Mal Lee and Roger Broadie
While the empowerment of the total school community is very important what is critical is the empowering of all one’s paid staff – the teachers and the professional support – and having them use their full professional capability to continually grow the school.
For too long schooling has failed to get the most from its professionals.
It is not the fault of the staff but rather poor and dated organisational practises, and in many situations the authorities lack of trust in the professionals and belief they have to be micro-managed.
Rapidly evolving tightly interconnected, increasingly complex higher order school ecosystems cannot afford that waste, inefficiency and distrust.
It is easy to forget in all the talk about the digital and the social networking that the school’s greatest resource is its professional staff. 85% plus of the school’s recurrent funding is spent on staff salaries and on costs. 3%- 4% of the funding if lucky is spent on the digital technology.
The scarcest resources in any organization are performing people (Drucker, 2000, p121).
Within the traditional strongly hierarchical silo like school the vast majority of the teachers and the professional support staff have for generations been disempowered and their professional capability markedly underused.
Within that ‘factory’ model only a few atop the apex – the management – have a macro appreciation of the workings of the school, with the teachers – the production line workers – expected to follow orders and focus on the micro applying their expertise to their part of the production line. We have thus maths, chemistry, history and English teachers whose very title communicates their limited role, micro focus and contribution.
Examine the likes of the national standards for Australia’s teachers (http://www.aitsl.edu.au/australian-professional-standards-for-teachers/standards/list) and you’ll see classroom teachers are still expected to focus on their area of expertise and not have any significant understanding of the macro workings of the school until they reach what is termed the ‘Lead’ level and even then the involvement is limited.
The same micro focus is true of the professional support staff with most expected to look after a narrow area of operation, often being explicitly denied any wider involvement. How many schools today actively involve the professional support staff in their ‘staff’ meetings? It is likely most traditional schools wouldn’t contemplate involving the professional support, believing such meetings should be restricted to those who know, the ‘academic’ staff.
The dated – factory derived – assumption is that a strong division of labour, controlled by a small management team will provide the most efficient holistic education for each child in an increasingly inclusive digital and socially networked society.
That is somewhat questionable.
Little is the wonder that few of the teachers or the support staff in the traditional settings have come close to realising their full professional capability, and acquiring and being able apply the kind understanding and expertise needed to assist operate and grow a tightly integrated school ecosystem. There is no expectation they should do so, most accepting their lower order standing until they retire.
For too long schools have made limited use of highly educated, well-paid staff, providing neither the expectations, support or in many respects the rewards deserved of professionals. The treatment of the professional support staff, many of who have degrees, has been particularly wasteful, with their talents invariably underused.
Of note is that all the pathfinders began their evolutionary journey with this staffing scenario, with the normal mix of staff, the good and indifferent.
The creation and growth of a tightly integrated digitally based school ecosystem where every facet of the school’s operations is directed towards continually realising the shaping vision in an ever evolving complex adaptive system requires all paid staff – teaching and support – contribute to the macro workings of the school as well as their area of expertise. Every professional should rightly be expected to assist grow the school and their own expertise, and to do so as the school moves to an ever higher plane (Lee, 2015).
Within a tightly interconnected, naturally evolving ecosystem any initiative is likely to have as indicated both its intended and significant unintended benefits that could be manifested any part of the of the school’s operations, its teaching, administration, communication, resourcing or marketing. Any of the staff, teaching or support, could be impacted and thus all need to play their part in optimising the unintended. The introduction a new school app, a seemingly simple initiative, will for example likely impact many parts of the school, educational and administrative, yielding both the planned and very likely unintended benefits..
In going digital and increasingly integrated, with the operations transcending the school walls, the old divisions of labour – the old internal and external walls – soon disappear and the school needs professionals able to flourish in that interconnected environment, understand the links, thrive on the seeming chaos and uncertainty and to go the extra mile when needed.
Tellingly newly appointed staff within the mature digital organisations are expected to make that professional contribution from day one – contrary to the view expressed in the teaching standards. While it is recognised it takes time for even the most capable of professionals new to the organisation to get up to speed there is nonetheless the expectation that as a professional they lead within their speciality and organisationally.
The case studies have revealed that likely the only way to create this type of higher order staff is to empower all and assist each person grow his/her professionalism and understanding of the macro workings of the school in situ, and by ensuring all are provided the apt digital kit and support.
It will take time and be closely aligned to the evolution of the school, the change in its culture and mindset and the movement to a higher order mode of schooling.
The authors have considered ways of accelerating the staff empowerment and cultivating the higher order skill and mind set out of context but we strongly suspect – at this stage at least – the professional enhancement is best done primarily in house, in context, with the aid of mentors and apt professional learning networks.
- Drucker, P (2001) Management Challenges for the 21st Century, NY Harper Business