Category Archives: Is sustained core school change possible?

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

Schools as Digital Constructs

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In moving schooling from a paper to digital construct the way is opened to shift to an increasingly sophisticated, powerful, flexible and naturally evolving operational base, and allow schools to continually provide an apt, ever richer, contemporary 24/7/365 education.

Critically the shift in thinking enables schools and systems to better accommodate the world of accelerating, seemingly chaotic, often uncertain digital and societal evolution they are operating within, and importantly to evolve and grow in harmony with the rest of society.

Theoretically, as indicated in the last post (Lee and Broadie, 2019), the possibilities for teaching and learning opened by a digital construct are virtually unlimited, with possibilities being added daily as the thinking develops and the technology evolves. 

While that might hold in many fields of endeavour, schools as formal government controlled institutions with defined obligations, having to contend with societal expectations will always be more constrained than most other organisations. 

That said the success of the schools that have gone digital, and adopted a socially networked mode have demonstrated schools can move some distance along the digital evolutionary continuum, and with apt leadership and support can evolve ad infinitum.

The facility to do so will differ markedly with the type of school, likely the size and type of education authority, and the government of the day. Independent, and largely autonomous schools will invariably have greater scope to move, as will smaller government systems. 

While individual schools can make a significant shift ultimately the government of the day must play a lead role if the schools/system is to move from Industrial Age staff selection criteria, working conditions and remuneration or to remove the blockages imposed by the likes of statutory examinations boards, basic skills tests and inspectorates. 

Tellingly, mostly unnoticed, many nations now have in their distance education schools/system ground breaking digital constructs, that have long abandoned their correspondence schools, which astutely couple the evolving technologies, social networking and face to face teaching, and provide an important insight into what is possible. Significantly many of those schools already have working conditions and remuneration arrangements markedly different to the mainstream schools.

The key variable in any construct shift will be human, with the decision makers opting to move to a digital construct or choosing to reject or minimise the opportunities opened and stay with the lower order variant.  

Thus far, near all the world’s education authorities and schools have chosen, consciously or not, to stay with the latter, to fend off digital disruption and natural evolution, and to largely deny the opportunities opened by a digital construct.

While most schools and systems have chosen to retain, and laud the paper construct, outside their walls the world continues to evolve at an accelerating rate, daily distancing the young’s in from the out of school use of and learning with the digital (Friedman, 2016). The digitally connected young outside the school naturally, and unconsciously employing a digital mindset, embracing networked learning, taking charge of their 24/7/365 learning with the technology, and daily growing their version of being digital (Lee, Twining and Broadie, 2018).

The paper construct, with its focus on learning within the physical site and virtual disregard for any learning outside the school has likely inclined most to disregard the reality that formal schooling occupies less than 20% of the young’s annual learning time. They seem conveniently to forget today’s schools are operating within a rapidly evolving, chaotic, increasingly connected world where most global change happens naturally, unplanned, with myriads of consequences and unintended benefits and disbenefits. Disruption, seeming chaos will invariably result in order, and a new normal.

Among the many challenges in shifting to a digital construct is to obviate the inefficiencies of natural evolution (Pascale, Millemann and Gioja, 2000). There is need to marry the natural with planned change, to continually take advantage of the pertinent global megatrends in creating and shaping the desired learning environment and culture.

The early adopter schools have demonstrated how that can be done.

But ultimately governments must lead the way for school construct change to happen and be sustained widely.

While visionary, often maverick heads and governments have orchestrated pronounced construct change, history reveals all too often that change is ‘rectified’ and the dents removed with the change of head, or government. Invariably the dents are removed by the application of stultifying carry overs of the paper construct. The great dampener, is the use of principal selection criteria that favour those wanting to maintain the status quo, and which accords no importance to the new head being able to grow the construct shift underway.

Governments must be responsible for the human construct it employs within its schools. If it opts to stay with the traditional then it should bear the political, educational and economic consequences. If it chooses to shift it needs to ensure the total construct, the total digitally based ecosystem is attuned to realising the shaping educational vision.

The Opportunities 

Even at this still relatively early phase of the Digital Revolution the opportunities opened for schools moving to a digital operational construct are immense, and largely limited by the human imagination. 

Many of the possibilities the authors have examined in earlier writings, all of which can be read on the Digital Evolution of Schooling website.

There are a few that merit special mention.

The move provides the opportunity to:

  • Return to first principles and clarify the desired shaping educational vision. It bids all associated with the school to question, and to continually question the aptness of all paper construct practises in a digital context.
  • Have all associated with the school/s, but particularly the leadership approach contemporary schooling, and the wider education of the young, with a digital, and networked mindset – not as now with an analogue.
  • Ensure the educational vision, the clear sense of purpose guides the creation and daily shaping of a school ecosystem and culture that facilitates the desired learning and resourcing. 
  • Identify those facets of schooling to be retained within the digital construct – which are likely to be many.
  • Evolve the school/s, largely in step with society’s ever rising expectations – rather than as now daily falling further behind.
  • Have schools play a more integral and productive part within a networked society and economy, moving them out of their current insular situation, making them more efficient, effective, economic and productive, contributing more fully to the growth of not only the young but also the local and national economy. 
  • Transform paper constructs into digitally mature organisations, built in large upon a tightly integrated, ever evolving, increasingly sophisticated, synergistic digital ecosystem, able to readily interface with and contribute to the networked world.
  • Realise John Dewey’s (1916) century old desire of more consciously cultivating both the informal, out of school learning with the formal, in school in the holistic education of each child.
  • Better individualise every child’s education, and build upon the young, from around the age of three taking charge of their use of and learning with the digital, learning to learn and naturally growing their being digital.
  • Have the schools genuinely collaborate with their digitally connected families in the education of each child, with both parties aware of where they should focus their efforts in growing the child’s holistic education. 
  • Accommodate both planned, and unintended change, and to optimise the benefits that flow naturally from chaotic evolution.
  • Grow a set of operational parameters for a continually evolving digitally based ecosystem and culture, where the young are trusted and empowered – rather than, as now trying to accommodate the young being digital within an aged paper construct where they are distrusted.
  • Have the digital underpin all school operations, normalising its ubiquitous use in and outside the classroom, using it to complement the other media, and accrue the efficiencies, economies, synergies and enhancement that can be achieved, intended and unintended.
  • Have the schools, as formal institutions recognise that while they can never lead the way in the young’s use of and learning with the digital they can better recognise, build upon and provide direction to the 24/7/365 use and learning.
  • Rethink the current Industrial Age structures, processes, working conditions and remuneration and gradually move to those befitting a digital construct. 
  • Complement the site based with networked teaching, learning and assessment, that can occur 24/7/365, anywhere, anytime.  In the upper secondary years, strong arguments can be mounted for much of the learning to happen off site, in jobs, apprenticeships, internships or intensive workshops.
  • Employ a more networked mode of school resourcing, where the school and the families pool their resources and expertise, and where schools can draw upon the resources of a networked society, and lessen its near total reliance on government/parent funds.

The educational vision

As we detailed in the last post, the paper construct has led to approaches to schooling, teaching and learning that we continue to accept as ‘normal and correct’ without thinking. Having pursued those ‘normals’ for aeons we understand the type of learning they produce. But we have yet to identify the learning possible within a digital construct.

These now need to become the subject of acute observation and research. 

The most obvious of these new affordances are:

  • Time learning. If students accept and enjoy the learning challenges that schools lead them into, they can radically extend the time they spend learning. This makes student engagement vital, so that learning is driven more by their internal desire to learn rather than external pressures.
  • Just in time access to information. ‘Road-bumps’ in learning, caused by lack of knowledge or understanding can be rapidly overcome, so that they don’t inhibit and damage the flow of learning.
  • Individual learners taking charge of their learning 24/7/365, lifelong. The implications of the learner, and not so much the ‘authority’, taking charge of their use of and learning with the digital, from around the age of three through to death are profound.
  • Connection to people. Ideas can be discussed online, and forums allow learners to follow the discussions of others. This can bring a multiplicity of people into students’ learning networks and raise the importance of students verbalising and discussing their current understanding.
  • The importance of learning to learn, relative to learning a formal curriculum. A key feature of the digital world is the extremely rapid growth of knowledge, which necessitates life-long learning for all. This also implies that state derived curricula and assessments need to focus on competence in a field, and to change as the societal perceptions to be competent evolve.

The Way Forward

The move to a digital operational construct necessitates schools having school principals willing and able to orchestrate the shift, and its continued evolution.

This has been strikingly apparent in the schools that have made the shift(Lee and Winzenried, 2009), (Lee and Broadie, 2018),and indeed in the digital evolution and transformation of all private and public sector organisations.

Without an astute chief executive officer, with digital acumen, able to set the expectations, communicate the vision and daily orchestrate the daily workings and growth of a digitally based school ecosystem there is little chance the shift will occur, let alone be sustained.  Great deputy heads, highly committed staff and supportive communities can all assist, but the head must lead.

The head must moreover understand that the construct shift is first and foremost a human challenge, where the school community shapes – on the fly – an organisation it believes can best deliver the desired education.

It is not, contrary to the current approach, a technological challenge, best left to the ‘ICT experts’. 

For well over a quarter of a century the universal propensity has been for teachers, ICT coordinators, principals, administrators and particularly governments to focus on the technology, and often only the technology (Lee and Winzenried, 2009), (Lee and Broadie, 2018). Invariably the first step has been to purchase the latest gear, and to laud its purchase. Few appear to understand they have simply been trying to shoehorn a limited use of the digital technology into a paper construct, constrained by Industrial Age structures, processes and mindset.

Not surprisingly the billions spent on digital technology for schools hasn’t magically occasioned construct change, nor will it.

The challenge is for school leaders to identify and gradually shape an organisational structure, a learning environment and culture that takes advantage of the evolving digital technology to provide the desired contemporary education.

The schools and education authorities that have moved to a digital construct have recognised the imperative of putting the educational agenda to the fore and then addressing the many human and technological variables that assist further the agenda.

They have also appreciated they can hasten the shift from the paper to digital construct by tackling those variables largely unconstrained within the existing construct. The shift from an analogue to digital mindset, distributing the control of the teaching and learning, trusting and empowering all, enhancing the family-school collaboration, ensuring all students have the technology, recognising out of school learning with the digital, pooling the home and school resources and expertise, the establishment of an integrated school ecosystem, social networking, and the adoption of a culture of change can all for example be fostered within the existing operational parameters, with few involving an overt clash with the established ways.

History suggests the evolution in schools will be gradual, the schools moving along an increasingly higher order evolutionary continuum, shedding the ways of the paper construct, overcoming the impediments to change, working increasingly within a digital construct.

The authors’ research with the early adopter schools (Lee and Broadie, 2016), points strongly to;

  • The schools, while each shaping their own course, in a seemingly chaotic world will move through remarkably similar evolutionary stages as they shift from the paper to increasingly digital construct
  • Each displaying, regardless of type or context, common attributes at each stage
  • Most schools in their evolution and shift to a higher order of operation needing to move through each of the evolutionary stages
  • The evolutionary continuum continually lengthening as the thinking, expectations and technology becomes more sophisticated
  • Primary/elementary schools moving faster along the continuum than the secondary.
  • The schools lessening their dependence on the physical site for much learning, taking increasing advantage of networked learning and teaching. 

Movement along the continuum will rarely be constant, more often it will be the case of two steps forward, and one step back, often with a change of head the school regressing to the world of paper (Lee and Broadie, 2016).

The unplanned commonality evidenced globally in the young’s use of the Net (Tapscott, 1998), and more recently in the children’s use of and learning with the digital (Lee, Twining and Broadie, 2018) is seemingly mirrored globally in schools shift to digital construct. 

Conclusion.

While still early days, with appreciably more research to be undertaken the strong suggestion for any school, or education authority seeking to move to a digital construct is to note the key traits evidenced in the evolution of all digitally mature organisations. 

  • Dewey, J (1916), Democracy and education, New York Macmillan.
  • Friedman, T (2016) Thank you for Being LateNew York Farrer, Straus Giroux
  • Lee, M and Winzenried, A (2009) The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages. 2ndEdition Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • 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/–  
  • Lee, M. Broadie, R and Twining, P (2018) Your Kids Being Digital. A Guide for Digitally Connected Families. Armidale. Australia Douglas and Brown http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2019) ‘Moving Schooling from a Paper to Digital Construct’. Linkedin -19 August 2019 – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/moving-schooling-from-paper-based-digital-construct-mal-lee/
  • Pascale, R.T, Millemann, M, Gioja, L (2000) Surfing at the Edge of Chaos NY Three Rivers Press
  • Tapscott, D (1998), Growing up digital: The rise of the Net Generation, McGraw Hill, New York

Is Core System Wide School Change Possible, and Sustainable?

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The short answer is yes, on both counts.

But it is extremely rare, far rarer than most governments, politicians, the media and educational leaders would have you believe.

Historically one will struggle to find an education authority, local, provincial or national, anywhere in the world that has achieved core system wide school change, and then sustained that change for more than a few decades.

Virtually all the system wide innovation made globally in the 60s and 70’s has largely disappeared, with the schools returning, some might say regressing, to the traditional mode.

One will moreover struggle to find a major change that has not only been sustained, but built upon in a significant way.

And yet daily academics, the media, politicians and educational administrators glibly envision markedly different schools of the future. 

Most schools in 2040 will, on current trends likely be the same as today, the same as they were fifty years ago, the same as they were a century ago, only they will be more dated relative to the rest of society.

The current indicators strongly suggest many could be more regressive than the schools of the 1970s.

Most will likely still be paper based constructs, site based, linear, hierarchical Industrial Age organisations, using Industrial Age processes, micro-managed by governments and bureaucrats to the nth degree.

New technologies in Industrial Age classrooms doesn’t change the nature of schooling. They never have, and never will.

There will be notable exceptions globally led by governments that recognise the imperative of providing an apt contemporary education for all, that understand the immensity of the constraints to be overcome and what is required for successful sustained digital evolution and transformation, conscious of the time and effort needed to make the paradigm shift, but they will be few. 

The rarity of sustained system change has not been for any want of desire, effort of investment.  The last century plus has seen all manner of thoughtfully conceived, well-funded initiatives, the likes of model schools, the Dewey based progressive school’s movement, the many ‘schools of the future’ and lighthouse schools, open plan schooling, vast national initiatives like the UK’s ‘Harnessing the Technology’ and more recently the various national ‘digital revolutions’. Some of those initiatives made a difference, at least for a time, but importantly few got anywhere near 100% school uptake, and have been sustained over time. 

We’d like to table for discussion the seemingly outrageous proposition that core system-wide school change might in most situations be impossible, particularly over a sustained period.

We’re most assuredly not making this observation as cynical old pessimists, but rather in the quest to assist principals, education authorities and politicians, wanting to move from a paper to digitally based construct to understand the magnitude of the task ahead, and the reality they’ll have to address. 

History says that while change has been possible at the individual school level sustained core change across a total system, be it parochial, provincial or national level, has been much rarer.

That rarity should set off the warning bells.

Political challenges.

Sustained, core system change is only possible if both the political and logistical elements are successfully addressed from the outset, and then on an-going basis.  While for convenience we’ve separated the political from the logistical challenges the two are invariably intertwined.

Within the democracies of the world using the Westminster system of government, or a variant thereof core system change in government schools can only happen when led and supported by the leader of the government and his/her minister/superintendent. It is a given, without which there is no chance of sustained success. 

History reveals much, likely most system wide innovation did not pay due regard to the politics of the change. Invariably the focus has been on the mechanics of the change with scant thought was given to the reality of political churn, the continual change of governments, the seemingly endless cycle of progressive and conservative governments and electoral acceptance. History is festooned with educational innovation that died with the change of government, and even change of minister. Invariably new governments, new ministers of education, school superintendents like to quickly display their credentials, happy to throw out millions of dollars of achievement to demonstrate their way is best. 

Core system change is very unlikely to be sustained unless it is accepted, and in time normalised by the electorate. Experience suggests all too often well-intentioned educators have mapped out major change without giving a thought to the political context, implications or long term community acceptance. One will struggle find mention in the educational change literature the imperative of factoring into the change implementation the electorates likely acceptance of the innovation.

Logistical

Logistically the many challenges facing change at the individual school level, that we identified in ‘The Challenge of Creating a Digital School’ are amplified many fold at the system level, and to those many considerable constraints are added those at the system level. 

These are but some of the hurdles to be overcome.

The challenge of simply running an education system in a time of accelerating change is immense.

Running that system while also implementing core system wide change takes the challenge to another, for many possibly unattainable, level. In analysing the history of one of those rarities that has sustained the system change forty plus years ago while the challenge of making the change in the 1970s was immense the system was, in relative terms working with largely known constants. Paper as the technology core to the construct was largely unchanging. That was a world where it was accepted that one had around a week to respond to an important letter, a ‘leisurely’ turnaround that continued until the early 1990’s.

Fifty plus years after the identification of Moore’s Law (Wikipedia, 2019) the rate of digital evolution continues to accelerate largely as projected, with few organisations, let alone school systems, able to stay abreast of the rate of technological change (Friedman, 2016), (Deloitte, 2017). To the already considerable challenge of conducting a complex human organisation is added the pace of continual social, political, economic, environmental and technological change, including uncertainty, disruption, digital convergence, evolutionary chaos, and continual unintended and unplanned global change. 

An allied challenge, all education authorities will eventually have to a face, is that they are operating – whether desired or not –in a world of chaotic change (Pascale, Millemann and Gioja, 2000). They’ll need to grasp that within that world their long-held belief that development can only occur when rationally, logically planned and implemented must be tempered by the reality that increasingly much development will occur as a natural flow on of digital evolution; unplanned, unintended and remarkably similar worldwide.

Governments, education authorities and schools have ultimately to accommodate both planned and unplanned change, and be aware of, and be ready to optimise the unintended benefits, and the new normal that emerges out of the seeming chaos. Near all the major global changes in the learning and education of the world’s young in the last twenty-five years have flown naturally and unplanned from the Digital Revolution. No planned national or international educational change comes close to having anything near the global impact of unintended, unplanned change (Lee and Broadie, 2018). 

Business from the mid 1990’s recognised in their planning they had to accommodate the intended and the unintended change (Thorpe, 1998).

The digital masters in schooling also appreciated this new imperative (Lee and Broadie, 2018).

The history of schooling since the world went online in 1993 with Mosaic reveals most schools, and education authorities didn’t (Lee and Broadie, 2018), but recent conversations suggest some are, and in so doing are aware they will need to bring the teachers and community with them in that realisation.

Natural evolutionary change is invariably inefficient (Pascale, Millemann and Gioja, 2000). It needs to be shaped to advantage by astute leaders aware of the world megatrends.

Core system change must thus still be planned astutely, with due regard given the many interconnected parts but that planning and the outcomes desired should be more open and flexible, able to accommodate the naturally emerging unintended benefits, and to address the undesired disbenefits.

A telling feature of the successful system change analysed was the integrated totality of the change design and implementation (Lee, in press). It was built on core, timeless educational principles that underpinned every facet of the change. Forty plus years on that was still apparent.

All too often efforts at core school change are piecemeal, delivered by discrete cells within the central office, without regard to the desired totality or electoral acceptance, that soon wither with the change in government, and funding priorities.

The immensity and complexity of the challenges to sustained core system change demand leaders in Government, the central administration and every school capable and astute enough to normalise the desired change.  It necessitates systems continually having educational leaders able to sit in the helicopter and understand the evolving macro scene, the interrelatedness of the many parts, able to ensure evolving, increasingly integrated and complex digitally based school ecosystems sustain and grow the desired change.

The challenge of growing and appointing school leaders able to play that role, and to do so over the decades might be a step too far for most education systems, struggling as most are to find principals simply able to manage the status quo.

To normalise, sustain, and in time grow the core change over the decades the system requires leadership identification, growth and appointment processes that will go a long way to providing the desired personnel.

Most systems, where the focus is very much on appointing heads to manage the status quo, are years away from the desired, with the question having to be asked if the desired can ever be achieved.

A related ‘leadership’ challenge facing near all systems is that the implementation of the change is invariably entrusted to a mature, invariably highly segmented bureaucracy. They use staff, structures and processes employed to maintain the status – quo. That group likely not only lacks the understanding, mindset, drive to implement significant organisational change but also the structural agility to do so. 

It is a recipe for failure, that can be obviated, but from the track record is rarely done. 

Successful sustained core system requires the designers to accept school change must be done from within the school, and increasingly the school community, and done eventually by every school in the system.

The designers can’t wave a magic wand, or simply issue a media release and assume the change will happen.  It won’t.

Allied is the imperative of recognising that every school is unique, with each requiring its own change strategy.

It is appreciated this runs counter to the prevailing views of many bureaucrats and likely governments, but every school has a unique context, history, community, culture, mix of staff, challenges, and sits at different points along the school evolutionary continuum.  Moreover, each has a head with his/her own desires, capabilities, leadership style and facility to orchestrate major organisational change.

While Government and the system leadership must provide direction and support history affirms that leadership must be willing to trust and empower its professionals and communities if it wishes them to normalise, sustain and in time grow the core change.

The willingness to distribute that power is something historically few systems have been prepared to contemplate, but until they do, and cease micro managing and distrusting their professionals the chance of sustained core change will remain remote. 

A telling but largely unacknowledged factor in achieving core system change, that stood out in the analysis of the successful change, (Lee, in press) is the timing of the change.  Achieving the initial momentum and acceptance is the hard part. Normalising and sustaining the change is that much easier if the ball is rolling. It was likely somewhat easier to innovate in the socially progressive world of the late 60s and 70’s than immediately post 9/11. Similarly, it is often easier to introduce major change after a resounding electoral success than at the end of a tired government.

It bids Governments and system administrators to think carefully about context and the timing of a change they want sustained for decades to come. 

Conclusion

Yes, core system change is possible, and sustainable, but it is easy to see why the track record globally is so poor, and likely to remain so.

If, and it is a big ‘if’, governments want to provide an apt contemporary education for all its students and to make changes that will be sustained governments, policy makers, educational administrators, and indeed teachers, the media and society in general must appreciate the immense difficulty of the move, and the real chance of failure.

They need also understand in a world of ever accelerating technological and social change the challenge is growing daily.

It is time to cease being glib about core school change, to appreciate the magnitude of the constraints, to approach the change with the eyes wide open to both the political and logistical challenges and to laud those systems that have made and sustained core change over the decades.

Bibliography

  • Friedman, T (2016) Thank you for Being LateNew York Farrer, Straus Giroux
  • 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/–  
  • Lee, M (in press).Creating, Sustaining and Revitalising the ACT Secondary College Model.
  • Pascale, R.T, Millemann, M, Gioja, L (2000) Surfing at the Edge of ChaosNY Three Rivers Press
  • Wikipedia (2019) ‘Moore’s Law’, 2 July 2019 at – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore’s_law

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