Category Archives: Politicking school change

Sustaining School Organisational Change

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

It is immensely difficult within individual schools.

It is even harder at the with a system.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Traditional Features of Schooling

Graphics by Greg McKay

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Is Sustained Core School Change Possible?

I

An alert for those wanting to lead a digital school.

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is suggested that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Bibliography

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

National accommodation of the young being digital?

 

Mal Lee

Oh, wise ones

A national policy question for a group highly versed in the impact of the digital.

The scenario

Developed nations have for the first time in human history a near universally digitally connected young – with considerable agency over their 24/7/365 use of the digital – who, with the support of their digitally connected families have naturally grown being digital. A similar uptake in connectivity is happening at pace in the underdeveloped and undeveloped worlds (ITU, 2017).

Governments and schools have played no real part in that burgeoning connectivity or the growing of being digital.

Developed nations seeking to grow their digital economies unwittingly have in their youth being digital a vast, largely untapped human resource – on trend to naturally evolve and grow.

If successfully built upon nationally it could go a long way to ensuring the nation stays or moves increasingly to the fore.

The resource has grown naturally and largely unseen over the last twenty plus years outside the school walls – totally unplanned, a natural outcome of the Digital Revolution.

The question for you – can nations accommodate the development and consciously build upon it in an astute national education strategy?

Can highly competitive economies afford not too?

Can governments that want to control and micro manage every facet of schooling accommodate the natural unplanned seemingly chaotic evolution – where the young have embraced a mode of learning with the digital antithetical to the school approach?

We know exceptional schools, with maverick heads can

But can every school, every head, every school administrator, every tertiary educator accommodate planned, structured and unplanned laissez faire learning?

Can highly inflexible, insular linear hierarchical Industrial Age schools provide a learning culture that accommodates the digitally empowered young? Are the legacy systems of the developed societies too hard to change?

Would most governments, schools and tertiary educators even want to change?

Do nations adopt a way forward – shock horror – that like now by-passes formal schooling?

Do we have to wait for the parents get angry before real change occurs?

Be interested in the thoughts of the wise – even those enjoying summer

Folk can email Mal at – mallee@mac.com

 

 

 

 

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