Category Archives: Teacher empowerment

Staff Development in the Mature Digital School

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In venturing into staff development in the digital school the authors do so with some trepidation in that we have not experienced in our research as clear a global picture as was found in the other areas of school evolution.

It might well be that the order has yet to appear out of the chaos but not withstanding there a number of developments and trends that have transpired globally that bear noting.

With staff development we are particularly mindful that the practices of astutely led digital schools could in some regards be different in the later adopter schools. It is an issue to bear in mind in shaping your school’s digital evolution and staff development.

That said there are a number of significant developments that we can comment upon with certainty.

  • Focus on the ecosystem, not the parts

The first and foremost with the mature digital schools is that staff development is addressed in the main as an integral part of the everyday workings and growth of the school’s ecosystem.

As with the other facets of digital evolution it is critical with the staff development to see it as one of the many vital parts needed to create the desired totality, not as done traditionally to address it by providing a suite of disparate, often seemingly ‘bolt on’ programs.

Traditionally much school staff development was coordinated by a member of the executive encouraging interested staff to undertake training programs, externally or in house and/or pursue post graduate study, hoping those loosely connected programs would improve the teaching and the effectiveness of the school.

The contrast of the traditional with the digitally mature schools is pronounced.

The focus in those schools is on seamlessly integrating most of the staff development into the everyday workings of the school, in a culture of change where all staff are daily striving to strengthen the totality and to better realise the school’s shaping vision. The staff development – the personal growth, the enhancement of the particular expertise and the heightened understanding of the school’s macro workings – all are addressed in the daily operations, in the teaching, discussions, everyday interactions, collaboration and reflection. Be it lesson design with colleagues, conversations with the principal, student’s suggesting new apps, the technology coach demonstrating a new approach or simply working within a transformative culture the staff learning is naturally integrated into everyday operations. The approach not only saves time but also is also significantly more targeted, effective and efficient, with the staff learning when pertinent.

It is often near impossible to decouple the staff development from the daily efforts to grow the organisation’s ecosystem.

  • Creation of transformative culture

Allied has been the conscious creation by the leadership of a culture of change, of shaping a start up like culture where anything is possible, that encourages and supports on-going staff growth, risk taking and the continued quest by all staff to take full advantage of the opportunities opened by the digital.

In many respects much of the staff development happens naturally and unwittingly. Key attributes like confidence, a digital mindset, the belief that anything is possible educationally, the willingness to embrace on going change, to collaborate, to distribute the control of the teaching and learning and to respect, trust and empower all the teachers of the young are all naturally – and best – developed naturally in context, in a supportive culture.

An important part of the quest has been the principal’s setting of high expectations for the school and its professionals, daily encouraging the staff to take the schooling to a higher plane.

Of note is that in creating the culture of change while some staff have found the going too challenging to stay the same culture has attracted other highly committed professionals to the school, unwittingly assisting further grow the other staff, the school’s culture and its ecosystem.

In many respects it is the transformative culture of the school that assists grow the students, the school’s community and the staff.

  • Think Digital

This is particularly apparent in the development of the vital digital mindset (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 28), and the willingness to socially network.

The digital mindset grows gradually, largely naturally and unwittingly and in context, with it becoming ever stronger as the school evolves digitally.

Indeed at this point in time the authors find it, as indicated, difficult to envision growing the digital mindset other than in context, in a culture that daily strengthens that way of thinking.

In seeking to professionally develop the staff it is now clear it is important to ‘think digitally’ and to employ strategies appropriate for a socially networked school community.

  • Macro understanding

Unquestionably one of the greater challenges in schools going digital is to get all staff to better understand the macro workings of the school and for them in turn to provide leadership at all levels.

That evolution in the digital schools has come in large from empowering the professional staff, the setting of high expectations, developing the staff’s macro understanding of the workings of the school, having them play a lead role and by daily involving the professionals in the decision making and providing them when apt the opportunity to reflect and discuss the continued growth and evolution of the school. Of note is that the MIT Sloan (2016) study of mature digital organisations found a similar concern to grow the macro understanding, with the leaders when asked about the most important skills for leaders in a digital environment

only 18% of respondents listed technological skills as most important. Instead, they highlighted managerial attributes such as having a transformative vision (22%), being a forward thinker (20%), having a change- oriented mindset (18%), or other leadership and collaborative skills (22%) (Kane, et.al, 2016, p2).

  • Readying for the unknown

The schools that have normalised the use of the digital have entered the evolutionary position where everyday they will be entering unexplored territory, requiring of the leadership and staff a mindset, a suite of skills and an organisational structure and culture that that allows them to continually thrive and deliver as they work with the many unknowns.

The pathfinders in schooling, like those in industry will forever on work without charts in determining the best way to continually realise the shaping vision. There is no best practise research or experience to call upon.

In ‘Teaching in the Digital School’ we identified the kind of attributes the staff will need in that kind of environment. In all likelihood other attributes will emerge the further the school travels into the unknown and transforms it’s operations.

Each of those key attributes will need to be nurtured, and vitally developed in context as the school ecosystem continues to evolve.

To what extent the later adopter schools will learn from the efforts of the pathfinders has yet to be evidenced.

  • Critical importance of staff development

What we do know is that every school studied regarded ongoing staff development as central to the school’s continued growth. All were very conscious the staff was the school’s greatest resource and that it had to continually have the desired wherewithal, individually and collectively, if the school was to evolve in the desired manner.

Tellingly the 2016 MIT Sloan Review noted:

Digitally maturing organizations invest in their own talent: More than 75% of digitally maturing organizations surveyed provide their employees with resources and opportunities to develop their digital acumen, compared to only 14% of early-stage companies. Success appears to breed success — 71% of digitally maturing companies say they are able to attract new talent based on their use of digital, while only 10% of their early-stage peers can do so (Kane, et.al, 2016).

Significantly all the schools studied similarly provide all their staff – and not just the teachers – the digital tools and resources required.

Do you?

  • All staff

A notable development, that is applicable to the digital evolution of all schools, has been the move to involve all the staff – teaching and professional support – in the staff development and view all of them as professionals.

It has been recognised that in evermore tightly integrated school ecosystems where all need have a macro understanding of the school’s operations it is vital the total group is continually grown, both collectively and individually, in context and through specific programs.

This is a key development.

Do you still view the academic only as ‘the staff’ or are you addressing the apt growth of all the professional staff, and naturally involving every one in ‘staff’ meetings?

  • Primarily in-house

In light of the moves to grow the staff in context it will come as no surprise that the vast majority of the staff development has been done in house.

Indeed one notes that in their digital evolutionary journey (Lee and Broadie, 2016) the mature digital schools have opted to increasingly rely on the in-house development and to complement that work with the occasional specific program.

Ironically that shift to the in house away from the traditional central offerings could well have been assisted by the moves by governments, particularly since the GFC, to cut the funding of authority run professional development programs and post graduate study.

The other reality is that the schools have been in their rapid evolution and movement into unchartered terrain found few from outside the school that understand their situation and which can assist the school.

Later adopter schools should be able to benefit from the work of the pathfinders, both in schooling and industry.

  • Limited funding

Allied has been the reality that few of the early adopter schools, particularly over the last decade have had the funds to purchase external expertise, even if it existed. As indicated in BYOT and The Digital Evolution of Schooling (Lee and Levins, 2016) staff development monies have normally to come from the highly competed for 10%-15% of recurrent funding not spent on staff salaries.

As a generalisation the vast majority of schools, particularly state schools, don’t have sufficient monies to purchase all the desired staff development.

While governments have acknowledged the critical importance of staff development politically none have appeared willing to wear the flack of allowing schools to take those funds from the staffing allocation.

Moreover many governments have also taken the view that they know what was best for ‘their’ schools and have dictated how what little monies were available for staff development should be spent.

The early adopters like most other schools have thus had to contend with those constraints and seek where they can alternative sources of staff development funding, as likely will you.

That said in opting to use the in-house integrated staff development the schools have not only saved monies but also provided a markedly more effective integrated model of staff development that is closely aligned to the continued enhancement of the school’s ecosystem and the school’s shaping vision.

  • Complementary programs

In addition to the integrated staff development most of the pathfinders have used a variety of complementary, purpose specific programs. Many were whole of staff or team specific exercises linked to the introduction of new or revised teaching program or policy while others were mini conferences convened to assist both the local schools and the school fund further staff development.

The value of mini-conferences as whole of staff, whole of school development exercises can be considerable.

  • Technology coaches

Tellingly all the schools studied had some type of staff technology coach or unit. While the title of the person or unit varied from school to school all had teaching staff whose task it was to assist other staff with the evolving digital technologies. The position/s were created by the astute allocation of the staffing budget. Most of the support was individualised and curriculum related but every so often, particularly with the release of breakthrough technologies like Google Applications For Education (GAFE) or a school app, whole of staff orientation sessions were conducted.

It is vital support we’d suggest you seriously consider.

  • Bureaucratic obligations

Of note the pathfinders – like all other schools – have had to undertake – often with little or no funds – staff development programs mandated by government, on issues the government of the day or its bureaucrats deem to be politically desirable. You know the kind.

It is a burden that most schools, state or independent, globally have to bear.

It is appreciated some of the programs are critical but others are mandated for political reasons or the whim of bureaucrats.

What we could well be seeing globally is the remnants of the traditional central course approach and the hand over of all staff development to the schools as self-regulating units.

  • Personal development

In addition to the school’s staff development of note were the various forms of professional development undertaken by the individual staff, using all manner of learning opportunities, both online and face-to-face.

It is as if the palpable excitement of working in highly energised school cultures is prompting the staff to further their personal growth. While still early days the impact of the school culture on the personal development of the staff bears further scrutiny.

  • Post graduate education study

It would appear, at least in Australia and the UK that teachers in the more mature digital schools are not pursuing post graduate study in education to anywhere near the extent of previous generations. While the increased cost of such programs could well be a factor so could the failure of many universities to offer programs relevant to those in rapidly evolving digitally based school ecosystems.

The authors have for example been unable to find any post-graduate programs in the UK or Australia specifically designed for leaders of digital schools.

Conclusion

What we are seeing – albeit at an early stage – with the staff development in digital schools is the same kind of paradigm shift we have witnessed in all other facets of digital evolution. There is the movement from a highly insular and segmented operation where the separate parts of the school operated largely autonomously to an increasingly integrated, socially networked approach focussed on ensuring all school operations are directed to the growth of the school ecosystem and the continued realisation of the shaping educational vision.

There is the growing recognition that each school is unique and is best placed to shape a staff development model that most effectively and efficiently enhances the school’s productivity and continued evolution, while at the same time growing the professionalism of all the staff.

It is important in tackling staff development in the evolving school to feel at ease in adopting a significantly different approach – in keeping with the above – and not feel obligated to retain that of the traditional paper based school.

You are readying your staff for a very different operational paradigm.

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

 

Getting Your Staff to Fly

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In empowering your professionals the ultimate desire should be to have those staff fly, and for them to use their professionalism and the trust and autonomy accorded to continually search for the best possible education in a continually evolving world.

Lipnack and Stamps (1994, p18) in identifying the underlying principles of a networked organisation twenty plus years ago wrote of the importance in rapidly evolving, socially networked, increasingly integrated organisations of

  • Unifying purpose
  • Independent members
  • Voluntary links
  • Multiple leaders
  • Integrated levels

In elaborating on the concept of ‘independent members’ Lipnack and Stamps presciently observed

Independence is a prerequisite for interdependence. Each member of the network, whether a person, company or country can stand on its own while benefitting from being parts of the whole (Lipnack and Stamps, 1994, p18).

That is vital, but oft forgotten.

Digitally based, socially networked and ever evolving organisations need professionals with the mindset, confidence, wherewithal, independence and support to take risks, to grasp the emerging opportunities, to try things out, to work alone, with others or in teams and who can astutely adjudge when to push forward or to take another course of action. They need team players who can think independently and question the organisation’s practises and long held assumptions as the organisation evolves and transforms its operations.

Schools need staff – teaching and professional support – at all levels, and within all areas of the school willing and able to take the lead in enhancing the school’s operations, who understand the school’s shaping vision – its unifying purpose – and who can do so astutely at pace.

They are professionals who can fly, who can continually explore new paths, question current practises and continually energise and grow the school. They, as mentioned earlier, go to make the pathfinder schools the exciting places of learning they are, assisting create schools with cultures more akin to the ‘start ups’ than that those found in most traditional schools. Critically those ‘flying’ and taking advantage of the opportunities being opened are invariably the everyday staff of old who the school has empowered and assisted to grow. They are most assuredly no some specially trained change agent.

They are also staff that in many instances will opt to fly into leadership roles, often in other schools, helping in time grow the staff in the new settings.

While the focus will naturally be on the teachers it is equally important the professional support staff have the independence to assist grow the school. Indeed within increasingly integrated school ecosystems it will be important not only to have ‘multiple leaders’ within all areas but also the ready facility for voluntary links with leaders from different operational areas.

It is appreciated the concept staff independence, the letting of all to fly and taking risks will be an anathema to most schools and the ‘teaching standards’ bodies but if schooling is to evolve at a pace that meets the rising digital expectations of society – and not lag as it now does – it needs embrace the change. Bureaucracies micro managing schools every move will see the schools lag ever further behind societal expectations, move into a state of equilibrium and the place the viability of many schools in question (Lee, 2015, 5).

In staff flying and the schools moving at pace into the unknown schooling will experience the same kind of evolutionary journey as all other digitally based and socially networked organisations, business or public sector. Mistakes will be made, and valuable lessons will be learned as these highly dynamic organisations pursue their shaping vision.

Peter Drucker at the end of his illustrious career astutely observed:

‘To try and make the future is highly risky. It is less risky, however, than not to try make it (Drucker, 2001, p93).

Schools need very much to get their staff to fly, and fly at pace if they are to shape that desired future.

  • Drucker, P (2001) Management Challenges for the 21st Century, NY Harper Business
  • Lee, M (2015, 5) ‘Schools have to go digital to remain viable’. Educational Technology Solutions August 2015
  • Lipnack, J & Stamps, J 1994, The age of the network: Organizing principles for the 21st century, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York

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 now digitally mature 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.

 

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