Category Archives: The Digital and Empowerment

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.