Mal Lee and Roger Broadie
Schools increasingly will need to work, nay thrive with the seeming paradox of accommodating seeming operational chaos at the same time as the on-going quest for order.
Tom Peter’s famously wrote Thriving on Chaos for the business world in 1987.
25 plus years on much of that advice is now apt for schools operating on a digital base and evolving at pace.
Couple that advice with the understanding provided by complexity science on the nature of organisational evolution and you’ll appreciate why in time all schools and their staff will work in what seems at first glance a paradoxical situation.
The pathfinder schools are unwittingly learning the art of thriving on chaos where daily they are contending with what to do with inadequate old practises, the promise of the new, the messiness, uncertainty and at times the seeming chaos associated with the substituting the old for the new and the order that comes with astute adoption and normalised use of more apposite approaches. What we found in all the pathfinder schools, in all four nations was a palpable excitement, student pleasure, and the very noticeable professional satisfaction of the staff.
On-going change and evolution that was orchestrated from within the school was increasingly accepted as the norm. Staff, the students and the parents appeared remarkably accepting of the on-going evolution. It was quite remarkable how quickly time honoured practises disappeared and new practises became normalised and accepted.
The new, but very pleasant challenge for the school leaders in the pathfinders was the need at times to apply the brakes on the rate of the school’s evolutionary transformation and to ensure highly committed and excited teachers didn’t over extend themselves and ‘burn out’. As indicated in the evolutionary stage attributes school leaders needed increasingly to monitor the work of highly committed staff, to identify how each expressed stress and to employ appropriate ‘welfare’ measures.
The contrast with the constancy and order in many of the paper based schools where change, internal and external, is frowned upon, many teachers have ‘switched off’ and where a sizeable proportion of the students find the teaching irrelevant and boring is pronounced.
Tellingly while as indicated in the earlier post on complexity science the digital schools constantly seek order in most of what they do they are simultaneously excited about taking advantage of the educational opportunities being opened. They appear to be very willing to move into unchartered territory if they believe it will assist enhance the student learning, knowing full well mistakes might be made and alternatives might have to be pursued. Moreover they seemingly better understand the macro scene, the increasingly interrelatedness of all school operations and the importance of ensuring the ever evolving school ecology provided the desired education.
The key in all the pathfinders was the existence of a culture, a school ecology that supported change and on-going evolution, which valued leadership at multiple levels and teachers taking risks and trying the new, with the concomitant implications.
While highly unlikely to be versed in the workings of complexity science the schools and their staff appear to be very comfortable working with the seeming paradox of chaos and order.
Peters, T (1987) Thriving on Chaos NY Alfred A Knopf