Category Archives: Staff development in digital schools

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/