Schools as Ever Evolving Ecologies


Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

We’ve found it helpful in considering the distinct nature of digital schools to view them as ever evolving, evermore tightly integrated ecologies where all the parts are increasingly linked.

They stand in marked contrast to the traditional paper based schools, and in particular the secondary schools that have long been viewed as largely constant, loosely coupled organisations where silo like units within the school operate largely independently. Indeed Karl Weick’s thinking on schools as loosely coupled organisations, that was penned in 1976 still holds true with most high schools today.

However view the attributes displayed by the pathfinder schools as they moved along the evolutionary continuum and you’ll see, as noted in the earlier posts the traditional loosely coupled school becoming evermore integrated and tightly coupled, with all the operations being increasingly linked to the realisation of the school’s shaping educational vision.

As the natural growth impacted, as the staff and client expectations rose, as new opportunities were identified so the schools evolved with all the parts becoming increasingly intertwined. The schools became increasingly distinct, ever-evolving ecologies addressing the particular needs of their situation by ensuring all facets of their operations, in and outside the school walls were linked and the silos were more closely integrated or dispensed with.

Moreover the digital convergence and the associated integration also saw the schools – often unwittingly – make ever-greater use of the facility the digital operational base provided to have the one facility serve multiple purposes with no extra effort by the staff.

Lee and Ward (2013) cite the example of school blogs where those blogs simultaneously and without any extra effort provided

  • an insight into the school’s daily activities to parents, grandparents, 
the local community and the students, and what they can do to 
complement that work
  • advice to parents on the school’s program, its calendar of events and 
the home study
  • a window into the workings of the school to all interested professionals, 
school or system executives or politicians
  • an important indicator as to where the school is at in its evolution
  • instant, ongoing accountability
  • the facility for instant teacher ‘evaluation’ and an insight into who is 
adding value
  • very powerful marketing of the school
  • an appreciation of how well the school operations are integrated (Lee and Ward, 2013, p89).

Factor in that all the schools were moreover increasingly marrying the teaching of the homes with that of the schools, and creating an increasingly integrated and tightly coupled 24/7/365 school ecology.

The challenge for the school leadership, and in particular the principal in the digital and networked school is to daily ensure not only are all the parts in the evolving ecology appropriately are apposite and can be integrated but that the total school ecology is shaped in a way that will best provide the desired educational benefits.

The challenge for researchers in or outside the school becomes ever greater. Thus far educational research has in the main been silo like looking primarily at linear connections within a part of the school’s operations. In integrated, ever-more complex, ever changing ecologies where the impact might come from synergies that are greater than the sum of the parts, and where much of the change is non-linear the difficulty of ascertaining what impacts student attainment will be challenging to say the least.

That said by recognizing that one is working with evolving, ever higher order ecologies – and not static loosely coupled entities – helps all associated with the school, be they the staff, the clients, community or the authorities, better understand the school’s nature and what is required for its on-going enhancement.

It is most assuredly not ‘one size fits all schools’ silver bullet solutions handed down from high.

The idea of a living, ever evolving complex ecology, which will forever experience significant natural growth and where all the parts will increasingly be intertwined, in and outside the school walls helps the school community, and in particular the school staff better understand their very different teaching and learning environment.


Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: transcending the school walls Melbourne ACER Press

Weick, K, (1976) “Educational Organizations as Loosely Coupled Systems” Administrative Science Quarterly 21 1976


Article in ACER’s Teacher on School Evolutionary Stages

Mal has an article in the inaugural edition of ACER’s new online magazine Teacher on the global school evolutionary stages.  Simply go to –