Category Archives: school differences

2. COVID and The Transition

Mal Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The poor were left to fend for themselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was there any such contemplation in your school?

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

What approach would you take?

Which does you school employ?

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

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

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

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

It leaves that to the school, and education authority.

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

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

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

Is Sustained Core School Change Possible?

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An alert for those wanting to lead a digital school.

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The historic, universal, unwritten assumptions are that fundamental school change is not only possible, but is desired by those in authority and can be readily sustained.

Underpinning virtually every education plan and staff development program in the last century has likely been the desire to change and enhance schooling. Myriads of books have been published, studies conducted, reports written and likely millions of conferences conducted globally detailing how. 

Daily politicians continue to espouse the changes they are initiating, giving the impression that the governments of the world actively want significant educational innovation and change.

We’d suggest the time has come to seriously question all three assumptions. 

We accept that merely questioning the assumptions is akin to killing Bambi, but if schooling is to educate the young for a rapidly evolving world the validity of these first order premises should be examined, and the reality addressed.

COSN recently released an excellent study on the hurdles constraining Driving K-12 Innovation (COSN, 2019). The problem was that barriers identified were second order and assumed governments and schools wanted to innovate, could do so, and could sustain the changes made.

It is suggested that

  • For most it might be impossible to fundamentally change the traditional mode of schooling in a sustained way. It can in exceptional circumstances happen with individual schools, at least for a time, but as we explore in later posts historically it has been near impossible to sustain across a total system.
  • it is extremely unlikely most schools will evolve as digitally mature organisations (Kane, et al, 2016) being digital (Negroponte, 1995) in the foreseeable future.
  • most governments and educators have no real desire to significantly change the nature of schooling. They want constancy, continuity, sameness and control, free of electoral risk.

School leaders should better understand what is possible to change and is sustainable, be aware of the myriad of constraints to significant school change, and appreciate where transformation is possible, and likely impossible. 

History reveals that sustaining the change is likely as difficult as making the initial change. It also suggests this key facet of organisational change hasn’t been given the attention due. 

It is time to mix vision with pragmatism, to adopt a more reasoned approach to change, to accept there are givens, and to stop tilting at windmills in areas when there is little or no likelihood of marked variation of the current practises. 

In talking about core school change one is addressing fundamental variations in the traditional mode of schooling. New buildings, technologies, curriculum or assessment procedures don’t in themselves mean core change, particularly when they are simply a variant of the old. One is looking at the likes of schools without walls, open plan schools and the move to a 24/7/365 mode of schooling that integrates the networked with the site based learning.

Heads must recognise from their appointment they will lead the school transformation process for a finite time, with very real likelihood that any significant changes they make to the traditional ways being reversed on their departure. Despite the best efforts of likely millions of very capable heads globally history is festooned with examples, particularly within systems, of the laudable efforts being dismantled or abandoned by less able replacements.

For centuries school planners have worked on the assumption they can, with calm rationale thought shape whatever kind of schools they want. They can’t.  There are immense, likely growing constraints and barriers inhibiting core change. 

It is time for all educational decision makers, but particularly principals to better understand, and work with that reality. We now know what can and likely can’t be changed, that which is immutable and that where enhancement is possible. For example, after two hundred plus years of governments in the northern hemisphere basing their school term dates on the agrarian year, and those dates impacting near every facet of life, the economy, and learning there is no way to markedly change the term times. There are like givens those wanting change must work with.

School leaders should also appreciate that most governments and education decision don’t want any significant change.  Most educational administrations are about control and being risk adverse, committed to ‘protecting and promoting the minister’, concerned not to alienate the electorate or media. While politicians and their educational administrators speak of change the difference between the rhetoric and the reality can be vast. Granted some governments have genuinely wanted enhancement, but history reveals most only want controlled change. Twenty-five years on from the world going digital, and the Digital Revolution transforming all manner of organisations worldwide most of the world’s schools have avoided or been sand bagged against any significant digital disruption (Lee and Broadie, 2018a). Most schools use of the digital the same way as they did a quarter of a century ago, albeit with access to the online.

Conclusion

In the coming weeks, we’ll explore through a series of short blogs the realities facing all school leaders, but particularly those wanting to lead a digital school.

If you would like to comment further do write Mal Lee at – mallee@mac.com

Bibliography

  • Kane, G.C, Palmer, D, Phillips, A.N, Kiron, D, Buckley, N (2016) Aligning the Organisation for its Digital Future. MIT Sloan Management Review, July 2016, Massachusetts MIT SMR/Deloitte University Press – http://sloanreview.mit.edu/projects/aligning-for-digital-future/
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2018) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–  
  • Negroponte, N (1995) Being DigitalSydney Hodder and Stoughton

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.