The Accelerating Differences between Schools

Mal Lee

The difference between schools continues to grow as evermore schools build on their digital operational base and evolve at an accelerating pace. In adopting an increasingly integrated, evermore complex and higher order ecosystem and organisational culture and by positioning themselves for sustained evolution these schools are increasingly providing a fundamentally different schooling to their relatively simple lower order paper based counterparts.

As yet largely unseen and unheralded by the education community these early adopter schools are experiencing the same kind of whole digital organisational transformation as all other ‘industries’. However where industry is daily receiving major scrutiny globally with the implications well understood the evolution in schooling receives scant mention. Rather most governments, educators and the education media focus on tinkering with a dated paper based mode of schooling from which the pathfinder schools have long moved, doing little to assist or encourage to schools ready themselves for the digital world.

In researching the revised edition of Bring Your Own Technology (Lee and Levins, 2012) and examining the evolutionary journeys of the original case study schools over the last three years what impressed was the rapid and indeed accelerating evolution and transformation that had occurred in those years in the well led schools, the whole of school community nature, the total school transformation and the maturing in all of a digitally based ecosystem that facilitates those schools sustained evolution and transformation.

The contrast with the traditional paper based, loosely coupled mode of schooling ensconced in their traditional ways was profound and on track to become more so.

Where in 2012 Martin and I anticipated an accelerating rate of evolution we had not anticipated the speed of the evolution, the schools and in particular the teachers’ embracement of rapid change or how well the schools had positioned themselves for on-going rapid transformation and enhancement.

The case study schools had smashed the long held belief that teachers won’t embrace change.

One of the principals interviewed observed on the accelerating rate of transformation and the increasing difference between schools that even I did not grasp the extent. That is likely to be a fair call on an observer undertaking but a three year snap shot.

That acknowledged, what can safely be said it is now clear is that the new norm with schooling globally will be the accelerating differences between schools, and the mode of schooling each provides.

The implications of this development for all associated with schooling, be it government, parents, students, educators, educational administrators, the media commentators or educational researchers are profound, and oblige all to view schools with a different mindset.

Usually unwittingly schools have long been perceived to be basically the same and to be largely immutable and constant in form. ‘One size fits all’ solutions are still common and research done in the one school is purported to be applicable in every other.

With digital transformation the sameness, constancy and the continuity of the paper based school disappears.

Lee and Broadie (2014) document the differences in their Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages, but the evidence exists everywhere for all to see.

Look nearby and you’ll likely observe schools that range on the evolutionary continuum from the traditional paper based operations that still specify what kind of pencil to buy and exercise books to cover, to those which make extensive use of the digital, but don’t trust the students to choose the ‘right’, believing only the ‘ICT experts’ know best through to those that not only trust the children from the early childhood years to use the suite of digital technologies they use 24/7/365 but are desirous of distributing the control of the teaching and learning, of genuinely collaborating with their parents and building upon the children’s out of school learning and everyday use of their digital technologies.

Where one saw in the pathfinder schools teachers who were empowered professionals, encouraged to lead and to take risks and who as a staff had seized that opportunity and were flying, in schools nearby the teachers were still micro managed, discouraged from taking any risks and obliged to continue doing what they had for the past 30-40 years one could but conclude the school differences would grow.

The cultures, the ecosystems of the above schools are fundamentally different.

Contrast the distinguishing attributes in the table below of the traditional school and those digitally based schools providing a 24/7/365 mode of schooling and you’ll note they are already antithetical in many ways.

The same kind of organizational difference can be found in the corporate world – although perhaps not to the same extent – between the ecosystems of the digital masters and those of the companies slower to transform digitally.

Indeed schooling can benefit – as indicated in the previous post – from the growing body of research (Westerman, et al, 2014) (Solis, et al, 2014) undertaken on the digital transformation of industry, understanding that the attributes that distinguish the ‘digital masters’ in the corporate world are evident – albeit on a much smaller scale – within the digital masters in schooling and go a long why to explaining why the pathfinder schools are evolving at such pace.

Most of those attributes have been examined in depth in earlier posts and thus most don’t need to be elaborated upon, but several do warrant particular comment.

Critical to the creation of ever evolving school ecosystems was

  • the all pervasive 24/7/365 use of apposite evermore powerful and sophisticated digital technologies
  • the creation of an increasingly integrated school ecosystem that simultaneously addressed all the variables, in and outside the school walls that impacted each child’s learning
  • each school taking control of its own on-going growth
  • a strong shaping school educational vision
  • an astute school principal, with a strong digital vision willing to lead
  • a networked mindset
  • a culture of change and the active support of risk taking
  • the assembling of a professional staff with the wherewithal to thrive and continually contribute to an ever evolving ever higher order organisation
  • the empowering of all staff, teaching and professional support, enhancing their understanding the macro workings of the school as well as their area/s of responsibility
  • trusting and respecting the teachers as professionals, giving them the autonomy to lead initiatives, and actively supporting them as they began to fly
  • the astute use of a suite of operational diagnostics and metrics to guide the growth of a rapidly evolving ecosystem.

It has been long understood that when one creates an organizational culture that encourages all the staff ‘to fly’ and to fly high, and actively supports and recognises the flight the organisation will evolve at pace (Deal and Kennedy, 1982).

That is what is happening in well led, digitally based schools.

It is a development that will see those schools evolve even faster and adopt an ever higher form, further differentiating them from those still working in their paper based operational mode and mindset.

Paper and Digitally based schools