Category Archives: Elementary and high school evolution

Pathfinder School Works as a Hub in System Change Model

 Mal Lee

Broulee Public School (Australia), one of those as yet rare cadre of pathfinder schools that have normalised the whole school use of the digital and created a 24/7/365 digital school ecosystem, is playing a central role in a new model of system wide school development that is being implemented by New South Wales (NSW) Department of Education and Communities.

The Department in conjunction with Broulee Public School is implementing a ‘hub and spoke networking model’ to foster the movement of the state schools in the Far South Coast Network of NSW to a digital operational base.

Supported by funding through the Department’s Rural and Remote Blueprint the model recognises the very different position of schools on the digital evolutionary continuum, the importance of each school, primary and secondary, taking charge of its own growth and the amount schools can learn in a very practical way from the experiences of their colleagues in  pathfinder schools.

In the same way that teachers network with and learn from their colleagues globally so the idea is that the Network’s schools can learn from the school at the centre of the hub and like the spokes of the bike the ideas will radiate out to others.  While the initial moves are being made in the Far South Coast Network the thinking is very much that the model could be used elsewhere in the State, and in particular within the regional areas.

The impetus is being provided by the hub school, Broulee PS conducting an initial conference for departmental schools on Building Digital Schools on August 13/14 2015. The aim is to have the school, its leadership, teachers and community share with their colleagues, primary and secondary, the factors that they have addressed in the school’s digital evolution and what they are now able to do within an ever evolving, constantly transforming digital ecosystem.

The hub school is not saying it has any magic solution, but rather it will share the many lessons learned in the school’s 15 years plus digital evolution journey.

If you are NSW Department of Education and Communities school and would like to attend I’d suggest getting in early as there is only limited places.

Significantly this school – system initiative has emerged out of the NSW Minister of Education’s policy of ‘Local Schools, Local Decisions’ that gives NSW public schools – like others globally – the facility take control of their own future.  It is a very good example of how the policy enables school initiatives to be coupled those of the education authority to create greater synergy.

One of the things largely absent from the digital evolution of schooling literature is how best to get all the other schools in an education authority to normalise the use of the digital in the educative process.  The traditional top down, one size fits all has no place in a world where schools have the autonomy and indeed responsibility to shape their own growth and where the differences between schools on the digital evolution continuum is widening daily.

The hub and spoke networking model appears to tick all the right boxes and thus it will be interesting to watch how this New South Wales’ approach impacts.

ACER Teacher Digital Evolution Series

Mal Lee has written for ACER’s online Teacher magazine in a series of brief research papers on the digital evolution of schooling. They include:

Are you an analogue or digital leader?

Mal Lee

Bhaduri and Fischer have had published in the Forbes business magazine of February 19 a very revealing comparison between the thinking of what they term ‘analog’ and ‘digital’ leaders.

It can be read at – http://www.forbes.com/sites/billfischer/2015/03/19/are-you-an-analog-or-digital-leader/

While written with business leaders in mind you’ll soon see the parallel with the school leaders working within the pathfinder schools globally.

I’ve used the terms ‘paper based’ and ‘networked’ mindset to describe that difference.

However matters is not so much the labels one uses but rather the highlighting of the profoundly different mindsets and the imperative of school leaders thinking in the ;digital’ mode if they are to create ever evolving, digitally based school ecosystems.

 

The Accelerating Differences between Schools

Mal Lee

The difference between schools continues to grow as evermore schools build on their digital operational base and evolve at an accelerating pace. In adopting an increasingly integrated, evermore complex and higher order ecosystem and organisational culture and by positioning themselves for sustained evolution these schools are increasingly providing a fundamentally different schooling to their relatively simple lower order paper based counterparts.

As yet largely unseen and unheralded by the education community these early adopter schools are experiencing the same kind of whole digital organisational transformation as all other ‘industries’. However where industry is daily receiving major scrutiny globally with the implications well understood the evolution in schooling receives scant mention. Rather most governments, educators and the education media focus on tinkering with a dated paper based mode of schooling from which the pathfinder schools have long moved, doing little to assist or encourage to schools ready themselves for the digital world.

In researching the revised edition of Bring Your Own Technology (Lee and Levins, 2012) and examining the evolutionary journeys of the original case study schools over the last three years what impressed was the rapid and indeed accelerating evolution and transformation that had occurred in those years in the well led schools, the whole of school community nature, the total school transformation and the maturing in all of a digitally based ecosystem that facilitates those schools sustained evolution and transformation.

The contrast with the traditional paper based, loosely coupled mode of schooling ensconced in their traditional ways was profound and on track to become more so.

Where in 2012 Martin and I anticipated an accelerating rate of evolution we had not anticipated the speed of the evolution, the schools and in particular the teachers’ embracement of rapid change or how well the schools had positioned themselves for on-going rapid transformation and enhancement.

The case study schools had smashed the long held belief that teachers won’t embrace change.

One of the principals interviewed observed on the accelerating rate of transformation and the increasing difference between schools that even I did not grasp the extent. That is likely to be a fair call on an observer undertaking but a three year snap shot.

That acknowledged, what can safely be said it is now clear is that the new norm with schooling globally will be the accelerating differences between schools, and the mode of schooling each provides.

The implications of this development for all associated with schooling, be it government, parents, students, educators, educational administrators, the media commentators or educational researchers are profound, and oblige all to view schools with a different mindset.

Usually unwittingly schools have long been perceived to be basically the same and to be largely immutable and constant in form. ‘One size fits all’ solutions are still common and research done in the one school is purported to be applicable in every other.

With digital transformation the sameness, constancy and the continuity of the paper based school disappears.

Lee and Broadie (2014) document the differences in their Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages, but the evidence exists everywhere for all to see.

Look nearby and you’ll likely observe schools that range on the evolutionary continuum from the traditional paper based operations that still specify what kind of pencil to buy and exercise books to cover, to those which make extensive use of the digital, but don’t trust the students to choose the ‘right’, believing only the ‘ICT experts’ know best through to those that not only trust the children from the early childhood years to use the suite of digital technologies they use 24/7/365 but are desirous of distributing the control of the teaching and learning, of genuinely collaborating with their parents and building upon the children’s out of school learning and everyday use of their digital technologies.

Where one saw in the pathfinder schools teachers who were empowered professionals, encouraged to lead and to take risks and who as a staff had seized that opportunity and were flying, in schools nearby the teachers were still micro managed, discouraged from taking any risks and obliged to continue doing what they had for the past 30-40 years one could but conclude the school differences would grow.

The cultures, the ecosystems of the above schools are fundamentally different.

Contrast the distinguishing attributes in the table below of the traditional school and those digitally based schools providing a 24/7/365 mode of schooling and you’ll note they are already antithetical in many ways.

The same kind of organizational difference can be found in the corporate world – although perhaps not to the same extent – between the ecosystems of the digital masters and those of the companies slower to transform digitally.

Indeed schooling can benefit – as indicated in the previous post – from the growing body of research (Westerman, et al, 2014) (Solis, et al, 2014) undertaken on the digital transformation of industry, understanding that the attributes that distinguish the ‘digital masters’ in the corporate world are evident – albeit on a much smaller scale – within the digital masters in schooling and go a long why to explaining why the pathfinder schools are evolving at such pace.

Most of those attributes have been examined in depth in earlier posts and thus most don’t need to be elaborated upon, but several do warrant particular comment.

Critical to the creation of ever evolving school ecosystems was

  • the all pervasive 24/7/365 use of apposite evermore powerful and sophisticated digital technologies
  • the creation of an increasingly integrated school ecosystem that simultaneously addressed all the variables, in and outside the school walls that impacted each child’s learning
  • each school taking control of its own on-going growth
  • a strong shaping school educational vision
  • an astute school principal, with a strong digital vision willing to lead
  • a networked mindset
  • a culture of change and the active support of risk taking
  • the assembling of a professional staff with the wherewithal to thrive and continually contribute to an ever evolving ever higher order organisation
  • the empowering of all staff, teaching and professional support, enhancing their understanding the macro workings of the school as well as their area/s of responsibility
  • trusting and respecting the teachers as professionals, giving them the autonomy to lead initiatives, and actively supporting them as they began to fly
  • the astute use of a suite of operational diagnostics and metrics to guide the growth of a rapidly evolving ecosystem.

It has been long understood that when one creates an organizational culture that encourages all the staff ‘to fly’ and to fly high, and actively supports and recognises the flight the organisation will evolve at pace (Deal and Kennedy, 1982).

That is what is happening in well led, digitally based schools.

It is a development that will see those schools evolve even faster and adopt an ever higher form, further differentiating them from those still working in their paper based operational mode and mindset.

Paper and Digitally based schools

The Different Rate of Primary School Evolution

Mal Lee

Primary, or what others know as elementary or preparatory, schools operating on a digital base are on trend to evolve faster then secondary/high schools, and to adopt an ever higher order mode of teaching, with all the concomitant implications. The pathfinder primary schools are that step ahead in their evolution of their secondary counterparts and are on course to remain so.

While the difference is not great between the pathfinders, as previously indicated those as yet rare early adopter high schools are where they are today because that have been on their evolutionary for the past 15-20 years.

While the high schools are as indicated (Lee, 2014) encumbered with a sizeable number of challenges most primary schools not only are better positioned to undertake the evolutionary journey but also on present indications are likely to encounter fewer obstacles on their journey.

The general trend, at least for the foreseeable future is for the difference to grow.

A consequence that we are already seeing with the pathfinder primary schools globally is that their graduates are moving, and will increasingly be moving from a higher order digitally based mode of teaching, where the children naturally use their own digital kit to a lower order mode of teaching in the high school teaching where the use of the student’s technology is often still banned.

Not surprisingly the students and their parents are frustrated and invariably they are looking for those high schools where the disconnection is least.

It is a development that has very real student enrolment implications for the high schools.

However on present indications it is a development that most high schools could struggle to redress in the near future.

While not for a moment seeking to defend those high schools wedded to the paper based world the strong suggestion is that

  • the different rate of evolution between the primary and secondary schools be better understood, by both primary and secondary educators and the parents and students informed of some of the main impediments potentially impacting the high school

 

  • the evolution of the two sectors of schooling be viewed separately and while understanding that both will ultimately move along the same evolutionary path and move through the same evolutionary stages the high school evolution will in general terms be slower.

In making the latter observation it must be stressed that one is talking in general terms, knowing full well there are secondary schools years ahead in their evolution than some barely moving primary schools.

It should also be underscored that the primary – high school difference is also likely to be evidenced within K-12 schools, albeit possibly slightly later if the school has adopted a middle school model.

Related is the importance of high schools comparing their evolutionary journey with that of like high schools and most assuredly not the typical primary school. One needs compare oranges with oranges.

The now clear and challenging reality, as yet few are seeing, is that the primary schools in general will evolve at an ever greater rate, in so doing increasingly adopt a digitally based, ever higher mode of schooling apposite for a networked world, very often moving their graduates into a more dated educational experience.

In bears reflecting why this might so.

The reality is that the traditional form, size, focus, culture, mindset, teaching of the primary school, coupled with the greater collaboration between the school and the home makes is that easier for astute primary school principals to orchestrate their school’s on-going evolution than their high school counterparts.

Size and the relative smallness of most primary schools, and in turn the significantly fewer staff makes it that much more manageable to shape the desired ever evolving, evermore integrated, complex and higher order school ecology.

Primary schools have for decades had as a focus the learner and the desired holistic learning of all children, and when coupled with their use of an organisational structure with set classes or class groupings that emphasis provides a ready platform upon which to enhance all the staff’s macro understanding of the school’s workings and to collaborate evermore closely with the children’s homes.

Rarely does the primary school have the largely autonomous, subject based faculties or ‘empires’ found in the high school where middle managers are often reluctant to cede their power or vary their micro focus.

Rather the focus of all staff, the principal, the executive, the teachers and the professional support is a quality holistic education for every child. That focus, that thinking is relatively easy to build upon as the school begins lowering its walls, seeks to take advantage of the educational opportunities of the networked world, begins collaborating with its homes and community, and marrying the in and out of school learning and teaching.

Where genuine collaboration between the school and the home in the secondary years has invariably been minimal there is scarcely a primary school where the early childhood teachers have not worked closely with the parents. Once again that is a base that can be readily built upon and extended across all the primary school. In contrast most high schools have rarely collaborated with their homes, they unilaterally controlling the in school teaching and learning and as such in moving to a digital operational base and recognising the very considerable value of collaboration are basically having to start from scratch.

Importantly, except in the likes of England, most primary schools across the developed world have not had to contend with the stultifying external paper based exams that markedly impact the workings and thinking of the upper secondary school.

In brief it has been, and continues to be that much easier for the primary schools to move to a digital operational base, to build upon the opportunities availed, to ready their total staff and the wider school community for the on-going evolutionary journey and to evolve at accelerating pace.

That said there are as indicated a small cadre of secondary schools globally that have overcome the particular challenges of their sector and evolved their school to the point where they are operating as a networked school community, virtually normalising the whole school use of the student’s own choice of digital technologies. Most as indicated (Lee and Broadie, 2014) have been on their evolutionary journey for many years or are newer schools where the foundation principal has been able to select the desired staff, teaching and professional support.

They are well placed to readily accommodate the graduates of digitally based primary schools. However they are in 2014 as indicated (Lee and Broadie, 2014) relatively few and number.

Notwithstanding they, like their pathfinder primary confreres provide the later adopter schools an important insight into how all high schools should be able to go some distance towards providing an apt, ever evolving 24/7/365 schooling for the digital and networked world.

As a former upper secondary teacher and principal, well versed in the belief held by many secondary, particularly upper secondary teachers and principals that they are the superior educators I’d be suggesting it might be opportune for them to carefully scrutinise why in general terms primary schools are evolving faster and why the pathfinder primary schools are so well positioned to provide their students an ever higher order holistic education.

It might occasion secondary schools to analyse the appropriateness of retaining Industrial Age organisational structures in a rapidly evolving digital and networked world.

Lee, M (in press) ‘The challenge of high school digital normalisation’. Educational Technology Solutions, 2014

Lee, M and Broadie, R (2014) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages Broulee Australia