Category Archives: School evolution

School Difference as the New Norm

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

It is time that schooling globally accepts, as an underlying operational premise, that schools are different. With change as the new normal, that difference will become increasingly so.

Let’s cease operating on the largely unquestioned and dated premise that all schools are the same.

Let’s understand by changing that long honoured underlying premise, the shaping mindset, one fundamentally changes all one’s dealings with schools.

That said let’s also recognise that schools, like all other digitally based complex adaptive systems (Dooley, 1997), will evolve over time in a remarkably similar manner while at the same time as being different.

In marked contrast to the traditional paper based organisation that was designed for a world of relative constancy and continuity the digitally based organisation is designed to facilitate rapid on-going change, digital disruption, seeming chaos and accelerating evolution and transformation. Where sameness prevailed in the former, difference will be the norm in the latter.

The most advanced organizations will become champions for change, harnessing the latest developments to grow and improve the business (Accenture, 2016. P8).

One of the realities of the Digital Revolution, and a digital and socially networked society is that every digitally based organisation – be it a business, a public utility, a public service unit or a school – will evolve at its own rate. Very quickly organisations within the one area of endeavour will in their digital evolutionary journey continually transform their nature, culture and ecosystem, and do so at varying rates, with the successful soon becoming very different to their slower moving counterparts.

The rate of the digital evolution will be strongly impacted by the leadership of its chief executive officer and his/her ability to create and grow a digitally based and socially networked ecosystem and culture that will provide the clients/customers the products and services they desire (Westerman, et.al, 2014). The more successful move to the fore, the less successful will trail until such time as they are able to surpass the productivity of the digital masters and those unable to compete cease to be viable.

It is very much Digital Darwinism at play (Lee and Broadie, 2016,2).

Each organisation will be at a different evolutionary stage, with the differences between like organisations on trend to continue growing at pace. Think for example of the differences between the digital technology companies, and the productivity of their ecosystem and corporate culture. While the likes of Apple and Google are evolving at pace, organisations like Microsoft, HP and Acer are daily seeking to transform their operations to better compete, the likes of Nokia, Blackberry and Yahoo – all former digital masters – are slipping out of the play.

Contrary to the belief of some there is little governments can do to curtail Digital Darwinism – even if it was desirable.

The same – unseen to many – is happening with schools worldwide.

Schools have to go digital to remain viable (Lee and Broadie, 2015,5).

As evermore schools move to the digital operational mode the digital masters – the pathfinder schools – will continue to evolve at an accelerating pace, the later adopter schools will seek to follow, while those wedded to the ways of the traditional paper school will move closer to a state of equilibrium and questionable viability.

In the 2016 edition of The Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 12) we identified seven key and distinct school evolutionary stages, understanding that every school sat at a point on that evolutionary continuum. Schools operating at the Digital Normalisation evolutionary stage are very different organizations to those at the Early Digital. Indeed in many respects the mode of schooling provided in the former is antithetical to the latter, so great is the difference.

In brief schools are already very different.

It is the new reality – the new norm – that should be borne in mind in every school related operation.

Schools are not and should not be regarded as the same.

Moreover they have not been the same for at least the last decade, since the first of the schools moved to a digital operational mode.

Notwithstanding most educational administrators and governments still work on the premise that schools are not only the same, but will remain so for years to come. Globally one sees authority’s continuing to apply a common standard to all its schools.

Look at the following areas and consider how the extent to which all are premised on the assumption that schools are the same

  • National/provincial curriculum
  • National/provincial reform programs
  • Teaching standards
  • Pay scales
  • Duty statements
  • Staff deployment
  • Teacher education
  • Student reporting

You’ll have seen how national and regional politicians view all the schools the same when they seek to impose their magic panacea on the schools within their bailiwick.

It is as if sameness is the key to readying the young for a rapidly evolving uncertain future in a digital and socially networked world.

Ironically while sameness continues to be the underlying premise governments globally have in most quarters recognised the importance in a rapidly evolving digital society of self-regulating units and giving each school and its principal/head teacher a large degree of autonomy,

They are actively encouraging the schools to be different.

What impressed in examining the evolution of the pathfinding digital schools was how successful the astute principals were in taking advantage of that autonomy in shaping schools – markedly different, ever evolving schools – that would provide the ideal education.

One is left with the very strong impression that the vast majority of governments and educational administrators – and most assuredly their bureaucrats – are not aware how strongly their operational thinking is shaped by the premise that all schools are – and will – and probably should always be the same.

One can but hope they see the error in their thinking and that in supporting semi autonomous schools go digital they adopt a digital mindset (Bhaduri and Fischer, 2015) where organizational difference is the new norm.

In shaping your school’s digital evolution it is imperative you take charge of your school’s growth (Lee and Broadie, 2016, 4), understand your school is unique and that you will need to adopt a shaping strategy that suits your situation, regardless how different it makes your school to others.

  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016, 4) ‘Take Charge of Your School’s Growth and Evolution’ Digital Evolution of Schooling February – http://schoolevolutionarystages.net/?m=201602
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016. 12) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages. 2nd Edition Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/

 

rnessing the latest developments to grow and improve the business.

 

Empowering the School Community

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Tellingly all the schools studied have gradually but very surely empowered their total school community – giving their teachers, professional support staff, students, families and the school’s wider community- a greater voice in the school’s teaching, learning, resourcing and direction setting – markedly expanding the school’s capability and improving its productivity.

Significantly the schools have

  • fully empowered their professional staff
  • accorded all in their community greater respect
  • recognised the part all can play in enhancing the 24/7/365 education provided by the school
  • collaborated with all in lifting their understanding of the macro workings of the school and the school’s shaping vision
  • in the process distributed the control of the teaching, learning and school resourcing.

Yes – in all the distribution of control, the collaboration and the empowerment has added to the load on the school leadership, but paradoxically it has simultaneously provided the school principal considerable untapped support and additional resources. All the principals commented on the time needed to genuinely collaborate and listen, the many frustrations and the seemingly inevitable rectification of well intentioned mistakes, but on the upside the empowerment has added appreciably to the teaching and learning capability of the school, its resourcing, and the support and social capital the principal can call upon in growing the school and its attractiveness.

Schools in the developed world historically are working with their nation’s most educated cohort of parents and grandparents who since their child’s/children’s birth have recognised the importance of a quality education for ‘their’ children and who in their home and hands have a suit of digital resources that markedly exceeds that in most classrooms. All moreover have in their community a sizeable and growing body of retirees with considerable expertise, time on their hand and a desire to be valued.

The above alone is a vast source of expertise and additional resourcing the pathfinder schools in their social networking and empowerment are only beginning to tap.

Within a matter of years the early adopter schools in their digital journey have moved culturally from the stage where most within the school’s community were disempowered and had little or no voice in the workings and growth of the school to the point where the total school community is naturally contributing to the daily operations of the school.

It is a historic shift that has been led by the principals – a move that has to be led by the principal.

The move has been graduated, often seeing two steps forward and one back, but inexorably reaching the stage where the empowered expect to be involved in the decision making, if only to be informed of a development that clearly improves the school’s quest to realise its shaping vision. In empowering the school’s community, and vitally by bringing the parents into the 24/7/365 teaching of their children, schooling as we have known it – where the professionals unilaterally controlled the teaching and learning – has likely irrevocably changed.

The digital interface with the school’s community that allows ‘time poor’ members to be consulted and informed about key developments has been – and likely will always be – critical.

That said the empowerment will not be without its moments, particularly as a previously disempowered staff and school community attune their antenna to the extent to which they will be able to express their thoughts and use their new found power. That situation will – as mentioned – be compounded by the ever changing student cohorts and the school leadership having to contend with those new to the school’s culture and ways.

Here again the astute leadership of the principal is critical as she/he works to harness the potential of the empowered while simultaneously maintaining the focus on realising the school’s shaping vision and providing each child an apt education.

It calls for some very skilful balancing but also remembering that in undertaking the digital journey all the adults – teachers and parents – will be experiencing a mode of schooling significantly different to that they knew in their youth.

 

Politicking School Evolution

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

On first glance this might appear to be an unusual topic to include in the digital evolution of schooling. You’ll not see mention of it in any school planning document.

But the reality is that every school, small and large and indeed every organisation seeking to evolve digitally needs leaders skilled in the politicking of change, ready to apply those skills whenever the opportunity arises. The organisational change literature (Kanter, et.al, 1992) suggests up to 20% of a leader’s time can be spent directly or indirectly in politicking the desired change. It could be much more.

In most instances one is looking at small ‘p’ internal politicking but there could well be times – quite pronounced in some settings – where the school leadership needs to astutely engage in large ‘P’ politicking and to work with the professional politicians in advancing the school’s evolution.

It is appreciated state school leaders across the Western world as public servants are invariably prohibited from the latter type of ‘collaboration’ but as any who have worked in school administration for some time appreciate there are ways of safely activating supportive politicians as sponsors of a change.

If one is to successfully lead the digital evolution of a school, either as principal or as a member of the leadership team one needs to be skilled in the art of politicking the desired change and the protection of one’s back. The latter is important.

It is critical the leader secures the requisite support and endorsement at each key stage of the evolutionary journey and nips in the bud any moves that could distract the school from realising its shaping vision.

That entails very good people skills, astute social networking, the securing of sponsors and promoters of the change, the generation of a strong reserve of social capital, respect, the close daily monitoring of the school’s total operations and an appreciation of when it is necessary to secure the endorsement of various parts of the school’s community before making the next step. That endorsement doesn’t always have to be formally minuted but it is always helpful to have at least an email record of any agreements for possible future reference.

It also entails – when the circumstances dictate – the principal being willing to make unilateral decisions. Hansen in his excellent study on Collaboration (2009) talks of ‘disciplined collaboration’ and the necessity of leaders ‘assessing when to collaborate (and when not to)…stressing the ‘goal of collaboration is not collaboration, but better results (Hansen, p15, 2009).’

The latter is often forgotten.

It becomes particularly pertinent as the pace of the digital evolution accelerates, natural nonlinear growth impacts and the school realises ever more unintended benefits.   There is scant time or indeed interest in scrutinising every step and a willingness to let those at responsible make the decisions provided they are consonant with the school’s shaping vision.

The pathfinder school experience strongly suggests, particularly in the early stages, the evolution can be two steps forward and one step back. One is most assuredly not looking at a clear linear, A to B to C evolutionary path even with the best of planning and politicking.

It is easy to forget that in going digital schooling is embarking on one of its most momentous historical changes, and is doing so in a historically remarkably short period. It is very likely that none of the school staff or parents has ever had a digital schooling, and as such has a clear understanding of what is entailed.

It is an immense change to politick, to manage and have accepted as the new norm.

It is thus imperative that one sell the school’s evolution not only with the staff and the educational decision makers but also with the school’s student, parent and wider school community – with one’s clients –and ensure as best one can the clients are supportive of the school’s evolution and growth.

Virtually all the parents have only known the traditional paper based mode of schooling and while generally supportive of the digital they will retain a degree of ‘digital paranoia’, will at times default to the traditional ways and interestingly will likely expect the school to ‘fix the problem’ even when the responsibility has supposedly been shifted to the parents. In brief even when giving an endorsement, such as supporting BYOT many parents will not grasp the full implications of that approval.

The challenge is amplified when each year the school takes on a new student parent cohort.

You’ll soon find the students, even the very young will be your greatest political allies, particularly when you empower and collaborate with them, and ensure they are taught how the 24/7/365 use of their digital technologies can enhance their holistic education. There are few things more powerful politically than having a total student group able to articulate to parents and visitors how the digital is improving their learning.

Experience suggests it will take time for the digital transformation of schooling to be fully accepted, but that acceptance can likely be accelerated by genuinely collaborating with all the ‘teachers’ of the young – the staff, the students, their families and the wider school community – respecting and recognising their contribution, empowering them and having all appreciate the macro workings and aspirations of the school such that all can assist with politicking the evolution.

  • Hansen M.T (2009) Collaboration: How to Avoid the Traps, Create Unity and Reap Big Results, Boston, Harvard Business School Publishing
  • Kanter, R.M., Stein, B.A. and Jick, T.D (1992) The Challenge of Organisational Change NY Free Press

 

Primary Schools Will Evolve Faster

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

A decade plus study of the digital evolution of the pathfinder affirms to the authors that in general terms primary – or what others know as elementary or preparatory – schools will evolve faster than their secondary/high school counterparts.

The current primary school mindset, culture and organisational mode makes digital evolution appreciably easier than in the secondary school where the strong subject and exam focus, silo like organisational configuration, semi – autonomous ‘power blocs’ and size makes ready transformation difficult.

Critically the pointers are indicating the difference will grow.

We are already seeing primary school graduates moving from a higher order digitally based mode of teaching, where the children naturally use their own digital kit, to a lower order mode of teaching in the high school where the use of the student’s technology is still banned.

Not surprisingly the students and their parents are frustrated and invariably they are looking for those high schools where the disconnection is least.

It is a development that has very real student enrolment implications for the high schools.

However on present indications it is a development that most high schools could struggle to redress in the near future.

While not for a moment seeking to defend those high schools wedded to the paper based world the strong suggestion is that

  • the different rate of evolution between the primary and secondary schools be better understood, by both primary and secondary educators, and the parents and students informed of some of the main impediments potentially impacting the high school
  • the evolution of the two sectors of schooling be viewed separately and while understanding that both will ultimately move along the same evolutionary path and move through the same evolutionary stages the high school evolution will in general terms be slower.

In making the latter observation it must be stressed that one is talking in general terms, knowing full well there are secondary schools years ahead in their evolution than some barely moving primary schools.

It should also be underscored that the primary – high school difference is also likely to be evidenced within K-12 schools, albeit possibly slightly later if the school has adopted a middle school model.

Related is the importance of high schools comparing their evolutionary journey with that of like high schools and most assuredly not the typical primary school. One needs compare oranges with oranges.

The now clear and challenging reality, as yet few are seeing, is that the primary schools in general will evolve at an ever greater rate, in so doing increasingly adopt a digitally based, ever higher mode of schooling apposite for a socially networked world, very often moving their graduates into a more dated educational experience.

In bears reflecting why this might so.

The traditional form, size, focus, culture, mindset, teaching of the primary school, coupled with the greater collaboration between the school and the home makes is that easier for astute primary school principals to orchestrate their school’s on-going evolution than their high school counterparts.

Size and the relative smallness of most primary schools, and in turn the significantly fewer staff makes it that much more manageable to shape the desired ever evolving, evermore integrated, complex and higher order school ecosystem.

Primary schools have for decades had as a focus the learner and the desired holistic learning of all children, and when coupled with their use of an organisational structure with set classes or class groupings that emphasis provides a ready platform upon which to enhance all the staff’s macro understanding of the school’s workings and to collaborate evermore closely with the children’s homes.

Rarely does the primary school have the largely autonomous, subject based faculties or ‘empires’ found in the high school where middle managers are often reluctant to cede their power or vary their micro focus.

Rather the focus of all staff, the principal, the executive, the teachers and the professional support is a quality holistic education for every child. That focus, that thinking is relatively easy to build upon as the school begins lowering its walls, seeks to take advantage of the educational opportunities of the networked world, begins collaborating with its homes and community, and marrying the in and out of school learning and teaching.

Where genuine collaboration between the school and the home in the secondary years has invariably been minimal there is scarcely a primary school where the early childhood teachers have not worked closely with the parents. Once again that is a base that can be readily built upon and extended across all the primary school. In contrast most high schools have rarely collaborated with their homes, they unilaterally controlling the in school teaching and learning and as such in moving to a digital operational base and recognising the very considerable value of collaboration are basically having to start from scratch.

Importantly, except in the likes of England, most primary schools across the developed world have not had to contend with the stultifying external paper based exams that markedly impact the workings and thinking of the upper secondary school.

In brief it has been, and continues to be that much easier for the primary schools to move to a digital operational base, to build upon the opportunities availed, to ready their total staff and the wider school community for the on-going evolutionary journey and to evolve at accelerating pace.

 

Seek Digital Normalisation

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

You will want the school eventually to use the digital as naturally as it is outside the school walls today, it being so normal as to be near invisible.

You’ll want it to naturally underpin every school operation, teaching and administrative.

Only then will the total school community be in the position where it can truly begin harnessing the immense and increasing power of the digital technology and the school ecosystem and continually provide each child the desired education.

That said whole school digital normalisation is very difficult to achieve.

It is the reason why so few schools globally have reached that evolutionary stage. It requires in most schools a fundamental change in thinking, the creation of a highly supportive and empowering culture and the adoption of a mode of schooling befitting a digital and socially networked society. It requires a principal, a leadership team, a staff and a community that is prepared to dream, to take risks and to put in the years of concerted effort required to successfully address the myriad of human and technological variables needed to create the desired ecology.

It is the sixth of the school evolutionary stages for a very good reason.

With digital normalisation the school reaches the stage where it has finally shed its paper based shackles – its mindset, technological base, preoccupation with the physical site and its ‘within the walls’ teaching and practises – and is operating as a digital and socially networked school community thriving on seeming chaos, change and evolution.

When all within the school’s community have in their hands their personal digital technologies and are trusted and empowered to use their digital toolkit the school has reached the position where the doors are opened for it to take advantage of the evermore powerful and sophisticated digital base and thinking in the 24/7/365 schooling of the young.

An important point of clarification needs to be made. Digital normalisation occurs when the use of the digital technology across all facets of the school operations is so natural, so accepted as to be near invisible. It is not merely about issuing everyone with an iPad or a Chromebook, but rather is the stage when everyone is trusted to use their own kit and the focus is on the desired learning rather than the technology.

We are, in using the term most assuredly not implying that schools should only use digital technologies, or use the digital in all teaching but rather are suggesting the technology be used normally, appropriately and in a balanced manner – like we all use it in our everyday lives. Let the teaching situation determine what is the apt instructional technology or indeed increasingly mix of instructional technologies for each child.

 

Silo Like to Integrated Schools

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

A significant part of your digital evolutionary journey will be the school’s historic movement from its inefficient silo like organisational structure of Industrial Age origins to an increasingly integrated, efficient and productive one befitting a digital and socially networked society.

You’ll shift from the traditional arrangement where the various cells within the school – the classroom teacher, the faculty, the ICT unit, the library, the front office – operate largely autonomously to a significantly more integrated structure where all operations are interconnected and focussed on realising the school’s shaping vision.

A major – and again largely unwitting – driver of the shift will be the school’s move to a digital operational base and the recognition of the many benefits that flow from convergence and organisational integration. Digital congruence is the key. The physical networking of the school and the ubiquitous use of all manner of digital technologies that can talk to each other make redundant many practises and quickly remove the strict divisions between the operational units.

The vast majority of the world’s schools, and in particular the secondary are still impacted by the factory model with its strong division of labour and the assumption that if each unit on the production line does its job the students would graduate with an appropriate holistic education.

Many over the last fifty years have questioned that assumption and some schools have made major strides in adopting organisational structures that open the way for a more holistic education.

Until relatively recently the major impediment to the running of a more integrated school has been its underlying paper base. Paper as a technology has major limitations, the most important of which is the requirement that the information thereon has to be physically transported to its recipient/s. The high level use of that technology necessitated close physical proximity. The delivery of a paper to another member of staff meant getting up and physically delivering the information.

While philosophically and organisationally the school might have wanted to integrate its efforts while ever it retained its paper operational base its efforts would be frustrated.

Networks and the digital technology change the game. Not only does the digital operational base negate the physical and logistical shortcomings, stimulate operational integration but it also allows full multimedia creation, 24/7/365 communication, interaction and storage – all at pace and with little cost. Few have yet to sit back and analyse the impact alone of the physical networking of schools in that 90’s and early 2000’s.

The experience of the pathfinder schools would suggest the shift from the loosely to more tightly coupled school will be gradual, incremental and will accelerate the more the school matures its ecosystem.

That acceleration will be assisted by the school’s:

  • tightening focus on its shaping educational vision
  • efforts to ensure all school operations are directed to realising that vision
  • rising digital expectations
  • recognition that digital congruence is the crux
  • trust and empowerment of its staff and community, and efforts to ensure all have a better macro understanding of the school’s workings
  • endeavours to shape an increasingly mature and powerful school ecosystem
  • daily efforts to create an evermore productive ecosystem, that marries the in and out of school learning and resourcing

Experience has demonstrated that the integration will in general terms occur much faster in the primary or elementary school than in the high schools. The structural hurdles and cultural mores of the high school are far harder to overcome than those in the primary school.

In the secondary school in addition to the challenge of changing the culture, and shifting the focus away from paper based external exams there is the invariable silo like organizational structure and the fiefdoms and their warlords keen to retain their power base.

In brief if you are leading a secondary school on its evolutionary journey be prepared for a long and at times painful graduated shift.

 

Think Digital, Not Analogue

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In undertaking your digital journey your mindset – and that of your school community – will gradually change and evolve, slowly but surely moving away from the traditional paper based, strongly analogue way of thinking, shifting to a far more digital and socially networked mindset.

The change – based on the experiences of the pathfinder schools – will likely be gradual and for a period one will default to the traditional ways but over time the digital mindset will become so natural as for you not to think about it, until you encounter those still operating in the analogue mode!

Examine the attributes at each of the key evolutionary stages (Lee and Broadie, 2016)) and you’ll note the pronounced change in thinking that occurs as the schools evolve and how by the Networked stage the school, the teachers and indeed the parents have adopted a very different mindset – a very different outlook and set of expectations to those at the Paper Based and Early Digital stages.

The digital mindset is in many respects antithetical to the analogue.

Bhaduri and Fischer in a 2015 Forbes business magazine asked ‘Are You a Digital or Analogue Leader? While directed at business leaders the two-page comparison of the distinguishing features of each type of leader remarkably parallels the change in thinking identified by the authors in the leaders in the pathfinder schools.

Download the comparison from – http://www.forbes.com/sites/billfischer/2015/03/19/are-you-an-analog-or-digital-leader/ – discuss it with your colleagues and position yourself.

By virtue of brevity the comparison verges on the black and white but critically it makes the point that it is the mindset of the CEO/the principal which strongly impacts the nature of the organisation and its culture.

Principals operating within a digital and networked mindset will run a very different kind of school to those ensconced within an insular analogue mindset.

Interestingly many of the pathfinder principals commented on their difficulty in explaining to traditional principals and teachers the nature of the schooling they were providing – so different were the two modes. Even in 2016 many school leaders can’t envision schools changing. They genuinely believe they know everything there is to know about schooling. In contrast the digital leaders are highly ambivalent about the form their schools will take in future years, even five years hence. While the former’s is a world of constancy and certainty the latter’s is world of rapid uncertain change and evolution where one forever on will be leading the school into uncharted waters.

What can you do to expedite the change in mindset in your school? We are not really sure.

Those associated with the pathfinder schools – and that includes the staff and the wider school community – have made the shift as part of the school’s evolution, it invariably taking years.

Logic would suggest the later adopter schools should learn from the early adopters and be able to hasten the change in thinking but the authors’ strong suspicion is that the deep-seated change in mindset will only come from the everyday association with evolving school ecosystems and cultures.

You’ll lose little by discussing the shift with your staff, by publicly noting significant shifts in thinking but bear mind historically you are talking about changing a mindset that has shaped schooling for hundreds of years. Moreover on your evolutionary journey you will need to change the thinking of all your staff, the students, the current and prospective families and indeed the wider school community while simultaneously addressing the plethora of other key variables.

That said the school will be operating integrally within an increasingly socially networked society, where most in the school’s community will have normalised the 24/7/365 use of the digital technology, will have rising expectations of the digital and where many of the parents will in their work be employing a digital and networked mindset

There is much to be said for being conscious of shifting the mindset but letting the continued evolution of the school and the societal pressures naturally do the job.

Bibliography

 

Distributed Control of the Teaching and Learning

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

If schools are to normalise the whole of school community use of the digital and to create a 24/7/365 mode of schooling they’ll need to trust and respect the contribution all within its community and distribute the control of the teaching and learning.

The total school community, all the professional staff – the executive, the classroom teachers and professional support staff, the students, the families and the wider school community need to be empowered, to understand the school’s shaping mission, to appreciate its macro workings and to play a significant part in the teachings, operations and growth of the school.

They need to ‘own’ their school.

In a socially networked society where learning and teaching can, and does take place anywhere, anytime it makes sense to actively involve – in an appropriate way – all the teachers of the young, and not as now focus simply on what the professionals are doing within the school walls.

Within that socially networked school community the principal and the teachers will need to continue to play the lead role – they having both the expertise and the time to so – but that role should also entail empowering the other ‘teachers’, giving them the desired direction and support.

Probably more than ever the principal must continue to play the lead role but not in an autocratic sense but rather as the school’s chief conductor, orchestrating the school’s daily operations and deriving the utmost from all the players in the workings, continued growth and evolution of the school.

In playing this role the principal, like all good conductors and CEOs, has to be the final arbiter. He/she listens, collaborates, delegates and takes on board the decisions made by others but in the end the principal has to make the final decision, even if the decision is simply to endorse work done or not to do anything.

More than ever the shaping of an increasingly complex, more tightly integrated school ecosystems requires principals and professional teachers who can provide the desired instructional leadership while also having a strong working knowledge of all the other major variables, human, educational, political, financial and technological that will grow the school’s ecosystem.

It requires astute, sensitive principals happy to empower others but knowing when and where to intervene to ensure an operation assists realise the school’s shaping vision. It moreover necessitates having an empowered, highly professional staff – teaching and support – with the macro educational understanding, confidence and the people skills to genuinely collaborate with and enhance the ‘teaching’ contribution of the non-professional teachers.

Traditionally within the strongly hierarchically school the principal and the others atop the apex unilaterally controlled the total operations of the school, often running the school in a highly autocratic manner. In so doing they disempowered most of the teachers, ensured the support staff played a subservient role and the students, their families and the local community had no real say.

When schools move to a digital operational base, begin socially networking in a significant way and recognising the value of genuinely collaborating with all involved in the teaching of the young, in and outside the school walls one sees notes in the pathfinder schools a significant letting go of the control from up high and concerted efforts to empower all within the school’s community.

The growing collaboration with the student’s homes and the school’s community has been discussed.

There has been in the pathfinder schools, particularly when they move to the Early Networked evolutionary stage a recognition of the importance of getting the most from the professional staff and listening much better to the students.

At the Digital evolutionary stage, while the teachers are using the digital technology most remain relatively disempowered and underused as professionals. The strongly hierarchical organisation model promotes in most staff a micro focus, a focus on playing just their part in the production line. Most have a limited understanding of the macro workings of the school, so essential in growing an integrated school ecosystem.

One needs to markedly enhance that macro capability of staff as soon as is feasible, but it will take time and needs to be done on the fly.   What hit home in the pathfinder schools was how accepting were the staff of the empowerment, the efforts made by most to lift their professionalism, their relatively rapid embrace of change and willingness to take professional risk and their preparedness to genuinely collaborate with their students, the parents and the school’s wider community.

How long it will take in your situation we don’t know. There are so many variables at play.

What we do know is that until the control of the teaching and learning is genuinely distributed digital evolution will be stalled, the successful whole school uptake of BYOT impossible and digital normalisation but a dream.

 

 

Operating Your School in the Digital Mode

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Schools need all, or near all, of their teachers using the digital technology in their everyday teaching before they can move to a digital operational mode and build the base that will enable the school to evolve digitally.

It is most assuredly not enough for all teachers to have the kit – they actually have to use the technology integrally in their teaching.

While that might seem blindingly obvious, the reality is that in 2016 many school leaders, educational administrators, governments and indeed media commentators don’t appear to have grasped that necessity.

As the logic and experience affirms until the school’s main operation, its teaching actually makes use of the digital the school will not move to a digital mode. It will remain operating in its traditional paper based base and mindset.

Commentators incorrectly assume that all teachers are using the latest technology, and using the technology astutely.

The rhetoric far exceeds the reality. A survey of 35 Australian state schools by Mal Lee in mid 2015 (unpublished) revealed on average that around 65 % of the teachers were using the digital technology naturally in their everyday teaching. Roger Broadie found that matched his UK experience. The actual figures could be lower or higher.

Before a school can make any significant progress in its digital evolution it has to have 95%-100% using the digital in class. Having 60% – 70% – 80% is not enough. We’re aware of schools still at the 30% level.

What is the figure in your school?

Recognise that while achieving that 95% -100% figures is critical, it is but a step in the evolutionary journey. It will literally take years and much astute and concerted effort to build upon that whole of teacher usage and create the school digital ecosystem and culture that will allow the total school community to normalise the use of the digital. It takes years of operating on the fly to grow the total staff, the student group and community and replace the paper based practises with the digital.

The digital base is essential. You’ll require an ever evolving, evermore sophisticated digital ecosystem that allows all within the school’s community to naturally use the growing power of the digital in every school operation – in its 24/7/365 teaching, assessment, administration, finances, communication, social networking, marketing, accountability and growth.

What you are looking at in the total teacher usage is a crucial step in getting the teachers, the school and its community to think digitally (Bhaduri and Fischer, 2015).

While only an early step, it is, as the number of schools globally that have yet to reach this point attest a difficult move to make.

Indeed it is important to openly acknowledge that difficulty and recognise the challenge of getting the school to the starting line.

The major challenge will be human but the school will require the finance, technology and network infrastructure to make the desired human change possible.

Critically all the teachers – virtually all of whom will have normalised the use of the digital outside the classroom – need perceive the importance of using the digital in their teaching and every other school operation, often in environments where paper based external exams are deemed life changing and the facility to write a three hour exam paper remains vital.

Teachers need appreciate that in time the digital has to underpin every school operation if the school is to shape an increasingly integrated, powerful and productive ecosystem. They need to see the big picture and not simply consider the digital in relation to in class performance. It is the totality that matters.

The expectations set– and given teeth – by the principal in relation to the use of the digital technology are vital to instilling the desired importance. The astute principals moved quickly to ensure the core administration – the marking of rolls, staff communiques, recording of student performance and the like – was all done digitally. When the staff selection criteria address digital teaching capability, the daily operations of the school oblige its use and the fulfilment of contract obligations specify the astute application of the digital the importance of the digital is readily understood. When the principal sets no such expectations the status quo will prevail.

The apt, highly reliable digital technology has to be available for all to use.

Every teacher, every member of the professional support team must have the apt suite of current digital technologies. The traditional approach has been for the employer to provide that technology but increasingly schools are recognising the value of financially supporting a BYOT approach.

The total school campus requires apt Wi Fi network coverage, and every teaching room an appropriate digital presentation facility and the digital tools for the students to use when opportune.

The movement of the school to that vital digital operational should be a priority – if your school has not already reached that position. Experience reveals it will take time, likely years, and that each school will likely need a strategy that fits its situation but regardless of how it is done you need make that crucial step.

  • Bhaduri, A and Fischer, B (2015) ‘Are You an Analogue or Digital Leader?’ Forbes 19/2/2015 – http://www.forbes.com/sites/billfischer/2015/03/19/are-you-an-analog-or-digital-leader/

 

 

Shaping the Desired Ecosystem

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The ultimate challenge as the leader of a digital school is to shape, week after week a school ecosystem that simultaneously, and effectively addresses all the variables that impact each child’s learning in and increasingly outside the school walls.

Where in business the focus is on shaping highly productive digitally based ecosystems that improve the financial bottom line in schooling it is the shaping of an ecosystem that will allow the school to realise its shaping vision and provide each child the apt education.

The focus in both is the desired totality, and not as stressed the discrete parts therein.

In both the schools and business one is looking at shaping continually evolving, increasingly complex and hopefully more productive ecosystems where daily the leader needs to successfully marry the known with the unknown.

Critically one is looking at an evolving organisation that will need to be continually attuned to the changing environment for the rest of its existence.

Gone are the days of seeking to create the ideal school, where the head can sit back and ‘know’ year after year it will deliver the perfect education.

Rather one is talking about organisations, about schools where the effectiveness of the ecosystem can vary over time, where it can be highly productive for a period, and then struggle before once again being even more successful. Success could well be transitory, strongly impacted by changes in the leadership, staff and the context.

The authors have in these monographs identified some sixty plus key variables that need to be successfully and largely simultaneously addressed in shaping the desired digitally based ecosystem. To that number one has to add the plethora of other variables required to make a good school.

All have to be addressed in shaping the desired ecosystem.

One is looking at an environment where

  • all the operations of the school, the educational, financial and administrative are increasingly interconnected and where the complex adaptive system is naturally generating all manner of synergies, and intended and unintended benefits
  • one poor decision amongst thousands can have considerable ramifications
  • even when the leadership address all the known variables there is no guarantee that the ecosystem will function as desired
  • the rapidly evolving but sometimes fragile ecosystem needs to work appropriately week after week, year after year, with student cohort after cohort even when contending with the unknown
  • it is vital to always have a school leader – be it the principal or deputy – shaping the daily workings and growth of the ecosystem, with the wherewithal to immediately address any malfunction. The having of that able deputy in a smaller school can be an issue that will impact the robustness of the school’s ecosystem.

It is a very different to the world of constancy, continuity and risk aversion that schooling has thus known, where every move was carefully planned and shaped by past best practise.

The authors have used the term ‘shaping’ very advisably. Traditionally terms like ‘building’ and ‘creating’ are used with school development, both implying the designers had full control of all the factors impacting the school’s growth.

The reality is that amorphous entities like digitally based school ecosystems operating with a socially networked society, amidst the Digital Revolution will be impacted by many major forces that can only ever be shaped. And indeed shaped bearing in mind the forces at play at a particular time, which change. Yes the early adopter schools have had their vision, plans, implementation strategies and on-going measurement but they also have had the agility and culture to take advantage of the unexpected.

While governments and indeed many educational decision makers like to perpetuate the myth that they have full control over the evolution of complex adaptive systems they don’t.

Reflect on the impact of the iPhone alone since 2007 on every digital ecosystem, and indeed school community and its expectations, and you’ll begin to appreciate how powerful are the forces impacting on schools, and why even the best of principals can only ever shape those many forces to best educational advantage.

The shaping of continually evolving school ecosystems calls for very capable principals.

Of note is that none of the very successful principals in the case study schools had that wherewithal before they embarked on the digital evolutionary journey. All have learnt and grown on the journey.

You can do the same – however with the benefits of the insights provided by the pathfinders and their affirmation of the necessity of daily shaping the desired totality.