Category Archives: Networked Schooling

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

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

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