Teachers within the more networked mode of schooling should ideally play the dual role of teaching specialist and education generalist.
They need to be very good at teaching their speciality/ies and to also have a macro understanding of the school’s increasingly integrated, socially networked operations to assist grow the student and staff learning within an evolving ecosystem.
This not the view of most currently in authority.
To them the teacher’s place is in the classroom, focusing simply on their teaching.
That thinking is expressed, and in many respects is embedded in, in most
- teaching standards
- teacher accreditation procedures
- initial teacher education (ITE)
- teacher advertisements and selection criteria
- teacher remuneration
The stance taken by most education authorities, or indeed teacher accreditation bodies, teacher education faculties, and likely most heads and governments, stand in marked contrast to the stance taken by most of today’s private sector organisations.
As soon as businesses began operating as networked organisations, they recognised enhanced productivity would come from all professionals having a macro understanding of the organisation’s workings and customer expectations. As the operations converged, became increasingly integrated, interrelated, the boundaries between divisions blurred, and were directed towards creating the desired digital ecosystem so all staff had to be readied to work within the new interconnected environment.
The COVID experience should have brought home to all, teachers, and parents, that schools in moving to a more networked mode and meeting society’s expectations should not only be aware be aware of each child’s learning in and outside the school walls but should be encouraged and supported to take advantage of the socially networked environment to markedly enhance each child’s learning.
Lipnack and Stamps, writing in their presciently titled The Age of the Network (1994) foresaw the importance.
The network is emerging as the signature form of organisation in the Information age, just as the bureaucracy stamped the Industrial Age, hierarchy the Agricultural Era, and the small group roamed in the Nomadic Era (Lipnack and Stamps, p3, 1994).
…Boundaries are conceptual, not physical, in virtual workplaces and need to be completely reconceived so that ‘physical site’ thinking is no longer a limitation.(Lipnack and Stamps, p15, 1994)
In the years thereafter that call has become ever louder in the business management literature and has been validated by research undertaken by most all of the major business consultancies, the likes of Deloitte, Capgemini, and McKinsey.
The late Peter Drucker, one the gurus of business management, made two telling observations about networked organisations.
People have to know and have to understand the organisational structures they are supposed to work within (Drucker, p13, 2001).
…….The scarcest resources in any organisation are performing people (Drucker, p121, 2001).
Inherent in those observations is the importance in a networked organisation of maximising the contribution of all the professionals, of respecting, trusting, supporting, and empowering them, and giving them the agency and understanding to assist grow the business.
Central to that trust and empowerment is giving the professionals the data critical to their specialist and generalist roles.
Ideally teachers should have the same kind of access.
Many, likely most, schools, often at the bidding of their bureaucracy, still use the traditional pyramid like, strongly hierarchical organisational model, with its strict division of labour, retaining it even after having transitioned to a more networked mode.
Few would likely trust classroom teachers to access the pertinent student data let alone data they could use to grow the school as a networked learning community wanting to enhance its productivity.
The teachers invariably remain ‘production line’ workers, micro-focussed, micro-managed, distrusted, disempowered, ill-prepared to perform at their best within the networked mode.
While ever the strict division of labour is retained, and teachers remain disempowered the school’s most expensive and valuable resource, its teachers will remain underutilised, and the ability of the school to provide a quality networked education will be constrained.
That said it is appreciated there are schools, primary and secondary, state, and independent worldwide that have long moved away from the traditional structures and adopted a flatter model befitting the networked mode, who have empowered their teachers thrive within connected world.
They however remain the exception.
The concept of teachers as specialists needs no elaboration.
It is a role they have played for centuries, and must, even in an ever more networked mode, continue to play.
But within the more networked mode that is not enough.
All teachers, from day one of teaching, must also to be education generalists.
While the concept of the professional as generalist is increasingly rare within academia, it is the norm within industry where near all are expected to make a significant contribution to the on-going productivity and viability of the organisation. To that end they must have a working understanding of the organisation’s digital ecosystem, its shaping vision, be able to play their part in multi-disciplinary, often virtual teams, to innovate and take calculated risks, know where their work fits within the integrated totality, the external forces at play in the networked environment and have the flexibility to play their part in the relevant teams and project groups.
The same should hold with all teachers, albeit in the individual or networked school settings. They should be able to play a lead role in project based teaching, in multi-disciplinary programs, to identify mental health, domestic violence and learning concerns, and ensure those with special talents, be they musicians, athletes or entrepreneurs are moved on to those able to grow those talents.
Teachers in the networked mode should for example be expected to
- be able to get into the helicopter and view the school’s integrated workings from ahigh
- think holistically, and with a digital mindset
- network astutely
- take advantage of the apt networked resources and expertise
- move readily in and out of across school, across network, across nation teams, and project groups
- appreciate the dynamic nature of networking, and networked organisations and working with continual change and transformation
- recognise the megatrends at play, and to shape them to advantage
- collaborate with all the ‘teachers’ involved in the student’s learning and growth – those in and outside the school walls
- adjudge daily the effectiveness of the school’s ecosystem and be able and willing to share those thoughts
- have, and make astute use of the data on all their students and the performance and growth of the school
Few teachers have been formally readied to play the role of the professional educational generalist.
That said many likely will have, largely unwittingly begun growing that understanding.
Teachers fortunate to be working within schools that have normalised the use of the digital and/or networked school communities will in going about their daily work sit on cross school project teams, committees and participate in school and network wide staff development exercise that naturally further their understanding.
That macro understanding needs however to be more consciously grown from the undergraduate years onwards.
Critical is the assumption, evident in every profession, that all teachers will be expected to have a macro understanding of the workings of the school as an organisation and be able to contribute to the development of a teaching environment that naturally fosters the student’s and teacher’s growth.
Also vital is ensuring staff play their part in significant whole of school community project teams, working parties and planning groups that take the teachers out of their comfort zone and oblige them to better understand unknown territory.
In some respects that is easier to do within primary schools, with their strong holistic focus but the secondary school, by virtue of their size, complexity and the possibilities opened by the networked mode also offers innumerable opportunities.
The key is not to allow teachers to operate solely at the one spot on the teaching production line for years on end, never to set foot in another part of the school.
As Schon noted in his seminal work on the education of professionals (Schon, 1983), it takes time to grow the memory muscle that enables all professionals to perform instinctively.
Serendipitously the COVID experience, coupled with the transition to a more networked mode provided the imperative to markedly grow their ability to teach remotely and better understand the networked mode.
- Drucker, P (2001) Management Challenges for the 21st Century, NY Harper Business
- Lipnack, J & Stamps, J 1994, The age of the network: Organizing principles for the 21st century, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York
- Schon, D.A, (1983) The Reflective Practitioner. NY. Basic Books