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.
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?
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.
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).
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.