An alert for those wanting to lead a digital school.
Mal Lee and Roger Broadie
The historic, universal, unwritten assumptions are that fundamental school change is not only possible, but is desired by those in authority and can be readily sustained.
Underpinning virtually every education plan and staff development program in the last century has likely been the desire to change and enhance schooling. Myriads of books have been published, studies conducted, reports written and likely millions of conferences conducted globally detailing how.
Daily politicians continue to espouse the changes they are initiating, giving the impression that the governments of the world actively want significant educational innovation and change.
We’d suggest the time has come to seriously question all three assumptions.
We accept that merely questioning the assumptions is akin to killing Bambi, but if schooling is to educate the young for a rapidly evolving world the validity of these first order premises should be examined, and the reality addressed.
COSN recently released an excellent study on the hurdles constraining Driving K-12 Innovation (COSN, 2019). The problem was that barriers identified were second order and assumed governments and schools wanted to innovate, could do so, and could sustain the changes made.
It is suggested that
- For most it might be impossible to fundamentally change the traditional mode of schooling in a sustained way. It can in exceptional circumstances happen with individual schools, at least for a time, but as we explore in later posts historically it has been near impossible to sustain across a total system.
- it is extremely unlikely most schools will evolve as digitally mature organisations (Kane, et al, 2016) being digital (Negroponte, 1995) in the foreseeable future.
- most governments and educators have no real desire to significantly change the nature of schooling. They want constancy, continuity, sameness and control, free of electoral risk.
School leaders should better understand what is possible to change and is sustainable, be aware of the myriad of constraints to significant school change, and appreciate where transformation is possible, and likely impossible.
History reveals that sustaining the change is likely as difficult as making the initial change. It also suggests this key facet of organisational change hasn’t been given the attention due.
It is time to mix vision with pragmatism, to adopt a more reasoned approach to change, to accept there are givens, and to stop tilting at windmills in areas when there is little or no likelihood of marked variation of the current practises.
In talking about core school change one is addressing fundamental variations in the traditional mode of schooling. New buildings, technologies, curriculum or assessment procedures don’t in themselves mean core change, particularly when they are simply a variant of the old. One is looking at the likes of schools without walls, open plan schools and the move to a 24/7/365 mode of schooling that integrates the networked with the site based learning.
Heads must recognise from their appointment they will lead the school transformation process for a finite time, with very real likelihood that any significant changes they make to the traditional ways being reversed on their departure. Despite the best efforts of likely millions of very capable heads globally history is festooned with examples, particularly within systems, of the laudable efforts being dismantled or abandoned by less able replacements.
For centuries school planners have worked on the assumption they can, with calm rationale thought shape whatever kind of schools they want. They can’t. There are immense, likely growing constraints and barriers inhibiting core change.
It is time for all educational decision makers, but particularly principals to better understand, and work with that reality. We now know what can and likely can’t be changed, that which is immutable and that where enhancement is possible. For example, after two hundred plus years of governments in the northern hemisphere basing their school term dates on the agrarian year, and those dates impacting near every facet of life, the economy, and learning there is no way to markedly change the term times. There are like givens those wanting change must work with.
School leaders should also appreciate that most governments and education decision don’t want any significant change. Most educational administrations are about control and being risk adverse, committed to ‘protecting and promoting the minister’, concerned not to alienate the electorate or media. While politicians and their educational administrators speak of change the difference between the rhetoric and the reality can be vast. Granted some governments have genuinely wanted enhancement, but history reveals most only want controlled change. Twenty-five years on from the world going digital, and the Digital Revolution transforming all manner of organisations worldwide most of the world’s schools have avoided or been sand bagged against any significant digital disruption (Lee and Broadie, 2018a). Most schools use of the digital the same way as they did a quarter of a century ago, albeit with access to the online.
In the coming weeks, we’ll explore through a series of short blogs the realities facing all school leaders, but particularly those wanting to lead a digital school.
If you would like to comment further do write Mal Lee at – firstname.lastname@example.org
- COSN (2019) Driving K-12 Innovation COSN – https://cosn.org/driving-k-12-innovation-2019-hurdles
- Kane, G.C, Palmer, D, Phillips, A.N, Kiron, D, Buckley, N (2016) Aligning the Organisation for its Digital Future. MIT Sloan Management Review, July 2016, Massachusetts MIT SMR/Deloitte University Press – http://sloanreview.mit.edu/projects/aligning-for-digital-future/
- Lee, M and Broadie, R (2018) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–
- Negroponte, N (1995) Being DigitalSydney Hodder and Stoughton