Category Archives: Transition of schooling

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

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

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.

4. Schools and the Evolving New Normals

Mal Lee

Society will expect, possibly unwittingly, the natural evolution and transformation evidenced in daily life and near ever organisation to be mirrored in its schools.

It will moreover expect the lessons learned from the COVID experience also to be taken on board.

In the last two years the transformative impact of these two developments has seen the popularisation, and global embrace of the term, the ‘new normal’. It has come to mean

a previously unfamiliar or atypical situation that has become standard, usual, or expected (OED)

It particularly pertains to the new ways of doing things society expects to be an everyday facet of life, work, and learning. 

While in some senses a redundant expression, in that the societal norm automatically evolves as society changes, the problem is that the term ‘normal’ has become synonymous with a sense of conformity, constancy and a lack of deviation from the established ways. 

The desire would appear to be to use a term that better communicates the speed with which some societal norms are evolving. Particularly apparent during the pandemic were the many situations where what was ‘normal’ at the beginning of the year had been superseded by a ‘new normal’ six months later.

Leaving aside the semantics the crucial point for teachers and heads to recognise is that inherent in the transition of schooling is the expectation that schools will continually accommodate the ‘new normals’.

While much of the accommodation has been, and will likely continue to be, relatively easy there has been, and always will be a set of issues, trends, and developments that will challenge the accepted ways and ask hard questions.

As the digital disruption accelerates, widens, and becomes that much more transformative so schools will likely be expected, implicitly and explicitly, to address evermore of the hard questions.  Fountain pens, immersion in a library of old books, pull down blackboards, teachers ability to control the flow of information and being free to teach as one wishes behind the closed classroom door, no matter how treasured the ways of a digital and networked world are no longer.

There might be well be good educational reasons for choosing to stay with the traditional ways that the parent community will accept.

There might equally be reasons that appear sound to heads and staff that the students and parents don’t believe mirror the thinking and ways of today’s world.

Heads are going, likely increasingly, and forever on, to have make some difficult calls and lead.

Ideally schools, like businesses, should be ready to naturally accommodate the evolving new normals. The thinking, the culture, the processes, the staff, the curriculum, the school community should be attuned to providing the desired constancy while simultaneously continually providing a contemporary education.

It is likely however most schools today are still attuned to a world of constancy, continuity, and conformity, ill prepared to handle rapid, uncertain, potentially transformative change.  

Many, possibly most, principals and schools still likely see the pandemic as a temporary irritation that once over will allow them to return to their ‘normal ways’.

What is thinking in your school?

Businesses wanting to thrive within the ever evolving world have long chartered changing client expectations with highly sophisticated tools.

Most schools have likely not followed that path. Indeed, experience as a head and educational administrator suggests that many loath the idea that students and parents are clients, whose expectations must be heard. Rather they, and often government, remain strongly of the belief that only they have the expertise and understanding to decide what is appropriate for the students.

The past 25 plus years suggests that mindset can accommodate the less disruptive of the new normals. 

How well a top down leadership approach can accommodate the more challenging new normals described in the next post is moot. 

In an increasingly socially networked world, where the digital mindset is so pervasive, organisational transformation is accelerating and where trust, agency, collaboration, working in teams and being highly agile and flexible is increasingly important unilateral control from on high might well be ineffectual, and indeed unacceptable to most staff, students, and parents.

The latter is very much the view coming out of the research with those digitally mature corporations that have successfully accommodated both the digital evolution and COVID (Deloitte, 2017, (Kane, et.al, 2016), (Kane, et al, 2017).  It reinforces the imperative of the chief executive officer distributing control and responsibility and giving the professionals the agency to assist shape the desired ever evolving digital ecosystem.

That distribution of agency is crucial to readying schools to naturally accommodate the new normals.

3.Inexorable Natural Evolution

Mal Lee

The transition of schooling from its traditional, insular paper based mode to one that is increasingly networked has been in the main a natural evolutionary development.

It is moreover an inexorable evolution, that is on trend to become faster, more sophisticated, wide reaching, transformative and to be part of schooling forever.

Critically the transition parallels the transformation occurring within most other organisations, private and public sector, as they make greater use of the digital and networking, and the digital convergence, AI and greater efficiencies promote more tightly integrated, synergistic, and interconnected digital ecosystems.

No world body, with visionary educators planned or shaped the transformation.

No government/s funded the phenomenon.

Rather it evolved naturally out of the confluence of a suite of global developments, linked in the main to the exponential growth in the power of the digital and the networking of the world.

The challenge for schools, likely including yours, is that most education decision makers, and likely most educational researchers believe, often fervently, that every facet of school growth must planned. Nothing can be left to chance. All growth must be approached in a highly rationale, largely linear manner, the progress measured, and the lessons learned factored into the next plan. 

Educational bureaucracies worldwide insist schools have detailed planning documents, that identify to the nth degree the learning outcomes that will be the focus of the school’s work and reporting.  In some of the more highly controlled education authorities priority is given those few outcomes to the near exclusion of all else.

There is little or no place for unplanned or unintended developments, or for the optimisation of the unintended developments no matter beneficial they might be.

With many schools there is little chance of moving away from ‘the plan’.

Implicit is the belief that humans can control every variable at play within in a school, within a tightly interconnected, rapidly evolving world, and plan accordingly.

It is a mindset that likely contributed to the failure by most not to see the transition by the world’s schools to the more networked mode.  While focussing on the forest floor they didn’t see that the forest had changed.

You’ll struggle to find any that acknowledge the students and teachers in their personal lives have been, and are naturally growing their digital mindset, the digital competencies they want and are continually adapting their ways to the global change. 

Similarly, it will likely be difficult to find any harnessing that natural growth in their staff development.

Significantly few schools appear to have factored into their planning the realities of natural, chaotic evolution (Pascale et.al, 2000), digital disruption, the inefficiency of the evolutionary growth or the importance of shaping the natural evolution to advantage.

What moves has your school made in this area in its planning?

Have you, has the school, paused, and wondered how it is that the digitally connected young of the world, all using their own digital devices in a strongly individualised, laissez faire, largely unfettered manner, use and learn with them in a remarkably similar way? 

It is a fascinating expression of natural evolution.  As far back at the late 90s Tapscott (1998) identified the universal mores and attributes that the Net generation had grown in but a few years in their use of the internet. 

The same similarity of thinking and use is to be found today, as we discuss in a future post.

Over 50% of the world’s 8 billion plus population are digitally connected (ITU, 2020), as are 70% plus of the world’s young (UNICEF, 2017), with the trend very much to near universal connectivity.

All have naturally grown their digital mindset, competencies and being digital in their 24/7/365 use and learning with the digital – not in a classroom.

Neither schools nor government have played any major part in funding the personal connectivity of the world’s 4 billion plus people, in providing the devices or in supporting their learning. The devices and connectivity have been bought by the families of the world.

Perelman astutely observed in 1992 that near all the users of personal computers had taught themselves and would continue to do so into the future.

That is the reality.

It is moreover a reality, and a capability that schools and governments were able to instantly capitalise upon when schools shut their doors in early 2020. Few have fleshed out why governments globally were immediately able to ask the teachers to teach from their homes, and the students, K-12, to partake immediately in a fully networked teaching. Neither government nor the schools have played any major part in growing that capability.

Indeed, a growing commentary suggests that most schools and education authorities even in 2021 still don’t fund or actively support their staff teaching from home. 

Does your school or government for example contribute to the cost of setting up your home office or connectivity?

In the early 1980’s Naisbitt (Naisbitt, 1984) alerted the world, but particularly the business world, to the megatrends shaping the world, and the facility at best to shape those forces to advantage.

40 years later, and 50 plus years since Gordon Moore enunciated his hypothesis the ability to shape the megatrends is that much more challenging.

Even more so is deliberately going against the megatrends. Societal expectations, particularly with businesses, but also with schools would soon render unviable any that chose not to adapt.

The critical leadership skill today for both heads and increasingly teachers is to better understand the evolutionary megatrends impacting schooling and to shape those forces to continually provide the desired schooling.

School planning, like that in every organisation is vital but it should be of a type apt for the day and situation, that accommodates both the planned and unplanned growth, and which has the capacity to readily adjusted to often rapidly changing circumstances.

The lesson the COVID experience has taught everyone, and every organisation is imperative of being flexible and agile, able to change plans literally within hours.

It is ever more important schools do what businesses have done since at least the 1990s (Thorpe, 1998) and be open to swiftly identifying the potential unintended benefits and disbenefits. The transition to a more networked mode will have its up and downsides. Schools should be ready to identify, adjudge and optimise the unintended benefits and quickly quash the inevitable disbenefits.

Contrary to the belief held by likely most educational decision makers one can argue that all the major worldwide educational changes that have occurred in the last twenty plus years have been unplanned. The emergence of digitally connected families, their lead role in growing their children’s digital mindset, and use of and learning with the digital, the growth of the young being digital, social networking, the shift from a predominantly text based mode of learning and communication to one that is increasingly multi-media and visual and the facility for the nation’s young to take charge of their learning anywhere, anytime 24/7/365 were all unplanned.

One will struggle to identify a planned global educational development that matches the aforementioned.

That reality should be factored into the school’s planning and workings.

Amplifying that need is the imperative of every school factoring into its planning and operations the accommodation of what society regards as the ‘new normals’.

  • Naisbitt, J (1984) Megatrends London Futura
  • Pascale, R.T, Millemann, M, Gioja, L (2000) Surfing at the Edge of Chaos NY Three Rivers Press
  • Perelman, L (1992) School’s Out NY Avon Books
  • Tapscott, D (1998), Growing up digital: The rise of the Net Generation, McGraw Hill, New York
  • Thorpe, J (1998) The Information Paradox Toronto McGraw-Hil
  • UNICEF (2017) Children in a Digital World. The State of the World’s Children 2017. UNICEF December 2017 – https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/SOWC_2017_ENG_WEB.pdf

2. COVID and The Transition

Mal Lee

The COVID -19 experience, coupled with the transition to the more networked mode is already shaping as a watershed moment in the history of schooling.

The pandemic alerted the world to the historic transformation underway, accelerated the transition, forced teachers, students, parents and schools to pool their resources and collaborate in the teaching, obliged schools to accommodate societies rapidly evolving expectations and bid them think about the desired nature of the school within a connected world. 

Importantly the pandemic, coupled with the network technology necessitated schools use the digital resources of the student’s homes, to collaborate with and actively involve the digitally connected families in the teaching and provide the parents a historic insight into the school’s teaching and workings.

It gave young parents an agency that many are likely not to relinquish lightly.

COVID, in its stress testing of every facet of facet of society and its organisations both transformed significant aspects of life, work and learning and posed fundamental questions of near every organisation. 

It did the same with schools. It identified their strengths and shortcomings and asked how fit for purpose were they to educate the nation’s young today. 

Significantly the pandemic revealed to school communities worldwide the extent to which ‘their’ school had transitioned from their traditional paper base to one that was more networked, and how ready it was to teach in an increasingly networked mode.

Whether the schools saw that ‘reveal’, as flagged in the first post is moot.

The pandemic showed that most all schools could, albeit to varying degrees, educate its students in a fully networked mode, as well as on site, and use a mix of the two modes.

Importantly it revealed that near all students and teachers had in their personal lives naturally grown their digital mindset and competencies, and had the home connectivity and infrastructure, and in the case of the students the family support, to partake in a fully networked mode of teaching and learning.

That said the COVID experience also highlighted the disturbing social inequities existent in most all schools, with the socially economically advantaged continuing to be advantaged while those less well off, and the marginalised were further disadvantaged. Very early in the pandemic the digital divide, even in nations with 90% plus home connectivity, became strikingly obvious.  As did the failure by near all authorities to have put in place the measures to guarantee equity of digital access and home connectivity for all students.

While, for example it is estimated that 9 million plus students (Tyton, 2021) were enrolled in ‘learning pods’ and ‘micro-schools’ in the US in 2020 during the shutdown all were paid for by advantaged families, for advantaged children. 

The poor were left to fend for themselves.

The pandemic also reminded the world that schooling the nation’s young entailed far more than the teaching and testing of a few academic subjects. Schools are not and should never be simply about PISA scores.

Schools are nation’s tools for growing, educating, and nurturing all its young. The many concerns brought to the fore during COVID about student alienation, dropping student retention rates, poor socialisation, student well-being, mental health, digital inequities, the marginalised, racism and the treatment of girls are all matters society rightly should expect schools to play a major role in addressing.

Unintentionally COVID reminded societies and their governments schools were unique organisations. They have simultaneously to be constant while also contemporaneous, always adapting their ways to meet society’s evolving expectations.

The pandemic affirmed the constancy in making it clear to all, that the existing school organisational structures that the world has known for a century plus, could not be changed. They were immutable. Society expects schools, likely more than ever, to nurture and educate the students during set times each day, five days a week, for most of the year within the physical place called school. 

The social, educational, economic, and political imperative became daily more apparent. 

Tellingly the transition to a more networked mode has successfully occurred within the existing structures and will in most instances have to continue doing so in the decades ahead.

COVID laid to rest the belief by many futurists that that the core school organisational structures can be changed, and that the technology removes the need for site based schooling.

COVID also shattered the myth that all schools were the same. It revealed that all had not transitioned to the networked mode at the same rate, nor were all at the same point in their transitioning.

Rather it demonstrated to students and parents globally that every school was unique. Different styles of leadership, mix of staff, heritage, clientele, context, aspirations, shaping vision, culture and level of resourcing all contribute to that uniqueness. 

What the pandemic did was to alert school communities to the different stages schools were at in their transition, and that the differences would likely grow. While the astute, visionary heads were shaping highly focussed, tightly integrated networked learning communities, others were trying to retain the ‘grammar of schooling’ within the more networked mode.  One school observed tried to do the latter with a 100% migration of its site based schooling online, even to the extent of using the existing lesson times, mandating the students wear uniforms and imposing detentions on those who transgressed. 

The imperative of each school shaping their own desired transition became that more apparent.

As did that of schools accommodating, as best they could the ‘new normals’ expected by the wider society. The speed with which schools were required to adopt those changing expectations during the course of the pandemic will be long remembered.

COVID bid each school, like every other organisation, rethink its purpose, its fit for today’s world and to tackle the pitfalls that invariably come with digital disruption, and increased networking.

It should have prompted schools to clarify their educational purpose and the nature of teaching they want to use in a rapidly evolving, seemingly chaotic, networked world. 

Was there any such contemplation in your school?

What became apparent globally was that the digital and network technology can be equally well used to unilaterally control and micromanage every facet of the teaching and learning or to distribute the control, to trust and give agency to the teachers, students and parents and have them work collaboratively in the teaching of the young.

What approach would you take?

Which does you school employ?

Has your school begun to address the issues highlighted during the shutdown? 

  • Do for example all students need to physically attend a place called school, all the time? 
  • What mix of face to face and networked teaching should the school now use, at different age levels, in different areas of learning? 
  • Is yours a school where the socially and economically are further advantaged, and the marginalised are still disadvantaged or does it need to provide all a more equitable contemporary education? 
  • Should ‘success’ at your school still be equated solely with the ability to perform well in handwritten exams that assess academic knowledge, or should it embody something broader, that includes both academic attainment and the ability to thrive within rapidly evolving, uncertain networked organisations? 

This series of posts will not attempt to decide on the purpose or the nature of schooling.

Nor will they suggest any one mode of schooling is better, or indeed what mix of on-site and networked teaching is most appropriate. 

It leaves that to the school, and education authority.

Moreover, they will make no effort to provide a rationale for the natural transition to a more networked mode, or to identify the plusses or minuses of the global phenomenon.

Rather the posts will address the reality, and hopefully assist shape the desired transition, while at the same time factoring in living with COVID. 

  • Tyton Partners (2021) School Disrupted. Part 2. July 2021