Mal Lee and Roger Broadie
Paralleling the pathfinder school’s graduated move to distribute the control of the teaching and learning was their quest to markedly empower all the members of the school’s community and enable them all to have a greater and more effective say in the on-going operation and enhancement of the school.
An important part of that empowerment was the more distributed control of the teaching and learning, however it entailed significantly more, particularly in relation to the empowerment of the salaried officers of the school.
The desire in all the schools – in keeping with other networked organisations – was to take advantage of the technology that made it that much easier for all to better understand the workings of the organisation and contribute to its enhancement. Lipnack and Stamps (1994) in commenting on the opportunities opened in networked organisations speak of the importance of encouraging leaders at multiple levels and staff having the autonomy, the independence and the encouragement to take risks in enhancing the organisation’s agenda.
That is apparent in all the pathfinder schools and not simply with the staff but also in the parent and student contributions. While the business literature spoke only of the staff the schools looked to all in the school’s community
Once again that quest was in marked contrast to what was found in traditional highly hierarchically organised schools at the Paper Based evolutionary stage. In those schools not only are the students and parents disempowered but so too are a very sizeable proportion of the teaching and professional support staff.
The traditional, strongly hierarchical ‘Taylor like’ organisational structure found in many schools, ensures only the few managers at the apex understand the macro workings of the school. The rest of the teachers are bid concentrate on their part of the assembly line. Theirs is very much a highly convergent and micro focus that invariably leads to them viewing school enhancement through their particular micro perspective be it as a maths, physics, drama, special needs or early childhood teacher. Possibly unwittingly, the ‘assembly line workers’ were professionally disempowered.
All of the pathfinder schools commented on the imperative of ensuring the school’s greatest resource, its human capital was used to best advantage. One thus sees in the evolutionary stage attributes the graduated empowerment of all the teachers, the development of their macro understanding of ever-evolving, ever more networked and integrated schools and the opportunity for all to contribute to the school’s enhancement both holistically and in their specialist area/s.
The same kind of empowerment has been evident with the professional support staff, readying all to play a fuller part in the ever more integrated school operations. In strong hierarchical school structures the support staff sat at the bottom of the pecking order, to do the bidding of the teachers and focussing only on their specified duties. Invariably the professional support officers, even when involved in the teaching were not included in ‘staff meetings’ or provided any digital tools.
Jump forward to the Digital Normalisation stage and into the tightly integrated school ecologies where the traditional walls and boundaries have disappeared, operations are interlinked and where every member of the staff needs have at least a macro understanding of the purpose of the school, the desired educational benefits and its workings and you’ll find the professional support staff strongly empowered and assisting all the school’s work.
The children, their homes and the school community had little or no real voice in the shaping, implementation or enhancement of the paper based school (McKenzie, 2009), (Lee and Ward, 2013). While a few might have a voice on a representative council or school board their views were often not representative or acted upon.
As the 2011 Project Tomorrow study revealed one is talking digitally empowered parents and students wanting to collaborate with their schools, wanting to acquire the technology their children will use in those schools but being denied that opportunity by school principals unwilling to cede their unilateral control.
In moving to the digital operational base that situation begins to change rapidly such by the Digital Normalisation stage all within the school’s community have not only been empowered but folk from all quarters are contributing to and helping enhance the school’s operations.
The normalised, all pervasive use of the technology, and in particular hand held technology makes it simple, swift and inexpensive for the school to communicate with all its community, to keep them informed, to provide the desired support and when desired to quickly secure and analyse its views.
Significantly the digital communication was complemented by extensive face-to -face communication, be it in formal meetings, focus groups, parking lot conversations or chats on the football sideline.
One is struck by the openness of the pathfinder schools’ activities and the all pervasive sense that all within the school community can readily talk to the teachers or the principal, and if needs be express their thoughts. It might simply be to express a concern about their daughter but they have the power to share that concern.
It is largely antithetical to the schools we knew.
Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: transcending the classroom walls. Melbourne ACER Press
Lipnack, J & Stamps, J (1994), The age of the network: Organizing principles for the 21st century, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York.
Mackenzie, J (2009), Family learning: Engaging with parents, Dunedin Academic Press, Edinburgh.
Project Tomorrow (2011), The new three E’s of education: Enabled, engaged and empowered,
Speak Up 2010, National Findings Project Tomorrow. www.tomorrow.org.