the school.
  1. Renting apt Cloud or app services. Many schools have over time built very extensive and expensive hosting facilities, the services on which have to be continually updated with the associated risk and costs. The rental of continually upgraded apps and Cloud based services removes much of that hosting cost and the many associated risks.

It also helps if the leadership:

  1. Understands the Gartner Hype Cycle (Lee and Winzenried, 2009) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hype_cycle,) and those technologies whose life cycle is shortening. Appreciate – as Lee and Winzenried identified in their 2009 study and description of the life cycle of instructional technologies – many of those technologies will never move beyond the ‘hype’ phase, dying before they are viable. This harsh reality tends to be overlooked in the more recent Gartner studies. Think of the literally thousands of education apps and software solutions – many created and promoted by governments – that never really moved beyond the hype phase and ‘sit’ unused. The other point to appreciate is that in general terms the life cycles of even the economically successful instructional technologies are getting shorter.
  2. Avoids the acquisition or leasing of short life cycle digital technologies. The prevailing perception of likely most schools and the auditors is that the technology will remain current for years. The fact that it won’t and will be soon superseded needs to be understood.
  3. Recognises the total cost of ownership of the technology, and the importance financially, operationally and user wise of very high reliability, low maintenance and the ease of being integrated in the school’s digital ecosystem.
  4. Is aware of the moves by the major technology companies globally to ‘own’ the school and its data, their desire to ‘hook’ schools financially into long term financial commitments and is very wary about entering into any long term financial agreements with those technology companies.
  5. Is continually alert to the likely unintended impact and benefits that will flow from the 24/7/365 use of the digital and the importance of optimising the desired (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 21).

Conclusion

The ability of the head – with the help of the ‘CDO’ – to cut through the digital technology hype, to ask the telling questions and identify if the technology can assist the school realise its shaping vision is a critical leadership skill increasingly required in all digital schools. The failure to do so can at the extreme, as too many schools and education authorities have found, bankrupt the organisation or at the very least deprive the school and authority for years of scarce resources.

That is an unwarranted risk that can be easily avoided if the school’s leadership continually asks if the suggested new technology is needed and ensures the due diligence is undertaken.

 

  • Gartner (2016) ‘Gartner’s 2016 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies’ Garner Newsroom, August 2016 – http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3412017
  • Lee, M and Winzenried, A (2009) The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016, 21) ‘Optimising the Intended and Unintended Benefits’, Digital Evolution of Schooling June 2016 – http://schoolevolutionarystages.net/?m=201606

 

 

School Difference as the New Norm

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

It is time that schooling globally accepts, as an underlying operational premise, that schools are different. With change as the new normal, that difference will become increasingly so.

Let’s cease operating on the largely unquestioned and dated premise that all schools are the same.

Let’s understand by changing that long honoured underlying premise, the shaping mindset, one fundamentally changes all one’s dealings with schools.

That said let’s also recognise that schools, like all other digitally based complex adaptive systems (Dooley, 1997), will evolve over time in a remarkably similar manner while at the same time as being different.

In marked contrast to the traditional paper based organisation that was designed for a world of relative constancy and continuity the digitally based organisation is designed to facilitate rapid on-going change, digital disruption, seeming chaos and accelerating evolution and transformation. Where sameness prevailed in the former, difference will be the norm in the latter.

The most advanced organizations will become champions for change, harnessing the latest developments to grow and improve the business (Accenture, 2016. P8).

One of the realities of the Digital Revolution, and a digital and socially networked society is that every digitally based organisation – be it a business, a public utility, a public service unit or a school – will evolve at its own rate. Very quickly organisations within the one area of endeavour will in their digital evolutionary journey continually transform their nature, culture and ecosystem, and do so at varying rates, with the successful soon becoming very different to their slower moving counterparts.

The rate of the digital evolution will be strongly impacted by the leadership of its chief executive officer and his/her ability to create and grow a digitally based and socially networked ecosystem and culture that will provide the clients/customers the products and services they desire (Westerman, et.al, 2014). The more successful move to the fore, the less successful will trail until such time as they are able to surpass the productivity of the digital masters and those unable to compete cease to be viable.

It is very much Digital Darwinism at play (Lee and Broadie, 2016,2).

Each organisation will be at a different evolutionary stage, with the differences between like organisations on trend to continue growing at pace. Think for example of the differences between the digital technology companies, and the productivity of their ecosystem and corporate culture. While the likes of Apple and Google are evolving at pace, organisations like Microsoft, HP and Acer are daily seeking to transform their operations to better compete, the likes of Nokia, Blackberry and Yahoo – all former digital masters – are slipping out of the play.

Contrary to the belief of some there is little governments can do to curtail Digital Darwinism – even if it was desirable.

The same – unseen to many – is happening with schools worldwide.

Schools have to go digital to remain viable (Lee and Broadie, 2015,5).

As evermore schools move to the digital operational mode the digital masters – the pathfinder schools – will continue to evolve at an accelerating pace, the later adopter schools will seek to follow, while those wedded to the ways of the traditional paper school will move closer to a state of equilibrium and questionable viability.

In the 2016 edition of The Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 12) we identified seven key and distinct school evolutionary stages, understanding that every school sat at a point on that evolutionary continuum. Schools operating at the Digital Normalisation evolutionary stage are very different organizations to those at the Early Digital. Indeed in many respects the mode of schooling provided in the former is antithetical to the latter, so great is the difference.

In brief schools are already very different.

It is the new reality – the new norm – that should be borne in mind in every school related operation.

Schools are not and should not be regarded as the same.

Moreover they have not been the same for at least the last decade, since the first of the schools moved to a digital operational mode.

Notwithstanding most educational administrators and governments still work on the premise that schools are not only the same, but will remain so for years to come. Globally one sees authority’s continuing to apply a common standard to all its schools.

Look at the following areas and consider how the extent to which all are premised on the assumption that schools are the same

  • National/provincial curriculum
  • National/provincial reform programs
  • Teaching standards
  • Pay scales
  • Duty statements
  • Staff deployment
  • Teacher education
  • Student reporting

You’ll have seen how national and regional politicians view all the schools the same when they seek to impose their magic panacea on the schools within their bailiwick.

It is as if sameness is the key to readying the young for a rapidly evolving uncertain future in a digital and socially networked world.

Ironically while sameness continues to be the underlying premise governments globally have in most quarters recognised the importance in a rapidly evolving digital society of self-regulating units and giving each school and its principal/head teacher a large degree of autonomy,

They are actively encouraging the schools to be different.

What impressed in examining the evolution of the pathfinding digital schools was how successful the astute principals were in taking advantage of that autonomy in shaping schools – markedly different, ever evolving schools – that would provide the ideal education.

One is left with the very strong impression that the vast majority of governments and educational administrators – and most assuredly their bureaucrats – are not aware how strongly their operational thinking is shaped by the premise that all schools are – and will – and probably should always be the same.

One can but hope they see the error in their thinking and that in supporting semi autonomous schools go digital they adopt a digital mindset (Bhaduri and Fischer, 2015) where organizational difference is the new norm.

In shaping your school’s digital evolution it is imperative you take charge of your school’s growth (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 4), understand your school is unique and that you will need to adopt a shaping strategy that suits your situation, regardless how different it makes your school to others.

  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016, 4) ‘Take Charge of Your School’s Growth and Evolution’ Digital Evolution of Schooling February – http://schoolevolutionarystages.net/?m=201602
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016. 12) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages. 2nd Edition Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/

 

rnessing the latest developments to grow and improve the business.

 

Empowering the School Community

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Tellingly all the schools studied have gradually but very surely empowered their total school community – giving their teachers, professional support staff, students, families and the school’s wider community- a greater voice in the school’s teaching, learning, resourcing and direction setting – markedly expanding the school’s capability and improving its productivity.

Significantly the schools have

  • fully empowered their professional staff
  • accorded all in their community greater respect
  • recognised the part all can play in enhancing the 24/7/365 education provided by the school
  • collaborated with all in lifting their understanding of the macro workings of the school and the school’s shaping vision
  • in the process distributed the control of the teaching, learning and school resourcing.

Yes – in all the distribution of control, the collaboration and the empowerment has added to the load on the school leadership, but paradoxically it has simultaneously provided the school principal considerable untapped support and additional resources. All the principals commented on the time needed to genuinely collaborate and listen, the many frustrations and the seemingly inevitable rectification of well intentioned mistakes, but on the upside the empowerment has added appreciably to the teaching and learning capability of the school, its resourcing, and the support and social capital the principal can call upon in growing the school and its attractiveness.

Schools in the developed world historically are working with their nation’s most educated cohort of parents and grandparents who since their child’s/children’s birth have recognised the importance of a quality education for ‘their’ children and who in their home and hands have a suit of digital resources that markedly exceeds that in most classrooms. All moreover have in their community a sizeable and growing body of retirees with considerable expertise, time on their hand and a desire to be valued.

The above alone is a vast source of expertise and additional resourcing the pathfinder schools in their social networking and empowerment are only beginning to tap.

Within a matter of years the early adopter schools in their digital journey have moved culturally from the stage where most within the school’s community were disempowered and had little or no voice in the workings and growth of the school to the point where the total school community is naturally contributing to the daily operations of the school.

It is a historic shift that has been led by the principals – a move that has to be led by the principal.

The move has been graduated, often seeing two steps forward and one back, but inexorably reaching the stage where the empowered expect to be involved in the decision making, if only to be informed of a development that clearly improves the school’s quest to realise its shaping vision. In empowering the school’s community, and vitally by bringing the parents into the 24/7/365 teaching of their children, schooling as we have known it – where the professionals unilaterally controlled the teaching and learning – has likely irrevocably changed.

The digital interface with the school’s community that allows ‘time poor’ members to be consulted and informed about key developments has been – and likely will always be – critical.

That said the empowerment will not be without its moments, particularly as a previously disempowered staff and school community attune their antenna to the extent to which they will be able to express their thoughts and use their new found power. That situation will – as mentioned – be compounded by the ever changing student cohorts and the school leadership having to contend with those new to the school’s culture and ways.

Here again the astute leadership of the principal is critical as she/he works to harness the potential of the empowered while simultaneously maintaining the focus on realising the school’s shaping vision and providing each child an apt education.

It calls for some very skilful balancing but also remembering that in undertaking the digital journey all the adults – teachers and parents – will be experiencing a mode of schooling significantly different to that they knew in their youth.

 

Leading a Digital School 2.00

The Attributes Desired of the Head

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

( This is significant rework of our 2014 article of the same name that addressed the attributes of those principals leading successful digital schools.

Two years on and we have been able to examine the attributes in what are now mature digital organisations – with many of the traits being the same as the ‘CEOs’ of all successful digital organisations.

Tellingly what has become that much clearer is that many of the heads struggling – or not wanting – to lead a digital school lack many of the attributes to lead a good school – full stop.)

Not only is the role of principal critical to the digital evolution of schools but so too is having principals with the ability to successfully lead an ever evolving digitally based socially networked school.

Not just any head can play that role.

Rather it is requires principals with particular attributes.

In the same way the operations of a paper and digitally based school differ significantly so too do many of the attributes required of the principal.

The last decade plus has witnessed the emergence globally of a cadre of principals who have of their own volition been able to build upon their considerable leadership skills and grow the attributes required to successfully lead these very different organisations.

Equally it has also revealed that the vast majority of the existing heads have not as yet demonstrated the ability to do so.

In a digital and socially networked society clients can rightly expect every school to be digitally based, and well positioned to continually meet the rising digital expectations.

Australia has in the region of 10,000 schools. For each to become digital – to become a mature digital organisation (Kane, et.al, 2016) – it invariably requires a principal – indeed a succession of principals – willing and able to lead the digital evolution of the school.

The same equation holds in every nation.

The critical question every government, education employer, every school board and council must address is how does it find or grow those principals and thus ensure the continued viability of its school/s? How does it both ready that very sizeable proportion of existing heads that have thus far been unable or unwilling to lead a digital school, and grow the future generation of principals?

Part of the answer lies in better understanding the attributes desired of the heads of digital schools.

With a digital and socially networked school community one is very much looking at a new and distinct higher order environment, requiring of the leader a particular skill and mindset, that will blend the time honoured attributes with those particular to leading a digital school.

One should not assume – as do likely many employers and unions – that the heads of traditional paper based schools, with their current skill and mindset, can lead and grow a mature digitally based school ecosystem. The vast majority of those transferred will fail unless they appreciate they have to adopt a skill and in particular a mindset compatible with the new environment. Without that change they will likely destroy years of astute and concerted organisational growth and take the school developmentally backwards. Such an appointment would be unfair to both the individual heads and the school and its community, and professionally and economically irresponsible.

The distinct nature and challenge of leading a digital school needs to be recognised and every effort made to ready and select appropriate heads.

Central role

Ever evolving schools operating on a digital base, experiencing significant natural evolutionary growth that has to be constantly shaped to realise the desired benefits, requires the school principal be the conductor of an increasingly sophisticated, ever-larger quality ‘orchestra’. In addition to the professional players there will be a sizeable parent, student and community membership, with all the ‘players’ expected to continually lift their contribution to the workings, growth and evolution of the school’s desired ecosystem.

It requires the principal as the conductor to understand the total score, the finer nuances therein, to have a mindset where anything is possible, and the skills to continually challenge a highly capable group, to manage them, and assist them grow. It requires the principal, the head teacher, to have a macro understanding of the desired totality and all the school’s increasingly complex workings, a strong educational base, an intimate awareness of all the key school operations and its digital ecosystem and the people skills to manage an empowered school community. The critical word here is ’empowered’ for though the principal needs to understand the desired totality, they will not control and develop it but will trust others to do so.

The contrast with the traditional relatively simple silo like operation where the principal often has limited understanding of the work of the siloes is pronounced. The understanding of the totality is necessary because activities in different areas of the school interact in new ways.

In employing the metaphor of the chief conductor it most assuredly does not mean the principal needs to be the sole conductor or to have the ability to play every instrument. Like all good orchestras the school needs very capable deputies able to take the baton when required, but both the principal and deputies need understand the many variables impacting the success of the school’s desired ecosystem.

It requires the empowerment of the total ‘orchestra’ and the constant monitoring of the part that all members of the ensemble are playing.

Attributes of principal operating in digital and networked mode

Many, possibly most of the attributes required to undertake this kind of whole school conducting are those that have been enunciated in the school leadership and literature for decades and are evidenced daily in the performance of transformational principals. Attributes like a strong educational philosophy, the willingness to lead, the facility to articulate the desired vision, high level communication skills, an in-depth understanding of the instructional program, strong people and management skills, the setting of high expectations, political acumen, attention to detail and the capacity to manage the school’s finite resources are as important as ever.

That point bears underscoring. Indeed one could postulate that many of the heads struggling to lead digital schools are those lacking many of the aforementioned skills.

There is no need to reiterate them, but it is important to single out those that in a digital and networked operational mode assume greater importance, and those new to the set.

Many have already been addressed in separate articles but one needs to view them within the wider schema, understanding that all are closely connected and at times are near impossible to uncouple.

Tellingly many of the new attributes desired of the head of a mature digital organisation are antithetical to those exhibited by many principals in traditional insular highly hierarchical paper based schools.

Before moving to the analysis of the attributes special mention needs to be made of the principal’s ability to communicate, and the related capacity to ensure there is excellent on-going communication between all parts of the empowered socially networked school community Communication is as always critical. The point remains the principal has to constantly to communicate the expectations, to articulate the narrative and to create an environment where an empowered community can readily communicate. While not explicitly stated virtually all of the following attributes include a strong communication component.

  • Digital and networked mindset

What sets the digital leaders apart from the traditional – in the same way as it does with the digital and analogue leaders in business – is the leader’s shaping mindset.

The principal must adopt have a digital and networked mindset (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 28).

Bhaduri and Fischer (2015) in the Forbes business magazine asked, ‘Are You an Analogue or Digital Leader’? The succinct comparison of attributes they provided (http://www.forbes.com/sites/billfischer/2015/03/19/are-you-an-analog-or-digital-leader/) to help business leaders answer the question holds equally of school leaders.

The attributes bear close scrutiny.

While for convenience they provided a black and white comparison the reality is that the shift in thinking from the analogue to digital perspective occurs over time, with the digital evolution and transformation of the organisation. It is quite possible for the school leader to learn and develop the digital ecosystem skills as that ecosystem develops, provided they have the mindset to do so.

  • Visionary leader

The principal of a rapidly evolving digital school working increasingly in the new frontier must be both visionary and a leader, able to assist envision the desired totality, to articulate the shaping school and digital vision and to lead an empowered school community in its quest to provide apt schooling for each child in a rapidly evolving digital and socially networked society.

Without labouring the point, principals as the chief conductors have to take charge (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 12) of all facets of the school’s evolution and growth and ensure they are shaped as desired.

They have to lead – and not simply manage – the school’s digital evolutionary journey, neither waiting for the ‘system’ to give the green light or delegating the responsibility to other staff. This leadership it must be stressed is not leadership of technology developments but leadership of how human activities and interactions will become more effective for learning through the impacts that technology enables

They will at times, after all the listening and consultation have to make the hard final decision.

  • Instructional leader

The ‘CEO’ of the digital school needs to be an instructional leader, an educator with the deep educational understanding required to take ultimate responsibility for growing an increasingly effective and productive digitally based school ecosystem (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 18).

While that instructional leadership has long been important it becomes increasingly so when the school moves to a digital operational paradigm, socially networks, integrates its operations, dismantles the old siloes, lowers the school walls, empowers all the teachers of the young and adopts a 24/7/365 mode of schooling.

It is critical to have a principal who understands what is entailed in educating the young 24/7/365 in a socially networked society and who can play a lead role in providing an apt education for each child. The focus has to be on enabling and stimulating learning to happen beyond class time and the school walls, with class teaching increasingly designed to complement this as the pupils’ independent learning develops

The rapidly evolving uncertain nature of the schooling makes it very difficult to envision a school administrator with little or no educational training or experience leading the digital evolution and transformation of the school.

  • Focus on the totality: not the parts

Allied is the importance of having a head focussed first and foremost on shaping the desired totality (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 17), on creating a tightly integrated ecosystem, that increasingly merges the in and out of school learning, teaching and resourcing and which ideally enhances the learning of each child.

The corollary is that the digital school does not want a head whose focus is on tinkering with the existing parts, believing by so doing she/he is improving the totality.

  • Strong shaping educational and digital vision

More than ever it is imperative to have a head who fully comprehends what is entailed with the school’s shaping educational and digital visions, who can see the big picture, who has a strong understanding of the macro workings of schools and is able to both articulate and assist the school’s community realise the vision (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 5).

While the shaping vision has always been important when schools go digital, socially network, become increasingly ‘virtual organisations’ and lessen their dependence on the physical school site it becomes central to every school operation.

Schools require heads able to ‘ensure’ all the operations within the ecosystem are focused on realising that vision.

  • Organisational integrator

It obliges the principal to be the one who ultimately ensures that all the elements in the evolving ecosystem are integrated and vitally are directed at realising the desired education.

Principals do have to know the total orchestral score; the finer nuances therein and constantly address the desired totality. It is a huge and growing expectation. Mention has been made in this collection of articles of some sixty plus key variables to be addressed, largely simultaneously in successfully shaping the desired ecosystem. As the ecosystem evolves, matures and moves to a higher plane so that number will grow.

Digital congruence is the crux (Kane, et.al, 2016, p3).

The principal needs moreover to quickly decide – often on the fly – if a proposed addition to the school’s operations is consonant with the school’s shaping vision and can be readily integrated into its ecosystem.

Yes all the empowered school community need to support that work but ultimately it has to be the head, the principal who ultimately ensures the desired integration occurs.

  • Digital acumen

The principal of a digital school – as Lee and Gaffney articulated in 2008 (Lee and Gaffney, 2008) – must have a high level of digital acumen.

As the chief architect of a digitally based organization, where every facet of the operation, in and outside the school will be increasingly reliant upon and impacted by the many digital technologies it is imperative the lead designer understands the technologies with regard to how they might best be applied educationally and administratively.

They have to be able to play a lead role in shaping an apt digital ecosystem for the school.

But they don’t have to be digital experts. They should have normalised the balanced use of the digital in their daily work, be able to interrogate the data and have a macro understanding of the technology and its application – to the level where they can assist shape the school’s digital vision and not be ‘conned’ by the latest iteration of digital sales people, external or internal.

On first glance all this might seem blindingly obvious but in Australia at least that is still not evident in the literature or national standards for school principals. Digital acumen of any type is not mentioned in those standards.

Principals who delegate the technology to a middle manager are in reality abrogating their role as the school’s chief conductor and any hope the school has of going digital.

Tellingly every one of the successful pathfinder schools studied over the last decade plus was lead by a principal with that digital acumen (Lee and Boyle, 2003), (Lee and Gaffney, 2008), (Lee and Winzenried, 2009), (Lee and Finger, 2010), (Lee and Levins, 2012), (Lee and Ward, 2013), (Lee and Broadie, 2013) (Lee and Levins, 2016) (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 12).

  • Ability to understand and ride the megatrends

Linked with the digital acumen is the importance of the head being able to read the swelling societal and technological megatrends, to know when to catch those waves, how to ride them and get the most from them and vitally when to get off and catch the next.

Interestingly while it is undoubtedly a talent many a school principal has had for some time it is an attribute until recent times that was rarely mentioned in the educational leadership literature, shaped as it has so often been by the sense of constancy and school insularity.

The societal and technological megatrends allied with the wider continued evolution of society have had a profound impact on the transformation of schools and are on track to have an ever-greater influence.

  • Culture of change

Principals need not only to have the personal wherewithal to thrive in a world of constant change and natural evolution but also to assist create throughout the school and its community a culture of change, where the staff can thrive on the seeming chaos and rapid organisational evolution and transformation (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 10).

Tom Peters identified this necessity for business back in 1987 in his Thriving on Chaos. Thirty years on and the message is finally understood by the principals of the pathfinder schools.

All have evolved a ‘start up’ like organisational culture, where anything is possible, where risk taking is encouraged and the professionals are supported in their quest to take advantage of the teaching and learning opportunities opened by increasingly sophisticated digital ecosystems.

The contrast with those traditional schools where the principal is so often risk adverse and focussed on micro managing the status quo is pronounced.

  • Client focus and school viability

Digital schools – like their counterparts in business – wanting to remain viable very much require principals focussed on continually meeting, if not exceeding their clients needs and rising expectations (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 29). One is looking at heads who are willing to network, to listen, to refine, to mine the data, to research the trends in the quest to provide the best possible education for their clients in a digital and socially networked society.

Once again the contrast with the mindset of traditional head is pronounced, with few having anytime for the concept of clients. Many firmly believe society through its schools is providing a public service, where only the educational experts know what is required and that the parents and students – the clients – should simply accept their expertise.

In a market driven digital economy schools led by that mindset have a limited life span, with the clients very likely taking their custom elsewhere.

  • Learner focus

In a rapidly evolving complex adaptive system where the scene and the processes used are changing at pace it is vital to have a head focussed on the children’s learning, rather than as now on the teaching.

By placing the learners at the centre, and giving each greater agency for their own learning the school positions itself to readily adjust its teaching strategy to best meet the changing circumstances.

  • Distributed control

One is looking at principals comfortable to distribute the control of the learning, teaching and resourcing amongst an empowered school community and actively collaborate with all within that community to improve their contribution.

One is seeking heads with moderate needs who recognise and respect the contribution of all the teachers of the young, often from birth onwards and who are willing to trust, empower and genuinely collaborate with those teachers in the 24/7/365 schooling of the young.

The leadership comes primarily from the principal’s expertise and leadership, and not as now far too often from the principal’s position,

The last person a digital and socially networked school community needs to lead its digital evolution is an autocratic head who insists on the school – and in particular the head – retain unilateral control of all school operations.

  • Managing the empowered

Increasingly the school will require principals with the people skills to continually get the best from the many hundreds of people in an empowered school community.

In moving from a strongly hierarchical mode of schooling unilaterally controlled by the head to an empowered school community where leaders at all levels are encouraged to contribute to the school’s workings and growth the leader has to astutely manage those human resources.

It is a potentially huge but vital new task the principal needs oversee.

Part of that management entails controlling the school’s pace of the evolution, carefully monitoring the load on each staff member, allowing the natural growth to run its course and if needs be to slow the tempo of evolution for a time.

The contrast with many of the traditional paper schools where inertia is often the norm and teachers have to be energised is dramatic.

The pathfinders comment on the very real issue of slowing down highly committed teachers and parents anxious to grasp every opportunity for their students, of ensuring senior staff constantly monitor for signs of stress, applying due stress relief measures and when apposite applying the brakes.

  • Networker

While principals have always needed to be good networkers within a digital and socially networked school community, where the school’s work transcends the classroom the ability to network, to understand the workings the social networking and to work its unbridled power astutely in growing the school ecosystem is evermore important.

  • Political acumen

The organisational change literature (Kanter, et.al, 1992) suggests up to 20% of a leader’s time can be spent directly or indirectly in politicking the desired change.

It could well be appreciably more.

Principals have to posses the art of politicking the digital evolution of the school.

It is a critical attribute that along with the social networking probably will likely never appear in the selection criteria or a duty statement but which is needed if the school is to overcome the myriad of impediments that have to be politicked if the school is to develop in the desired manner.

  • Commitment to enhanced educational attainment

The principal needs the drive; some might say the passion, to continually enhance the learning of every student.

It is the belief that anything possible.

It is appreciated this has been to the fore in all good schools for aeons but it appears to be that much more up front in the pathfinder schools, with all openly expressing the desire to continually provide the best possible schooling for each child, and to match that schooling with the best internationally.

One of the many benefits of mature digital organisations is the body of performance data generated in their everyday workings. The head requires the demonstrated wherewithal to use that data astutely in enhancing the attainment.

Conclusion

Collectively these attributes when coupled with the apt generic leadership skills go to create a distinct kind of principalship.

As yet they are relatively few in number.

That said, the attributes desired are not dissimilar to those of the CEOs of all mature digital organisations globally.

With a little thought and professionalism they can – as the pathfinder schools have demonstrated – be readily grown in those with strong leadership skills.

Moreover they can be largely readied on the job.

The key is for society – for the clients – to want this kind of principal leading all its schools, and to ensure the schools select the right principals.

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/
  • Kanter, R.M., Stein, B.A. and Jick, T.D (1992) The Challenge of Organisational Change NY Free Press
  • Lee, M and Gaffney, M eds, (2008) Leading a Digital School Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Winzenried, A (2009) The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Finger, G (eds) (2010) Developing a Networked School Community, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Levins, M (2012) Bring Your Own Technology Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: transcending the classroom walls, Melbourne ACER Press

 

 

The Digital Acumen of Principals

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The principal of a digital school – as Lee and Gaffney articulated in 2008 (Lee and Gaffney) -must have a high level of digital acumen.

As the chief architect of a digitally based organization, where every facet of the operation, in and outside the school will be increasingly reliant upon and impacted by many digital technologies it is imperative the lead designer understands the technologies available, those being employed within the school’s socially networked community and how they are impacting the realisation of the school’s shaping educational vision.

They have to be able to play a lead role in shaping an apt digital ecosystem for the school.

They don’t have to be digital experts.

But they most assuredly must have a macro understanding of the current and emerging technology – both in and outside the school – and a good appreciation of how it can be employed to enhance the teaching, administration and shaping of the desired increasingly integrated and productive digitally based school ecosystem. The principal needs assist shape the school’s digital vision, to articulate the kind of digital ecosystem desired and to be the final arbiter on the acquisition and deployment of all digital technology.

On first glance all this might seem blindingly obvious,

But in Australia at least that is still not evident in the literature or national standards for school principals (http://www.aitsl.edu.au/australian-professional-standard-for-principals). Incredibly there is no mention of the digital in those standards.

Vitally the principal needs to be able to collaborate with an empowered, socially networked school community that has normalised the use of the digital, where many have considerable specific digital expertise, with teachers pushing the digital envelope and a technology team striving to continually provide the apt digital ecosystem.

No they don’t have to have a detailed understanding of the myriad of digital technologies at play but they need the digital acumen to integrate – or not integrate – those technologies within the desired totality.

Principals who delegate this understanding to a middle manager are abrogating their lead role as a principal and any hope the school has of going digital.

We have studied and supported a large number of schools on their journey to embedding technology in their daily practice. Tellingly every successful one was lead by a principal with that digital acumen (Lee and Boyle, 2004), (Lee and Gaffney, 2008), (Lee and Winzenried, 2009), (Lee and Finger, 2010), (Lee and Ward, 2013), (Lee and Levins, 2016) (Lee and Broadie, 2016).

  • Lee, M., and Boyle, M. (2004), “Richardson Primary School. The Richardson Revolution.” Educare News March 2004
  • Lee, M and Gaffney, M eds, (2008) Leading a Digital School Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Winzenried, A (2009) The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Finger, G (eds) (2010) Developing a Networked School Community, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: transcending the classroom walls, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Levins, M (2016) BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages. 2nd Edition Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/

 

 

The Digital Infrastructure and Ecosystem

0516_cio_infra_g_20160517082749

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The successful digital evolution of the school necessitates it having an apt, continually evolving and largely invisible underpinning digital ecosystem.

It necessitates embarking on the digital evolutionary journey with the desire to create that digital ecosystem as soon as is feasible and to continually enhance its ability to assist deliver the desired education of each child.

Indeed one of the important lessons to be learned from the pathfinder experience is to openly share with one’s colleagues and school community the quest to create an increasingly powerful and productive digital ecosystem.

Without that infrastructure and an astutely shaped highly effective digital ecosystem all the school can do is dream.

Campus wide access to the Net within the school should be super simple. One click and all systems go.

Everything we have written thus far in this series of blogs is prefaced on the assumption that the school has

  • the apt underpinning electrical and digital base
  • created a mature highly effective and reliable digital ecosystem that continually supports the school’s efforts to realise its shaping educational vision.
  • provided its total teaching and learning community ready 24/7/365 use of that digital ecosystem.

To evolve digitally every school needs have

  • a highly reliable supply of electricity
  • apt total school campus wide Wi-Fi access
  • ample, but ever greater bandwidth
  • limited and reasoned Web filtering – with the school observing the laws of the land
  • current digital presentation technology in every teaching room
  • all having in their hands and using their chosen suit of personal technologies
  • personal technologies it can provide children in need
  • all staff – teaching and professional support – with the digital tools needed for their work
  • in its website the digital interface between the school’s digital ecosystem and the socially networked world
  • digitised all school administration and communication – gradually shedding all paper based processes
  • integrated all its digital operations, in and outside the school walls in its shaping of a highly productive ecosystem

The last point is critical.

One should be seeking to create from the outset an increasingly higher order and more efficient and productive ecosystem where all the digital technologies are geared to supporting the realisation of the school’s shaping vision, in manner consistent with the school’s culture.

The shaping and the daily governance of that apt tightly integrated digital ecosystem should, as indicated be the operational responsibility of the school’s ‘CDO’ or his/her equivalent.

It does, within a rapidly evolving environment where empowered members are actively encouraged and supported to take risks, require a ‘CDO’ with high-level people skills who can balance the quest to allow teachers to fly with the need to maintain efficiency. It most assuredly can’t be done by a part time ICT committee or by a network manager lacking the prerequisite high-level educational prowess and people skills.

Three of the early tasks before embarking on the digital evolutionary journey is to;

  • do a brutally honest appraisal of the school’s digital infrastructure and its capacity to readily allow everyone to access the Net at speed any time, anywhere they wish.
  • explain the imperative of creating the desired, ever evolving digital ecosystem.
  • select a ‘CDO’ and his/her team. As indicated the finding of the ‘CDO’ can be hard, but from the outset you’ll need someone responsible for overseeing the shaping and daily workings of the digital ecosystem.

It is highly likely that many of the digital operations to be overseen by the ‘CDO’ will currently be undertaken within separate silos, with those in charge of each often reluctant to relinquish their power.

It is thus important from the outset to emphasise the quest to create the tightly integrated digital ecosystem and to underscore the importance of its daily governance.

In 2016 many if indeed not most schools don’t have the requisite total digital infrastructure and most assuredly have yet to appreciate the imperative of integrating all the parts to form an increasingly powerful and productive digital ecosystem.

It is appreciated the school’s location and its resources can frustrate that quest but all too often the major impediment is the school’s leadership, and its unwillingness to prioritise the creation of a powerful digital ecosystem.

In the mid 2000s Mal observed that all schools in the developed world could if the head considered it a priority find the funds to place IWBs in every teaching room and network the school.

A decade on with the drop in technology and network pricing, markedly enhanced equipment reliability, virtually all children having their suit of personal technologies and growing societal digital expectations there is no reason other than leadership why any school in the developed world should not have an adequate whole school digital ecosystem. While concerns are expressed about lower SES schools the reality is that globally, developed societies fund schools on a needs basis allowing all such schools to acquire the technology if the principal desires.

If your school wants to evolve digitally prioritise the resourcing and formation of the underpinning digital ecosystem.

Remember getting the technology in place is the easy step.

Getting the school’s community to use the ecosystem to best advantage is the challenging stage.

 

Politicking School Evolution

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

On first glance this might appear to be an unusual topic to include in the digital evolution of schooling. You’ll not see mention of it in any school planning document.

But the reality is that every school, small and large and indeed every organisation seeking to evolve digitally needs leaders skilled in the politicking of change, ready to apply those skills whenever the opportunity arises. The organisational change literature (Kanter, et.al, 1992) suggests up to 20% of a leader’s time can be spent directly or indirectly in politicking the desired change. It could be much more.

In most instances one is looking at small ‘p’ internal politicking but there could well be times – quite pronounced in some settings – where the school leadership needs to astutely engage in large ‘P’ politicking and to work with the professional politicians in advancing the school’s evolution.

It is appreciated state school leaders across the Western world as public servants are invariably prohibited from the latter type of ‘collaboration’ but as any who have worked in school administration for some time appreciate there are ways of safely activating supportive politicians as sponsors of a change.

If one is to successfully lead the digital evolution of a school, either as principal or as a member of the leadership team one needs to be skilled in the art of politicking the desired change and the protection of one’s back. The latter is important.

It is critical the leader secures the requisite support and endorsement at each key stage of the evolutionary journey and nips in the bud any moves that could distract the school from realising its shaping vision.

That entails very good people skills, astute social networking, the securing of sponsors and promoters of the change, the generation of a strong reserve of social capital, respect, the close daily monitoring of the school’s total operations and an appreciation of when it is necessary to secure the endorsement of various parts of the school’s community before making the next step. That endorsement doesn’t always have to be formally minuted but it is always helpful to have at least an email record of any agreements for possible future reference.

It also entails – when the circumstances dictate – the principal being willing to make unilateral decisions. Hansen in his excellent study on Collaboration (2009) talks of ‘disciplined collaboration’ and the necessity of leaders ‘assessing when to collaborate (and when not to)…stressing the ‘goal of collaboration is not collaboration, but better results (Hansen, p15, 2009).’

The latter is often forgotten.

It becomes particularly pertinent as the pace of the digital evolution accelerates, natural nonlinear growth impacts and the school realises ever more unintended benefits.   There is scant time or indeed interest in scrutinising every step and a willingness to let those at responsible make the decisions provided they are consonant with the school’s shaping vision.

The pathfinder school experience strongly suggests, particularly in the early stages, the evolution can be two steps forward and one step back. One is most assuredly not looking at a clear linear, A to B to C evolutionary path even with the best of planning and politicking.

It is easy to forget that in going digital schooling is embarking on one of its most momentous historical changes, and is doing so in a historically remarkably short period. It is very likely that none of the school staff or parents has ever had a digital schooling, and as such has a clear understanding of what is entailed.

It is an immense change to politick, to manage and have accepted as the new norm.

It is thus imperative that one sell the school’s evolution not only with the staff and the educational decision makers but also with the school’s student, parent and wider school community – with one’s clients –and ensure as best one can the clients are supportive of the school’s evolution and growth.

Virtually all the parents have only known the traditional paper based mode of schooling and while generally supportive of the digital they will retain a degree of ‘digital paranoia’, will at times default to the traditional ways and interestingly will likely expect the school to ‘fix the problem’ even when the responsibility has supposedly been shifted to the parents. In brief even when giving an endorsement, such as supporting BYOT many parents will not grasp the full implications of that approval.

The challenge is amplified when each year the school takes on a new student parent cohort.

You’ll soon find the students, even the very young will be your greatest political allies, particularly when you empower and collaborate with them, and ensure they are taught how the 24/7/365 use of their digital technologies can enhance their holistic education. There are few things more powerful politically than having a total student group able to articulate to parents and visitors how the digital is improving their learning.

Experience suggests it will take time for the digital transformation of schooling to be fully accepted, but that acceptance can likely be accelerated by genuinely collaborating with all the ‘teachers’ of the young – the staff, the students, their families and the wider school community – respecting and recognising their contribution, empowering them and having all appreciate the macro workings and aspirations of the school such that all can assist with politicking the evolution.

  • Hansen M.T (2009) Collaboration: How to Avoid the Traps, Create Unity and Reap Big Results, Boston, Harvard Business School Publishing
  • Kanter, R.M., Stein, B.A. and Jick, T.D (1992) The Challenge of Organisational Change NY Free Press

 

The School ‘Chief Digital Officer’

Back view image of young businessman standing against business sketch

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Every digital school needs a senior staff member responsible for daily providing the school community the digital ecosystem that will enable it to realise its shaping educational and digital vision.

It is not a job for a committee.

It is a task for a high level professional educator.

It doesn’t matter what title the position carries – be it deputy head, e-learning coordinator, director of information services, digital technology or CDO – what is important is to have a person with operational responsibility for all facets of the school’s digital operations.

What is critical is that the school has an astute, visionary senior educator with good people skills and a high degree of digital expertise responsible for shaping, operating and growing the school’s digital ecosystem.

Business and many large public sector organisations are appointing high-level, very well paid chief digital officers (CDOs) to shape and coordinate all the digital operations of the organisation and to ensure all are directed to assisting realise the desired vision (Lee, 2016).

Tellingly all the successful pathfinder schools unwittingly have had such a person, albeit under different titles, with all having long abandoned the reliance on the part time ICT committee.

The provision of an apposite, ever evolving, increasingly powerful and productive school digital ecosystem that meets the particular needs of the school is a highly challenging task. It requires a leader and a team willing to actively support the distributed control of teaching, learning and resourcing that can provide the desired digital expertise, direction setting, infrastructure, services and support.

What is critical is having an educator who shares the principal’s digital vision and macro understanding of the workings of the school, with a strong awareness of the digital, able to work collaboratively with an empowered staff in providing the apposite tightly integrated digital platform.

The position requires an appreciation of the school’s shaping educational vision, the kind of digitally based ecosystem and school culture that will best realise that vision and the facility to provide the total digitally empowered school community the apposite, ever evolving, seamlessly integrated digital ecosystem.

It most assuredly does not require an ‘ICT expert’ who unilaterally decides what technology all in the school will use.

Critically it needs a visionary educator able to collaborate with a digitally empowered staff, students and parents, ensuring all are provided with the opportunity to fly with the digital, who can simultaneously govern the school’s use of the digital and ensure multiple systems and offerings are appropriately integrated and refreshed.

It should go without saying schools won’t evolve digitally and be able to govern the astute whole of school community use of the digital with a part time, invariably ‘bolt-on’ ICT committee. It is a job for the professionals with the time needed to fulfil this critical role.

If you still have an ICT committee get rid of it ‘tomorrow’, appoint the requisite professionals and integrate all matters digital into the everyday workings and growth of the school.

The role of ‘CDO’ is – as elaborated upon in The Chief Digital Officer and the Governance of the School Digital Ecosystem (Lee, 2016) – and the now many business management publications – is a demanding job, requiring a special talent and a skill set rarely if ever taught at the postgraduate level in education faculties.

Most in the role have like the digital leaders learnt on the job, invariably supported by astute heads.

It is highly likely at this point in time that you too will need to grow such a person. Look to mentors who can assist that growth.

We’ve gone out on a limb and stressed the school CDO needs first and foremost to be an educator, with a strong understanding of the total workings of the school, very good people skills and a high level understanding of the digital. One can readily grow the digital understanding but not the high level educational.

Our message for all school leaders embarking on the digital evolutionary journey is to find very early in the piece a ‘chief digital officer’ who can translate the vision into reality.

Bibliography