Mal Lee and Roger Broadie
(This is an updated version of our 2014 article, with the same title)
Teaching in schools that have moved to a digital operational mode – schools that have gone digital – is appreciably different to teaching in the traditional paper based school, and is on trend to become evermore so.
It is a difference requiring of the teachers a suite of skills and mindset that few teaching institutes, national teaching standards or indeed teacher education organisations appear to recognise as being required. Explore the work of the teachers in the digital schools in the US, UK, NZ or Australia and you’ll see they are all of their own volition developing a suite of distinct attributes to assist them thrive and grow professionally in a rapidly evolving digital and socially networked society.
Critically it is the schools and the teachers therein, and not the authorities that have recognised the need and nurtured the growth of the new attributes. Once again it is the early adopter schools and not those charged with the job that are acting as the policy developers in this area (Lee and Broadie, 2016…..).
Globally there is still within most education authorities and teacher training bodies the all-pervasive sense that all schools are the same, and will remain so and that the teaching skills of the past will continue to be appropriate, possibly with small amendments like the embrace of TPACK (Mishra and Koehler, 2006).
Digitally evolving schools, as we have underscored, are fundamentally different to the traditional paper based school. Where the latter has been characterised by their:
- constancy, continuity and inflexibility
- adverseness to risk and change
- fixation on the teaching within the physical place called school
- unilateral control of the teaching
- solitary teachers teaching class groups, invariably behind closed doors, for X hours a week for Y days a year
- are increasingly socially networked 24/7/365 operations
- are ever evolving, highly agile, embracing a culture of change and willing to take risks
- have distributed the control of the teaching and learning
- are beginning to genuinely collaborate with all the teachers of the young – the parents, grandparents, carers, community organisations and the children themselves – from birth onwards in the provision of an increasingly personalised apposite 21st century holistic education.
The traditional is about solitary teachers, working with mass groups of children, moving along a clearly defined linear teaching path, while the digital and socially networked (Lee and Finger, 2010) is working towards ever greater collaboration, marrying the teaching of the school with that of the home, becoming increasingly personalised and understanding that learning and teaching can occur anywhere, anytime 24/7/365, with much non-linear in nature.
Vitally the mindset and expectations of the teachers are fundamentally different. The traditional teaching is inward looking, concerned with only that within the school walls, in the operational hours, often within one’s own silo, where it is a given that the teachers will control what will be taught and assessed and work only with the resources provided.
The teacher’s thinking in the digital is networked, flexible, outward looking, accepting of change, seeking to draw upon the apposite local and global community resources, highly collaborative and yet tightly integrated where the teachers, while playing a lead role, understand the benefits of distributing the control of the teaching and learning and genuinely trusting the other teachers of the young (Lee and Ward, 2013).
Where teachers with an analogue mindset (Bhaduri and Fischer, 2015) believe their job is to dutifully follow the established ways and focus on their part of the production line those with a digital mindset believe anything is possible educationally in a rapidly evolving world and that they should as professionals strive to continually provide each child an ever better education.
Teachers thriving in the digital and socially networked schools
- possess many of the attributes that have always distinguished good teachers
- have skills which while always important have taken on a heightened significance
- are developing a suite of new attributes for ever-evolving, more tightly integrated digitally based school ecosystems.
Conscious of the volumes already written on traditional attributes our focus is on those that have assumed greater importance and the new. Mishra and Koehler’s work in their on TPACK (http://www.tpck.org) (Finger and Jamison-Proctor, 2010) succinctly encapsulate the ‘traditional’ attributes that will always be required of good teachers. Teachers have to know the pertinent content, require excellent pedagogy, relate well with the young and have very good people skills. But as the research attests teachers in digital and socially networked schools have decided they need additional attributes, to place greater store on some of the old and to shed the dated (Lee and Broadie, 2016).
Most of the attributes, as one could surmise, relate to working within a digital and socially networked rather than an insular paper based operational paradigm, and thriving in a world of on-going and often uncertain evolution.
Perhaps the greatest change is attitudinal with the teachers globally adopting a mindset that will enable them to provide an apposite, ever better education while the nature of schooling is continually evolving and being transformed.
It bears underscoring for those embarking on the digital evolutionary journey that the following are the main attributes that those within the pathfinder schools globally have chosen to develop, and to develop primarily on the job, in context.
They are not the construct of government or the educational bureaucracy, but rather what has emerged in mature digital schools. Intriguingly the below are attributes evidenced in the case study schools globally and which have in the main been developed in the schools in their evolutionary journey.
You’ll note many of the attributes, like those of the principal are antithetical to those evidenced in the traditional school.
- * Digital and socially networked mindset
This outlook is core to successful teaching in a socially networked school community.
The having of a networked, a digital mindset (Bhaduri and Fischer, 2015), of seeking solutions in and for a networked organisation and society rather than simply seeking the answer or resources in-house is one of the attribute that sets the teachers apart from colleagues in traditional schools (Lee and Ward, 2013). It is mode of thinking that appears to emerge primarily from working within a digitally based and socially networked culture, where the leadership, the teachers and the wider school community work naturally in a networked paradigm.
- Thriving on chaos and change
The schooling of the young in an ever evolving at times uncertain and seemingly chaotic world has obliged the teachers to embrace and to thrive upon the excitement of on-going evolution and the opening of new, as yet unseen vistas. It requires them to better understand the evolution of schools as complex adaptive systems, the natural growth, the uncertainty, the seeming mess and chaos, and to grasp the opportunities continually being opened.
This becomes particular important when the early adopter schools move beyond the Digital Normalisation evolutionary stage and operate, like the digital masters in industry, in unchartered waters.
- Empowered professional
The new environment requires teachers to be empowered professionals, capable of taking charge of their own teaching and growth, able to contribute to the workings and evolution of higher order, increasingly integrated and complex schools, while also assisting empower and grow all within the school’s community (Lee and Broadie, 2016).
The teachers are longer underused micro managed line workers.
- Macro understanding of school evolution
Integrated ecosystems have meant all the teachers, and not simply those atop the apex need to understand the purpose and macro workings of the total operation, as well as being expert in their designated area/s of responsibility.
That expectation applies from day one.
- Independent risk taker
It has slowly but surely become apparent the teachers need to be independent thinkers, willing and able to take advantage of the rapidly evolving scene to try new ways of teaching, singly, with other colleagues, or as part of a team.
Vitally they have had to be willing to take risks in their quest to enhance the teaching, understanding that at times mistakes will be made and that they will learn from that experience. This as you’ll appreciate is antithetical to the traditional approach but as the literature on networked organisations suggested twenty years ago (Lipnack and Stamps, 1994) will be increasingly vital.
- Willingness to question
Allied has been the willingness and confidence of empowered staff to question every school practise and operation – particularly those of the paper based school – and to regularly ask if there are not better, more effective, efficient and productive ways.
Related has been the importance of teachers being able to network, to use one’s social networks, contacts and social capital. While that has always been an important skill that rarely rated a mention in the traditional teaching standards the ability is vital in socially networked school communities where the teachers are daily be collaborating with all manner of people and groups.
While good people skills and the ability to work with moderate needs in teams have always been important the facility for teachers to collaborate aptly with all within the school’s community has become essential. As Lee and Ward reveal in their study on Collaboration in learning (2013) while that is so most teachers have in their teaching worked alone and have some distance to travel before they to develop the sophisticated kind of collaboration found in many other organisations (Hansen, 2009).
- Digital teaching base
All the teachers – permanent and casual – have had to normalise the use of the apposite digital technology in their everyday teaching and administration, and to continually update their operational proficiency.
It is not an option.
That said, the teachers like the students and the parents, will work increasingly within a technology agnostic environment, where all within the school community are able to work with their preferred ever evolving suite of digital technologies.
- Politically aware
The rapidly evolving, ever changing, increasingly integrated school ecosystems where the staff is empowered and encouraged to ‘fly’, and where there is extensive daily collaboration, social networking and on-going planned and natural organisational evolution teachers has highlighted the importance of all teachers being small ‘p’ politically aware. They have recognised that they need not only to be aware of the sensitivities associated with organisational growth and change, and of pursuing the school’s shaping vision but of being able to politic their own initiatives with their colleagues.
- Learner focus
A socially networked school community where each child can learn anywhere anytime 24/7/365, and where there is far greater collaboration between all the teachers of the young unwittingly obliges the teachers to focus increasingly on the learner, to recognise the learning occurring with each child in all manner of situations and to employ a more individualised mode of teaching.
- Distributor of educational control
Another major difference between the teaching in the digital and paper based mode is the teacher’s willingness to distribute the control of the teaching and learning process; to cede some of their traditional power and rely increasingly on their educational expertise and leadership rather than their position in the hierarchy. It is an attribute; a mindset that some teachers appear to have struggled to accept or develop, particularly in school cultures where the teacher’s ‘word has always been final.
- Preparedness to trust
That delegation of responsibility has seen the teachers work increasingly from a position of trust, trust in and respect for colleagues, the parents, carers, grandparents and community mentors and vitally the children, and the recognition that virtually every parent – regardless of their situation – has worked from birth onwards providing the best educationally for their children.
Interestingly the history of the use of electronic and digital instructional technology in schools over the last century has been characterised by distrust, of the children, their parents and in many instances the vast majority of teachers (Lee and Winzenried, 2009).
It is now clear trust is core to digital evolution of schooling (Lee and Broadie, 2016).
- Lead teacher
All teachers, and not just the experienced need in tightly integrated school ecosystems to play a lead teacher role from the first day in the school, and contribute to the on-going evolution of the school’s ecology.
- Eternal quest for the ideal
This has been evident in good teachers for thousands of years, but it has become ever more important as the schools moved from their world of constancy to become ever evolving, ever transforming higher order schools.
There is the belief that anything is possible educationally. The teachers have thrown off the old straight jackets and embraced the trust shown in them.
- Unerring focus on the desired educational benefits
Linked has been the imperative of all teachers focussing in all they do to on assisting realise the school’s shaping education vision.
Where traditionally that vision had had a backseat to the external exams as the schools evolve and integrate operations so the vision and the attainment of the desired learning benefits takes greater prominence.
- Flexible and agile
In evolving schools where there are often no maps to show the way the and the teachers collectively need collaborate to shape the path ahead the teachers appreciate the need to soon be flexible, agile, and willing to try alternative routes.
- Reflective practitioner
While this attribute has long been expected of school leaders (Schon, 1987) with all staff empowered and expected to lead so what we see emerging is all teachers becoming reflective practitioners.
- Networked and connected learner
This ability ties closely with the reflection, for in an ever-evolving scene while the schools have demonstrated the need at times to address personal development as a group it is also apparent that individually teachers as professionals have taken prime responsibility for their on-going professional learning, by making astute use of the networked world, and the many national and international online professional learning communities.
- Time smart and efficient
Lastly but by no means least is the growing recognition by teachers in schools awash with information and educational opportunities of the imperative of working smartly and taking advantage of the many efficiencies and economies accorded by the digital technology.
A study of the digital transformation literature, be it in relation to the private or the public sector will affirm the universality of all the above attributes, and the need in shaping your school’s digital evolution and selecting the desired staff to bear all in mind.
It is appreciated many could differ from those identified by your local authorities, particularly if that authority wants to micro manage its teachers, but the message coming very clearly from the pathfinder schools globally if you want your school to evolve and grow successfully you’ll need support the development of these attributes.
Finger, G and Jamison-Proctor, R (2010) ‘Teacher readiness: TPACK capabilities and redesigning working conditions’ in Lee, M and Finger, G (eds) 2010 Developing a Networked School Community Melbourne ACER Press
Hansen, M.T (2009) Collaboration Boston Harvard Business Press
Lee, M & Winzenried, A 2009, The use of instructional technology in schools: Lessons to be learned, ACER Press, Melbourne.
Lee, M and Finger, G (eds) 2010 Developing a Networked School Community Melbourne ACER Press
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.
Mishra, P. & Koehler, M. (2006). Technological pedagogical Content Knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054.