13. The Digital Competencies of Teachers. Their Growth

Mal Lee

The COVID experience not only accelerated the natural growth of the teachers’ digital mindset, and its application in teaching but it also sped the in-school use of the digital competencies the teachers were using every day in their personal lives.

Both are developments that have profound implications for principals, school communities, education systems, teacher educators – and treasuries.

They point to an aged formal system of readying teachers for a networked mode of schooling that has failed to deliver and it being superseded by the naturally occurring development that grows the digital competencies of all the world’s digitally connected.

A number of us argued in the 80s that the latter should be the approach adopted in schools.

Rather schools and systems opted to employ ineffectually, for 40 plus years a traditional, ‘expert’ designed, structured linear approach that had its origins in the Industrial Age.  

Schooling worldwide since the introduction of personal computers into the classroom has seen the technology mainly as a tool, to assist improve academic performance. For most it has never been about change or evolution. Rather it has been and continues to be for most educators a ‘passive’ but increasingly sophisticated technology that can enhance traditional academic teaching and student performance. 

Some of us, considering the implications of Moore’s Law (1965) contended the digital would never be a passive technology, and that as the exponential power of computing impacted it would naturally bring marked societal and organisational transformation, and the necessity of the world’s peoples to continually adapt their ways, thinking and skillset. Seymour Papert succinctly observed:

…What we are interested in is not what will happen if you bring in the technology and change nothing else, what we are interested in is how that technology helps us to rethink everything else…’ (Papert 1990, p. 9)

Our belief was that in using the evolving digital technologies in context teachers would naturally grow their competencies as the technologies became evermore powerful, sophisticated, user friendly and ubiquitous. We recognised good use could be made of in-house workshops and mentors but even in the 80’s contended the most effective growth would always come from natural, just-in-time, in context usage, where the teachers had agency of their growth. 

Suffice it to say the establishment and its wish to control dismissed the natural evolutionary assumption.

Rather it contended that all teachers, K-12 must be formally taught how to use the ‘educationally appropriate’ tools, with all needing to be taught a largely constant, common set of competencies. 

That stance was actively supported by generations of technology companies, all arguing all teachers must be able to use – and buy – their kit.

It is as if there was, and is, something laudatory about promoting global sameness and constancy – and hierarchical control.

Some might remember that at the height of the Microsoft hegemony the desired key computer competencies for all teachers from kindergarten upwards were those required to use Windows on PCs.

For many education technology ‘experts’ the perceived nirvana has been, and continues to be, the identification of a set of key digital competencies, their codification in a set of mandated standards, and obligatory formal teacher training and accreditation. The quest is exemplified in the 2017 European Digital Competence of Educators (2017).

In that quest there has been an almost universal disregard for wider society’s adaptation to the digital and the propensity therein of digital users to teach themselves how to use the technologies they desired. It was as if schools weren’t part of a networked society.

Perelman astutely observed in School’s Out in 1992 that near all the world’s users of personal computers were self-taught.

Thirty years on, and 50 years since Gordon Moore alerted the world to the natural exponential growth in the power of computing five billion plus (ITU, 2021) digitally connected people, over 60% of the world’s peoples have taught themselves to use some 5.5 billion plus highly sophisticated smartphones and all manner of other digital devices (Ericcson, 2021).

Among that five billion plus are most of the world’s teachers, all using in their personal lives their desired digital devices, and naturally growing the desired digital capabilities.

Significantly teachers K-12 worldwide immediately drew upon those devices and capabilities when the COVID pandemic forced the school doors to close and the remote teaching to be done from the teacher’s homes.

They instinctively used the competencies acquired in being digital, with near all having the confidence, understanding, competencies, connectivity, and digital devices and infrastructure required to undertake most of their teaching competently online, invariably without any help from government.

Reflect on the competencies you used, and how you developed them.

Likely the most important was the confidence not only to use those competencies in your teaching but to build on those capabilities when needed. Relatively few teachers had been schooled in the use of Zoom, or Teams, or the use of smartphones to conduct remote tutorials, but within weeks they were naturally using all manner of new online facilities.

Allied was likely the shaping of your application of the technology with a digital mindset. You knew the scene would continually evolve, the technology would become ever more sophisticated, that you could teach yourself the desired new competencies desired and how to draw upon the resources of a networked world.

The speed with which teachers K-12 worldwide were able to teach remotely would suggest many of the competencies you employed were the same as your colleagues, and like them your interests and area of teaching would have seen you also employ a suite of distinct capabilities. While all teachers could search, check their sources, record, create multi-media presentations, video conference, socially network, prepare PDFs, archive, and use all of digital communication the same teachers all rightly made use of their particular, often idiosyncratic competencies. Early childhood teachers, teachers of the autistic, senior physics, digital music, and modern history rightly have used the digital competencies and resources pertinent to their work.

The suspicion is that you, like your colleagues, naturally grew your digital competencies by using all manner of digital technologies 24/7/365. You never stop to think how many competencies you have, what they are or how yours differ from your partner’s or children, simply appreciating that in a connected world one has constantly to adapt, be it with the smartphone, streaming services, or smart speakers. 

Every teacher, every citizen in living in a world of accelerating digital transformation has continually to learn how to use the new services and devices, and to put in the cupboard the dated technology, your beloved iPod, digital camera, games console, standard definition TV, CDs, and DVD player.  

Teachers, as individuals have always had particular skill sets that they have brought to the teaching. There has always been the pianist, social organiser, wordsmith, photographer, and the numbers person to whom staff could turn for support.

The digital and the networks have not only provided teachers the freedom and opportunity to develop their interests and passions to a very high level, but also to share that specialist capability within the networked school community. Think of the specialist digital capabilities of your colleagues. On staff there could well be the spreadsheet, blogging, VR, digital lighting, video conferencing, audio recording, copyright, and podcast gurus.

Staff room experience affirms teachers rightly laud and appreciate that individuality and those specialist competencies, no matter how way out some might appear.

Significantly, like all digitally connected, you decided which digital competencies you wanted, how strong you wanted each to be, which were of limited importance, understanding what to do to enhance those competencies or to acquire new capabilities.

While at first glance seemingly obvious it bears underscoring the ‘core’ digital competencies of the digitally connected will always be rubbery, impacted by context and ever evolving; evolving at an accelerating rate. Key technological developments will continually change the core.  

Globally schools and governments have long held a strongly hierarchical, insular view that they as the employer in charge of the ‘factory’ will decide on the digital competencies required of its employees.

Scant thought has invariably been given to the wider societal context, the digital transformation underway or the effectiveness of the socially networked world in identifying and growing those competencies.

In dismissing the notion of natural digital evolution and transformation schools and systems have since the early 80s employed in general terms a controlled, structured approach that has had as its the focus

  • common mass use
  • the mechanical skills required to use the ‘educationally appropriate’ tools devices
  • the competencies the ‘experts’ believed would enhance academic performance, not those of everyday life
  • teachers, K-12 – often across the education authority – mastering common computer/ICT/digital competencies
  • getting teachers to teach and test the identified competencies
  • the use of formal, linear instructional programs and, regular testing to develop the specified competencies. Control is paramount. Over the years all manner of ‘licenses’ have been awarded teachers on completion of those programs
  • out of school staff training, undertaken when it fitted with the instructor’s schedule.

Teacher adoption of the prescribed competencies has been very slow.

In the 80s, 90s and even the 2000s many, possibly most schools and systems, still believed schools needed only a few expert teachers with the digital competencies, and that it was better the computer/ICT experts taught all students.

Around 2015 it was not uncommon even in the developed world, particularly in secondary schools, to have 75%-80% of teachers not using the digital every day in their teaching.

And yet early in 2020 when COVID closed the school doors and obliged them to teach remotely most every teacher could do so.

As could the students from kindergarten upwards.

Both the teachers and students drew on the competencies that came with being digital in a networked society.

And virtually overnight embedded the expectation that every teacher K-12 would normalise the use of the digital in their teaching, would increasingly shape that use with a digital mindset and use the digital competencies they used 24/7/365 in every facet of their lives.

Unseen to most the COVID shutdowns affirmed the observation made 40 plus years ago, that the growth of teachers digital competencies is best done naturally in the everyday use of the technology in a supportive environment, where the teachers control their own growth.

Teachers have that agency in their personal lives.

COVID, and the networked environment gave many teachers that agency in their teaching, at least for a time.

The expectations of the ‘new normals’ will work over time to extend that agency permanently in the classrooms.

That said most education decision makers won’t have seen, or indeed accept the success of the natural evolutionary growth of teacher’s digital competencies. 

There are few signs that they will relinquish their perceived control.

I may be wrong.

What is the situation in your school? Is there any hint the school, or the system is rethinking its approach and giving staff greater agency and support to grow their own competencies?

The suspicion is that the issue of digital competencies will be another of the suite of traditional approaches being challenged, that will in time see the demise of the prescribed competencies.

  • Ericsson (2021) Ericsson Mobility Report November 2021. Ericsson 2021 – https://www.ericsson.com/4ad7e9/assets/local/reports-papers/mobility-report/documents/2021/ericsson-mobility-report-november-2021.pdf
  • ITU (2021) Measuring digital development. Facts and Figures 2021. Geneva International Telecommunications Union – https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/facts/default.aspx
  • Papert, S 1990, The Perestroika of Epistemological Politics. Keynote delivered at the World Conference of Computers in Education, Sydney, 1990.

12. The Imperative of a Digital Mindset in Networked Schools

Mal Lee

To succeed in a disrupted world, leaders will need to forge an agile and connected enterprise with a future-focused workforce. For both individuals and organizations, there needs to be a reconciling of the demand for digital skills to deploy and manage technology, and the human skills to live and work with this technology. Positioning the enterprise for success as the work of humans and machines converges, will require a digital mindset. (KPMG)

The same kind of exhortation has been expressed by the other global management consultancies and throughout the business management literature. Lewis (2020) writing in the Harvard Business Review noted

……having a digital mindset means being constantly on the lookout for ways to introduce digital technology to your role, your team, and your organisation.

You’ll struggle to find the same advocacy in the school leadership literature. A Google search will unearth little.

Nor will you find it in lead teacher advertisements, the teacher standards, teacher accreditation documents or initial teacher training programs.

You will however find the mindset shaping the personal lives of most of the world’s teachers and the four billion plus digitally connected. While few have likely fully appreciated the profound change that has occurred, particularly in the last decade, it takes only a few prompts for them to appreciate it’s distinct nature, the magnitude of the shift, its continuing evolution, and the extent to which the mindset shapes their personal lives, 24/7/365.

The digitally connected have grown in their everyday use of the digital and networked world, a mindset, a set of expectations and behaviours that see them instinctively opting to use the digital in most facets of their lives. While strongest in the young, who have only ever known a digital world, the mindset is to be found in varying degrees in most every age group.

It is a mindset that expects instant connectivity, 24/7/365, anywhere, anytime, at speed and control of one’s chosen digital device/s, with the agency to use them how desired, when wanted, to do what and how they wish. It assumes everyone, from a very early age will choose the technology, configure it, use the apps they want and critically to learn what, how, when and where they want. Moreover, they expect to directly access the desired material, without going through gatekeepers.

While one might rightly debate the traits that combine to make the digital mindset, but most summaries would include:

  • An instinctive preference for a digital solution, and an acceptance that many traditional practises will be superseded by the digital
  • Normalised everyday use of the digital and social networking
  • A working understanding of the mores of the networked world 
  • Natural continual adaptation to the rapidly evolving digital and networked world
  • on-going enhancement of the desired digital thinking and competencies
  • a strong appreciation of the up and down sides of the digital and network use
  • Just in time, non-linear, experiential learning, done mainly in context
  • A preference for self-discovery, while being willing to network and learn collaboratively when desired
  • Increased and rightful individualisation of the digital capabilities, that flows from each if us having greater control of our learning, and being able to pursue our particular interests and passions.

The digital connected, in going about their everyday life, find themselves ‘being digital’ (Negroponte, 1995), on trend to grow and strengthen that situation lifelong.

Nearly sixty years ago Marshall McLuhan (1964) famously alerted the world to the reality that ‘the medium is the message.’

In today’s world the message is digital and networked.

The strengthening of the digital mindset has been accelerated by COVID, and particularly by governments’ taking as a given the population being digital, connected, and having at the centre of their lives, a smartphone.

Significantly the COVID experience also accelerated the nation’s teachers bringing the digital mindset into their teaching, as well as the digital competencies they had naturally grown in their personal lives.

While the educational leadership at the school and system level, and within most educational faculties have yet to have the digital mindset shape the school and its teaching most teachers used the mindset to advantage.

Significantly they used it astutely in teaching remotely with their digitally connected families, understanding the importance in so doing of working collaboratively, of individualising much of the teaching and support, of giving the students and their families agency, and resourcing the remote teaching.

A digital mindset shapes, as noted in earlier posts, a very different type of schooling to that with its roots in the Industrial Age.

It challenges much of the ‘grammar of schooling’.

The reality facing all school leaders is that society’s worldwide are going to increasingly shape the way forward with a digital mindset.

As will most every private and public sector organisation.

COVID accelerated the world’s teachers use of the thinking in their classrooms.

The new normal is already, as discussed, looking to be accommodated by all schools.

That accommodation is markedly assisted by a school and system leadership looking to shape the way forward with a digital mindset, and not one from an aged past.

  • McLuhan, M (1964) The Medium is the Message. NY. MIT
  • Negroponte, N (1995) Being Digital Sydney Hodder and Stoughton

Schooling 2050

Roger Broadie and Mal Lee are embarking on the quest to identify the major trends and issues that they believe will impact on the nature of schooling in 2050.

The late management guru, Peter Drucker, very wisely remarked

  1.  Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window
  • The best way to predict the future is to create it.

We will limit our quest to the identifying the megatrends on course to markedly impact the nature of schooling in 28 years, and the major issues school decision makers worldwide will likely have address it they are to create the desired schools.

The great benefit of Naisbitt’s seminal, and immensely popular 1984 publication on Megatrends was that it provided the general reader a succinct and clear appreciation of the trends likely to impact both society in general and its organisations.

It is well worth a revisit to appreciate how prescient was much the work, and its continued validity today.

That is what we hope, in our own humble way, we can do for global schooling.  

One of the oft forgotten realities is that the ‘grammar of schooling’ worldwide is remarkably similar.

So too is the way the young of today’s digital and increasingly networked world use and learn with the digital 24/7/365 outside the school walls.

Our plan is to identify the similarities, the global trends, the philosophical and political flashpoints, and the issues to be addressed in shaping the desired schools.

As the digital evolution and transformation accelerates and impacts near every part of society school leaders in the next couple of decades will be expected to adapt to the evolving scene, while at the same time contending with ‘political masters’ who will invariably wish to maintain control of ‘their schools’.

It should make for an interesting challenge.

Between us we’ll draw on over 100 years of experience with schools and several decades of writings and research on the digital evolution and transformation of schooling and the education of the young.

Over time we intend inviting colleagues and interested readers to contribute to the thinking and finally drawing together of our read of the scene

11. Individualism, Networking and Mass Schooling

Mal Lee

The new normal that is going to seriously challenge most likely every school and education system is the expectation that learning with the digital, in a socially networked world will be strongly individualised.

The individual will expect to make the key decisions, not have the state.

Allied will be the growing recognition that all in society, from the early years onward, should be free and actively encouraged to grow their desired traits and capabilities, to pursue their own interests and passions, and in the process to develop the competencies they believe most apt.

Ironically this is happening at a time when many pressure groups in society are pressuring governments to compel the young to conform to a perceived ideal form. 

The question for all schools, do they want to better individualise their teaching and learning?

If so how do they;

  1. transition from a teaching and learning environment strongly geared to mass schooling
  2. create an ecosystem that gives students greater agency over their learning, and allows the students to pursue their interests and passions and to grow their particular strengths 
  3. in their school, at this point in its evolution provide an apt balance between the core learning society expects schools to grow in all the young, and student’s desire to develop the skills and attribute they value?

It is an immense challenge, that bids each school community address the purpose and nature of schooling in a rapidly evolving networked society.

In going digital and social networking the world has provided all, the young and the old the opportunity and tools to take charge of their learning and to learn what they want, when and where they want, how they desire.

Negroponte’s 1995 prescient observation has become the new normal.

In being digital I am me, not a statistical subset (Negroponte, p164, 1995).

A quarter of a century on the dramatic shift from the mass to the more personalised is evident in most every facet of society.

A notable exception is the world’s schools.

There the focus continues to be on the mass; on teaching class groups, on all students following the same, state mandated syllabuses, and assessing all students in the same way.

Near every facet of the school ecosystem is directed to mass schooling. Internally the schools are still invariably organised around common age class groups, with those class groups moving in a lock step manner through 12 -13 years of schooling. All classes invariably follow a common, externally prescribed curriculum, with every student obliged to sit the common tests.

Externally the exam boards, the curriculum authorities, the teacher educators, inspectors, and invariably the local universities and media all work to reinforce the focus on the mass.

While these bodies can provide the flexibility to individualise the teaching more fully most have chosen to strengthen the focus on mass schooling. 

It is seemingly an educational given that every student must learn the same things and develop the same competencies.  

Moreover, the sameness is being increasing imposed on teachers, on the competencies all must all have, what they’ll teach and how. 

Decades of bureaucratic and political control of schooling have spawned the assumption that the state, and not the individual, the parents, or the professional educators, should decide what the young will learn, how, when, where and with the ‘right’ technology. 

It is not the reality of everyday life and work, particularly within a digital and networked world. Rather every one of us – regardless of government desires – controls our own learning. We as individuals decide what we will learn, how, when, and where, with what tools and rightly develop the capabilities that go to make each of us who we are.

While many schools, and even systems have over the decades striven to better individualise the teaching and the learning most have struggled, stymied by an ecosystem preoccupied with sorting and sifting the masses, identifying the future leaders, and weeding out the perceived also rans.

If anything, the last fifty years have seen an increased emphasis in schools on shaping a conforming mass, in a manner the government and the pressure groups deems appropriate. Where some of us were fortunate to create an education system in the 1970s that sought to better individualise teaching and learning, and to cater for the full range of students, including the non-conformists, one will struggle today to find a system or government that seriously espouses nurturing the individualism of the young, of applauding the growth of distinct competencies and readying individuals to thrive within an ever more networked, inclusive, and interconnected world.

One wonders how serious many schools and systems are about democracy in their schools, of readying every young person to take ever greater control of their learning and nurturing their individualism?  

The provision of a more individualised schooling will, as flagged, be difficult.

The most important step is deciding it should happen.

It is appreciated there are heads and senior bureaucrats who have no desire to change or to cede any of their autocratic control.

The next is clarifying and strategizing one’s desires, and over time shaping a school ecosystem that naturally facilitates, grows, and recognises each student’s capabilities, all the while lessening the impact of the key elements of the mass mode of schooling.

It is about getting the balance right.

Respect, trust, empowerment, agency, inclusiveness, genuine collaboration, and the willingness by heads to distribute the control of the teaching and learning will be critical.

As will curriculum flexibility, the willingness to use different class configurations, project based teaching, collaboration, remote teaching, the recognition of, and the building upon student’s out of school learning —- and teachers willing to cultivate a class teaching environment that better individualises the teaching and learning.

The great aide teachers have today, compared to 50, even 25 years ago is the array of ever more sophisticated digital and network technologies.

In the 1960s many of us individualised our teaching using a typewriter, a duplicating machine, reams of paper and a library of books.

Countesthorpe College (UK) in the 1970s famously sought to individualise all its teaching, using the same paper base.

The shortcomings of the paper technology invariably proved too much.

Most all of those shortcomings can be overcome by the digital and networking technologies.

Serendipitously the COVID experience and the extensive use made of the digital resources and competencies of the connected families has alerted schools, parents, electorates, and treasuries to the relatively inexpensive facility to better individualise the children’s teaching and learning.

Now is not the time for me to propose how your school might better individualise its teaching.

That is best left to each school, its teachers and community.

What this post can do is alert schools and systems to the growing expectation worldwide that schools will continually mirror the ways and expectations of society, and that in time it will pressure schools and electorates to shift the focus from a strongly mass mode of schooling to one that better individualises every child’s teaching and learning.

  • Negroponte, N (1995) Being Digital Sydney Hodder and Stoughton

10. Teachers as Reflective Practitioners in Networked Schools

Mal Lee

All teachers should be reflective practitioners.

The need is that much greater when teaching within the more networked mode. 

Natural digital evolution, the pace and magnitude of the organisational transformation, the expectation that schools will continually accommodate the new normal, and the increased dependence on dynamic social networks should oblige all teachers to be reflective practitioners, able to apply the skill in their teaching and in enhancing the wider school community.

Teachers globally, particularly in the last couple of decades, have been readied in many schools and systems to make extensive use reflection in adjudging and enhancing their own teaching.

Extending the rationale underpinning the earlier post on teachers as specialists and generalists (Lee, 2022) all teachers should also be able to apply that skill to school’s working as a networked organisation.

It is no longer enough to restrict this vital professional skill to just their teaching.

It should increasingly be applied to better understanding the school’s ecosystem and networking.

In 1987 Schon astutely observed

In the varied topography of professional practice, there is a high ground overlooking a swamp. On the high ground, manageable problems lend themselves to solution through the application of research-based theory and technique. In the swampy lowland, messy, confusing problems defy technical solution. The irony of this situation is that the problems on the high ground tend to be relatively unimportant to individuals or society at, however great their interest may be, while in the swamp lie the problems of greatest human concern. The practitioner must choose. Shall he remain on the high ground where he can solve relatively unimportant problems according to prevailing standards of rigour, or shall he descend to the swamp of important problems and non-rigorous inquiry (Schon, 1987, p3)?

Significantly he made these observations before the digital and networking technology transformed the organisational landscape.

The imperative of adjudging the total topography, and not simply the ‘high ground’ is that much greater within more networked organisations, where near all operations are interconnected, the divisions are blurred and the organisation is naturally evolving, at an accelerating pace.

Tellingly the division between what is the ‘high’ and what the ‘swampy’ ground is even blurred.

Compounding the need is the increasing use being made of social networks, formal and informal, all of which are dynamic, some with a long life, others that exist only for a specific purpose. Few of the networks ever appear on an organisational chart, and few, if any have their contribution to the organisation quantified and included in a data analysis. 

That said any who networked to advantage or have observed their impact, positive and negative will appreciate the importance of both the teachers and heads being able to reflect upon, shape, grow and when apt abandon the networks. We are in a world where one ill-considered post in the school’s e-newsletter can within minutes go viral and impact the school’s marketing for several years.

The COVID experience affirmed the importance of not only understanding the workings of schools as networked organisations but all professionals being able to reflect on the totality of the school’s workings, to compliment the positive, and to flag the ineffectual procedures.

The pandemic hit most every school underprepared. Schools instantly put in place what were thought to be appropriate arrangements. The informal networks quickly provided their feedback and many schools within weeks had to markedly change their approach. There was not the time to go through the ‘desired’ data collection and analysis. Rather professional reflective practitioners, working in the ‘swamp’ listened, observed and with their educational expertise and years of experience immediately made the requisite changes.

At this point in time there is little, or nothing published on the application of reflective practice across total school ecosystems, and in particular those strongly networked. Indeed Schon’s 1987 work on Educating the Reflective Practitioner that devoted many pages to schoolteachers concentrated on the classrooms and post graduate practicums. 

That shortcoming needs to be rectified.  It is appreciated that will take time, and some astute thinking as folk seek to get a better handle on already highly complex, integrated, rapidly evolving, unique, synergistic ecosystems.

But that need shouldn’t stop schools immediately growing the ability of all teachers to better reflect on the practises of the total school.  As COVID underscored they are already working in networked schools that need to be better understood immediately.

Critical is the willingness of the head to genuinely respect, trust and empower all teachers, and to give them the requisite agency and support.

In brief the teachers have to be treated as education professionals.

Schon makes the oft neglected critical observation that all professionals in learning their profession grow their memory muscle, knowing instinctively what to do at any given moment. That holds equally in teaching. It is a vital quality that comes from years of experience, reflection and is a professional capability that should be respected and valued.  

Without respect for that professionalism by the head it is pointless a school or system contemplating the growth of reflective practitioners.

In growing the teacher’s capability to reflect upon, and adjudge the total ecosystem, particularly the ‘swampy’ elements it is important, as flagged in earlier posts, to grow their macro understanding of the school’s workings within the networked mode.

Much of that understanding can be naturally developed as teachers go about their daily work, but with a major caveat. The head must orchestrate the creation and evolution of a digital and networked learning environment and culture, that daily involves teachers in all manner of across school community projects, teaching teams, working groups, committees and critically networks, an involvement that naturally grows the understanding.

That involvement will, from experience also naturally grow the use of a stronger digital and networked mindset in every facet of their work.

While growing the macro understanding schools, as all the good ones do let their teachers also pursie their interests and apply their particular talents where best suited. 

Globally most every networked organisation is readying it’s professionals to better understand and shape the workings of increasingly interconnected, naturally synergistic, and complex networked organisations.

Some highly sophisticated research is being undertaken and quality tools are being developed.

In a networked society the art is to take advantage of those developments and to apply them to your own setting.

  • Schön, D (1987) Educating the reflective practitioner, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco. 

9. Schools as Networked Organisations

Mal Lee

All teachers and heads, and indeed all school decision makers should understand the workings of schools operating as networked organisations, the impact the new mode will have on their teaching and the school, the possibilities open and the implications that flow.

So too they should recognise the uniqueness of schools as networked organisations, and the constraints that uniqueness will impose.

But most crucially all should understand networked organisations are dramatically different entities to the traditional school, on trend to be evermore so. 

Networked schools oblige all within to continually attune their ways and thinking to a naturally evolving, increasingly integrated, socially networked, and complex synergistic environment.  It is a natural transformation over which governments have limited control.

It is a macro understanding that will assist them recognise the almost boundless opportunities the mode provides to enhance the teaching, but also alerts them to the need to continually adjust their ways as they seek to reap the potentially considerable dividends.

One of the greater adjustments will entail enhancing and making greater everyday use of their social networking skills and understanding. All need to appreciate the power and centrality of both the formal and informal social networks, their pervasiveness, dynamic nature, the openings they can provide, the efficiencies, and economies they can yield, the unintended impact they can have and why the art of networking is a core skill every teacher needs to grow throughout their career.

It is appreciated it’s art that isn’t likely recognised in any teacher standards document, selection criteria, data set, initial teacher education or professional development program but it is central to the workings, growth and critically the leadership (Asia Bank, 2017) of networked organisations.

Traditionally schools have operated as largely stand – alone, insular, segmented, organisations, that controlled their own affairs, used their own resources, all literally within the school walls.

That insularity was in large dictated by the use, and in time the dependence, on paper as the underpinning technology. Paper, while historically a revolutionary technology, was and remains a limited technology. Be it in the form of books, work sheets, exercise books or letters paper must be distributed by hand, and as such needed to be used within a physically compact site.

As Tyack and Cuban (1995) noted, few thought little about the situation. That is what schools were. Or at least until an infinitely more sophisticated technology began displacing paper and changing the operating base.

The schools were moreover relatively simple, loosely – coupled organisations (Weick, 1976), built upon largely autonomous, segmented divisions, invariably located within distinct sections of the school site. Likely paper played its part in fostering that segmentation and the creation of discrete infants schools, science faculties, art departments and the like, all having their own space, which most staff rarely left during the working week.

It was relatively easy to scrutinise the work of each division.

Even in the 1990s most schools operated as stand-alone entities, with the internal units run largely autonomously. 

Most schools in the 1990s had only telephone lines at best in the faculty rooms, rarely any within the classrooms.

The insularity and segmentation were heightened by the invariably strongly hierarchical organisational and communications structures, where all powerful unit heads focussed on their part of the educational production line. Few departmental heads were concerned about the macro workings of the school.

While astute social networking was important, particularly within the establishment schools, it’s use was very much limited by the communication’s technology. Some might recall long distance calls were a big deal, expensive, made only after gaining approval. 

That situation largely held until the start of this century.

As the networks spread, became ever faster, more sophisticated, inexpensive, and ubiquitous they unobtrusively began fundamentally transforming schools’ workings and challenging long accepted thinking and practises – on trend to evermore so.

Those challenges should be addressed by a knowing staff forever onwards.

The physical, and the associated social networking, allied with the efficiencies and opportunities that came with digital convergence soon lessened the use of paper, lowered internal and external school walls, transformed school communication, blurred long established boundaries, challenged the retention of aged practises, and promoted increased integration and staff and job reconfiguration.

While the rate and extent of the transformation has been different in every school, in less than twenty years schools worldwide have ceased being stand-alone, insular, largely segmented organisations working only with their own resources and have become more networked organisations, outward looking, increasing dependent on the resources and connectivity of the networked world.

As Lipnack and Stamps (1994) presciently observed the possibilities with networked organisations are virtually boundless, limited in the main by the human imagination.

In 2010 Lee and Finger, and group of international colleagues wrote of Developing a Networked School Community (2010).

They envisioned this type of scenario.

Figure 2.3: Networked School Community – Mid range structural Change 

Lee and Finger (2010, p42).

They moreover detailed the many educational, economic, social, and political advantages and challenges of the networked mode.

In reflecting on the model, it is much the same as that schools unwittingly employed during the COVID lockdown, with the ‘school’ operating online, the Cloud providing most of the resources, and the student’s and teacher’s homes the facilitating infrastructure and connectivity.

That networking, and the use of the expertise and resources of others is on trend to increase, but with several significant caveats.

Physical schools, that students attend most working days of the year will remain the norm. 

The fully virtual networked organisation will remain the exception in schooling, restricted in the main to distance education, and older age cohorts.

The full productivity of nations can only be achieved when the young attend the physical place called school and the free the parents to work.

Schools as networked organisations have thus – likely always – to operate and grow within the now century plus old traditional school structures.

The current, often dated, legislation of most every nation will moreover limit, likely forever, school – and hence government – control of the networked school to within the school walls, and school hours.  While the technology and desire might exist to extend that control several high level court cases have already made it clear the legislation will restrict school and government control to the traditional remit.

Any effort to extend that control will on present indications be vehemently opposed by most of the electorate. The young and old expect, nay demand they be in charge of their personal use of the digital 24/7/365, lifelong. By extension digitally connected families expect to control the family use of their technology, free from government involvement.

The emerging reality is that the more schools network and spread their operational footprint they won’t have formal control over a sizeable portion, unless they genuinely prepared to collaborate, and respect, trust and empower all powers in the wider networked community.

Currently the signs are that only in a small proportion of schools and education systems recognise the irrevocable transition to a more networked mode occurring, the possibilities and the imperative of better understanding the new scenario.

Presently most schools and governments appear to be more interested in using the network technology to unilaterally control ‘their’ schools and maintain as best they can traditional ways.

It bears remembering that the same network technology can be used equally well to control and micromanage every school operation, or to trust, empower and genuinely collaborate with one’s community.

You can be best attest to how it is being used in your situation, but it is highly likely that you are in a school that has transitioned to a more networked mode but where every facet of the school’s workings is still unilaterally controlled by the school and/or the state.

How long the electorate will allow its schools to reject the new normal time only will tell.

If you’d like a quick overview of the contrast between the traditional hierarchical form found in most schools and the networked look at John Kotter’s explanation at – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIGkUDhuUJc

  • Asia Development Bank (2017) On Networked Organisations. Asia Development Bank 2017
  • Lee, M and Finger, G (eds) (2010) Developing a Networked School Community, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Tyack, D and Cuban, L (1995). Tinkering Toward Utopia. Cambridge. Massachusetts. Harvard University Press
  • Weick, K (1976) ‘Educational organisations as loosely coupled systems’. Administrative Science Quarterly21 1976

8. Trust, Empowerment, Agency and Networked School Communities

Mal Lee

Central to life within a networked society is trust, empowerment, and agency.

All digitally connected peoples, but particularly the young expect to be trusted to use and learn with the digital as desired, with the agency to use the capability largely unfettered. 

People want to have control of their use of and learning with the digital, and to exercise that control lifelong

It matters not whether folk are three (Chaudron, 2015), 15, in their 40’s or in a care home.

We all expect to choose our own suite of digital devices, to configure them as we desire and to use them the instant wanted, how we wish, and to learn what we want, anywhere, anytime, 24/7/365.

Moreover, we expect to connect at speed.

We accept the need to act responsibly, and work within boundaries, but the underpinning expectation – the default setting – is that everyone regardless of age or situation should be respected as an individual, trusted, empowered, and have the agency to use the technology they desire, as they desire largely unfettered.

You, like I, see government being involved only when we breach the law.

And yet the moment the students, parents and teachers move through the school gate government exerts its unilateral control.

It says that it rejects society’s new normals, and it will continue to distrust and disempower the students, parents, and most of its teachers. Moreover, it will unilaterally decide what technology will be used, which not, how it will be configured and used. It alone will decide what will be taught and assessed, how and when, and that the students will continue to be taught the same material, still in large class groups. 

There is invariably scant, if any, willingness to trust, empower any of the ‘clients’, to listen to them or to give them any agency.

How long the dichotomy will be accepted by society at both the individual school and system level will be interesting to watch.

It is a dichotomy that in many ways bids all question the nature and purpose of schooling within a networked society, and the extent to which the electorate is prepared to accept unilateral government control.

Bestowing trust means distributing the control of the teaching and learning, something governments worldwide are reluctant to do today as they seek to use ‘their’ schools for political advantage.

It is most assuredly a ‘new normal’, a tension all associated with schools are going to have to contend with until the school practises mirror those of society. 

What is already apparent from several notable US court rulings that any efforts by education authorities to extend their control beyond the physical school walls will be challenged and judging by the rulings thus far will be thwarted.

Unwittingly the COVID experience, the necessity of schools to rely upon the home resources of its digitally connected families and teachers, and to trust and give both greater agency likely added pressure to the school’s needing to adopt a more collaborative and socially networked mode of schooling. 

Simultaneously the dependence on the family personal resources likely also enhanced the agency of the parents, an agency that many parents will see as the new normal and will not forego.  

Notwithstanding if a survey was conducted with the present school and system leadership most would probably still contend only, they have the expertise to decide what is right for every child, not the parents, the teachers or indeed the students.

Prior to 2020 only the exceptional schools recognised the educational desirability of transitioning to the networked mode, of empowering its community, actively taking advantages of its resources and expertise, and creating networked school communities.

What the situation is today only those in the schools can tell.

Sadly, in the end when it comes to trust and agency it is all about control, and whether governments, and in many instances religious orders, and their bureaucrats, are willing to cede some control of ‘their’ schools.

Despite the spin rarely do governments have the apt education of the young as their priority.

Intriguingly the more one delves the more one appreciates how little trust there has been in traditional schooling, the extent to which the governments continue to use schools to enhance their power and the challenge even the most capable of heads and educators will have in running a school based on trust, agency, and genuine respect.

  • Chaudron, S (2015) Young Children (0-8) and Digital Technology Luxembourg, European Commission JRC and Policy Reports 2015 -http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/JRC93239

7. Teachers as Specialists and Generalists

Mal Lee

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

6. Understanding Your School’s Position

Mal Lee

In transitioning to a more networked mode of schooling and teaching it is important for both teachers and heads to

  •  have an in-depth understanding of the transition that has, and has not occurred
  •  adjudge their school’s position and understand where it wants to move, and
  •  contribute to shaping the desired future.

It bears reiterating that every school is at different stage in its transitioning.

It is appreciated that belief is not shared by most governments and education bureaucracies. They still like to perpetuate the myth that all schools are the same, and as such will therefore be at the same point in their transition to a more networked mode.

The pandemic underscored the fallacy of that thinking. 

Rather it affirmed, to the students, parents, teachers and heads the different stages schools were at in the transitioning, and the very real likelihood the better led schools were transitioning much faster and extensively than those lacking the leadership, vision, and drive.

Look at the schools around you, talk to your colleagues, consider how the different schools have handled the pandemic, their level of readiness to teach remotely and to thrive within the more networked mode and you’ll have affirmed their uniqueness, and the different stages each are in their transition.

Indeed, you’ll likely find the same variation within the school. Different teachers and different operational areas like HR, communications, marketing, finance, and staff development could well be more networked than others.

Critical to school’s shaping the desired future is always understanding the school’s current state of transition within all operational areas.

  • Has your school examined its transition to a more networked mode over the last twenty plus years, its nature, and identified the key trends that have emerged? 
  • Has it done so in all operational areas?
  • How well prepared was the school, and indeed the staff to provide the desired, quality remote teaching when COVID first hit?
  • How much better placed is the school today?
  • What steps have now to be taken?

Below is an evolutionary continuum that Roger Broadie and I identified in 2016 (Lee and Broadie, 2016), well before the impetus provided by the pandemic.

Where on first glance would you position your school?

How well prepared are you to adjudge?

Few, if any initial teacher education (ITE) institutions help teachers make that call, particularly in a more networked mode.

Nor do education authorities.

Indeed, you’ll unlikely to find any national or provincial teacher standards that would contemplate classroom teachers making that call or suggesting they should be readied to make that call.

However, a vast body of business research and literature speaks to the imperative of all professional staff within networked organisations having the understanding, ability, and agency to assist in enhancing its performance and growth.

Heretical it might be, but the next post argues that every teacher, from day one in their teaching should be readied to play the dual role of a specialist teacher and an education generalist, immediately able to adjudge where schools are at in the transition. 

5. Accommodating the new normals in schools

Mal Lee

An integral part of schools transitioning to a more networked mode is readying them culturally and organisationally to continually provide the desired education in a world of accelerating, natural technological and societal evolution, transformation, and uncertainty, where the expectation will be that the schools will mirror the ways of society.

That readying will likely be new to many schools, attuned as they are to operating in a world of constancy and continuity, and taking no risks.

Future posts will address how that readying might be done.

But first it is important for teachers and heads to recognise the nature and the challenge of accommodating the new normals.

It is moreover important to appreciate, even within the more tightly controlled education systems the school ultimately decides on the education that will be provided the students.

Allied, in talking about ‘societal expectations’ it is important to recognise one is talking about a vast range of views, from the very conservative to the ultra-progressive.

That said history affirms there has always been, and likely will always be a suite of societal expectations that all schools will accept – even unwittingly – that must be accommodated. Indeed, that has been apparent in the global shift of near all schools, at all levels, to a more networked mode.

One of the first tasks is to better understand the kind of the ‘new normals’ society will expect its schools to accommodate, and the magnitude of the challenge.

As previously mentioned, many of the adaptations will be minor and readily adopted, as they have been for decades.

There are however expectations that all schools will in time have to consider accommodating – even if it opts to reject them.

The following are but a selection.

You’ll likely think of others.

Some are issues that have been growing in prominence over time, some are more recent global developments, while others are social issues highlighted by the increasing dependence on networking during the pandemic. Notwithstanding all are developments schools will have to consider.

In considering them ask, how well your school is positioned to examine, discuss, and accommodate each.      

  • Does it appreciate the transition underway, and at least some of the implications? 
  • Does it have a questioning, learning culture that encourages genuine professional discussion?
  • Is it of a mind to look outside it walls and take on board the evolving societal expectations?
  • Does it have the processes in place to address these developments, and indeed the unplanned benefits and disbenefits?

You’ll soon appreciate the expectations are invariably linked, and that any accommodation of one will oblige consideration of the others.

  • Digital mindset

One of the great unplanned societal, and indeed workplace changes in recent decades has been the natural growth in the digitally connected of the world of an increasingly strong digital mindset, and with it a suite of rising, strong digital expectations.

That mindset is particularly strong among the young, who have only ever known a digital world.  

That suite of expectations, likely strengthened by the COVID experience, includes the likes of, 

  • connecting the moment desired, anywhere, anytime, 24/7/365
  • having in your hands, most every waking moment, one’s smartphone, to action the QR codes, the digital wallet, Apple Pay, vaccine passport and the myriad of other facilities 
  • having agency of the choice, configuration, use and upgrade of our personal devices
  • being free to socially network with whoever you wish, and where in the world
  • using the apps, we want
  • taking charge of one’s own learning; learning what we want, how we want, doing it just in time, in context
  • deciding what protection, we’ll take with our own privacy

How ready is your school, are you as a teacher, to accommodate those kind of expectations?

  • Being digital

The digitally connected worldwide are operating, as Negroponte foretold (1995), in the state of being digital. So normalised is the use of the digital in its many forms that it has become too most largely invisible. 

That is particularly so with the world’s young.

It is a state of being which will not only on trend to strengthen but which will challenge many of the assumptions underpinning the traditional ‘grammar of schooling’.

  • Trust, empowerment, and agency

Core to being digital is trust, empowerment, and agency.

All three expectations, that young children express from around the age of three (Chaudron, 2014), are likely an anathema to the running of many schools.

Many, possibly most schools, still work on the belief that the students, parents, and classroom teachers are be controlled, distrusted, and disempowered, particularly when it comes to the use of the digital and networking. 

The accommodation of these now universal expectations could well entail the school having to rethink its whole modus operandi.

  • Centrality of smartphones

That willingness to trust and empower is communicated in the school’s stance of the use of smartphones.

COVID has underscored the centrality of the smartphones to the lives of all, young and old.

Indeed, most students cannot go about their lives, and even enter school buildings without their QR code and digital vaccination wallet.

Governments worldwide have normalised that reality and simply assume that all will have a smartphone.

How do schools that currently ban the use of smartphones sit with this new normal? 

  • Accelerating networking, connectivity, digital convergence, and digital disruption 

The speed with which a device first released in 2007 has become central to life globally in 2021 is an important indicator to schools of the imperative of accommodating the accelerating digitisation, connectivity, networking, and digital convergence in their everyday workings.

While societies and most assuredly its businesses have long recognised that imperative many schools and education authorities appear to have been loath to factor it into their teaching, operations, and planning.

Many seemingly want to perpetuate the illusion that schools will somehow remain is a constant while the rest of society changes at pace.

  • Transition from loosely to tightly coupled schools

Allied with the increased, connectivity and ubiquitous use of the digital is the burgeoning digital convergence, interconnectivity and organisational integration, and the recognition that the enhanced productivity of all organisations, including schools, lies in the shaping of evermore tightly integrated, efficient, focussed and naturally synergistic digital ecosystems.

Largely unheralded, schools in becoming more networked have moved along that path, shifting away from their traditional loosely coupled organisational form (Weick, 1976), and adopting an ever more tightly coupled mode. The extent varies widely, but in general terms the strong divisions of labour, clear operational boundaries and largely autonomous faculties are slowly but surely being superseded by more integrated operations where every operation is directed towards realising the school’s shaping purpose.

  • Shift from the mass to individualisation

Negroponte presciently identified this shift in Being Digital in 1995.

In being digital I am me, not a statistical subset….

True personalisation is now upon us (Negroponte, 1995, p164).

That is what has transpired.

More than half the world’s people are now digitally connected (ITU, 2020), and control their use of the digital. 

In that control, individuals, and not the state, make the decisions, very quickly individualising their learning and the digital competencies they acquire.

In contrast formal schooling always has been – and continues to be – about mass teaching, believing that every student must be taught and tested on the same thing.

Allied is the assumption that the state must unilaterally decide what will taught, how and when.

While educators have advocated for aeons for the greater individualisation of teaching that quest has been largely dismissed.

How schools accommodate the world’s transition to greater individualisation of will be an immense challenge.

That said the continued outright rejection of the new normal could well be a point of considerable tension.

  • Concern for student health and well being

Another of the new normals, that has been apparent for some time, but which was amplified by the COVID experience is the growing expectation by many in society that schools should play a central role in caring for the student’s well-being and mental health.

This growing trend, identified in COVID study after study, runs counter to many schools and governments increased focus on academic performance and diminished concern for a balanced, holistic schooling.

Accommodating this role asks what the purpose of schooling is, particularly in an increasingly networked society, accelerating at ever pace into the unknown and greater uncertainty.

  • The differences between schools will continue to grow at pace 

The decade’s long trend within the private sector for networked organisations to become ever more different is now being increasingly evidenced in schools.

The trend has been evidenced first-hand by parents worldwide with the remote teaching.

While some schools, that had long normalised the use of the digital and the networked world, accelerated their shift to a more networked mode during the shutdown/s at the other end of the widening continuum there are schools that still view the pandemic as a temporary interruption, who have made minimal effort to attune their teaching to the networked mode.

The new normal will be for schools to be ever more different, with those in authority at best able to shape the natural global megatrend. 

In reality every school, every classroom has been unique since the inception of formal schooling.  The school leadership, the shaping mindset, educational philosophy, context, heritage, culture, mix of staff, school development strategy and availability of resources all contribute to its uniqueness.

It is just that the transition to the networked mode, and the facility of astute heads to select from a growing array of options to create the desired learning environment has amplified the distinctiveness.

While ever the visionary heads continue take advantage of the opportunities opened and the risk averse stay where they feel safe the differences will widen. 

  • Families as teachers

Leave aside for the moment that parents always have been, and always will be the children’s first teachers.

The COVID experience alerted societies and schools to a reality seldom recognised in the teaching literature, that not only were near all the families of school students in the developed world digitally connected and had digital ecosystems that surpassed those in most classrooms, but they also had considerable digital competencies, and the long held desire to collaborate with the schools in the teaching of their children in a more networked mode (Project Tomorrow, 2011).

They have for years been educating their children in the networked mode, giving them the tools, connectivity, and agency to largely take charge of their use of and learning with the digital – on trend to continue playing that role regardless of what might be done by the school. 

The more astute of school leaders principals would undoubtedly have recognised 

  • the changing and rising expectations parents have of their schools
  • the COVID experience has given many parents an agency, and an insight into remote teaching and schooling they will build upon
  • that in living with COVID schools need to be ready, within literally hours, to work with their family’s digital resources and expertise in remote teaching
  • the wisdom of being proactive, of building upon the COVID collaboration and the shift to a more networked mode, to create a networked school community (Lee and Finger, 2010).

Conclusion.

The stark reality is that schools are naturally transitioning at an accelerating pace to a more networked mode.

They have moved from a world of relative constancy to one of continual transformation.

The schools can go with the flow, and shape the developments to advantage, or try to resist and bear the consequences.