Category Archives: Stages of school evolution

ACER Teacher Digital Evolution Series

Mal Lee has written for ACER’s online Teacher magazine in a series of brief research papers on the digital evolution of schooling. They include:

Article in ACER’s Teacher on School Evolutionary Stages

Mal has an article in the inaugural edition of ACER’s new online magazine Teacher on the global school evolutionary stages.  Simply go to –

A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages

Roger Broadie and I have posted on under the new Taxonomy section of this site and at a copy of our Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages and the complementary publication Evolution through the Threads.

Both publications are free.

We’d strongly suggest downloading both publications.

The Taxonomy posits, as mentioned in earlier posts that

  • schools globally evolve in a remarkably similar manner, particularly when shifting to a digital operational base
  • all schools currently sit at a point on six stage evolutionary continuum; a continuum that will over time continually expand
  • schools will evolve through a series of key evolutionary stages, demonstrating at each stage remarkably similar attributes
  • the vast majority of schools will need to evolve through each of the stages before moving on to the next
  • it is finally possible with the continuum to provide schools and their communities an international indicative measure, that allows them to readily identify their school’s approximate current evolutionary stage and the likely path ahead
  • it takes considerable time and effort for schools to move along the evolutionary continuum
  • schools in equilibrium are prone to the same risks as other complex organisations that don’t continue to evolve.

The Evolution through the Threads explores in depth the evolution that has occurred in the pathfinder schools that have or nearly normalised the whole school use of the digital technology in some 20 plus key operational areas. Vitally the analysis of the threads underscores the reality that the evolution in a school might well occur at a different pace in different operational areas.

Both works have emerged out of the research we have undertaken with pathfinder schools in the UK, US, NZ and Australia.

While as stressed both works are human constructs and indicative in nature we have both in our school consultations found the staff and vitally the parents can swiftly position the school and soon understand the many variables needing to be addressed.

Distributed Control of Teaching and Learning


Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

March 2014

You may have noticed in examining the evolution of the pathfinder schools they have all increasingly distributed the control of the teaching and learning.  They have actively sought to recognise, harness and enhance the contribution of all the teachers of the young – the parents, carers, grandparents, the children themselves, interested community members and professional ‘teachers’ in other agencies – in the 24/7/365 teaching of the children.

The development stands in marked contrast to the traditional paper based school where, as the evolutionary stage attributes reveal, the school has unilateral control of the teaching and learning, firmly believes it and only it should shape the children’s schooling. As a consequence there is relatively little or no genuine collaboration between the school and the home, and the parents and children themselves are left by default to educate the children outside the school walls.

The situation begins to change, and change rapidly when schools move to a digital operational base, when all the staff, lead by an astute principal begin to appreciate the educational opportunities opened by the digital technology. One thus sees from the Early Networked stage schools, seemingly overnight beginning to genuinely collaborate with their parents.

The pronounced digital divide between the school and its homes blurs and the teachers begin to appreciate the many potential benefits of recognising and building upon the out of school learning.  Why the pronounced change in thinking we are not sure.  The theory would suggest the collaboration should be possible without the technology but all our case studies reveal it happening successfully only when the school adopts the digital operational base.

Follow the evolutionary continuum and by the Networked Evolutionary Stage – where the term ‘networked’ pertains to the level of social networking evidenced throughout the school community, in and outside the school walls – the schools, regardless of situation or nation, are working collaboratively with the parents and school community in all manner of teaching and learning (Lee and Ward, 2013).  The schools are distributing the control of the teaching and learning and they are ceding some of their power or more aptly using the power of their educational expertise.

In all case studies it was the school, and in particular the school principal that led the way in pursuing a more collaborative, socially networked and inclusive mode of teaching.  Significantly that leadership was achieved through the application of educational expertise, and not consciously by position.

Inherent in that quest was the recognition of the vast, and largely untapped and underdeveloped teaching and learning potential outside the school walls, an understanding that the parents will always be the children’s first teachers, and a willingness to trust the parents and children to play a greater role in the schooling of a digital and networked world.

That trust, that willingness to distribute the control of the 24/7/365 teaching and learning was tested in the pathfinders in the move to allow the children bring to class their choice of kit.

BYOT, as defined by Mal and Martin Levins (2012), is an approach where the school understands the educational importance of trusting and respecting the wishes of the children and parents in the choice of the desired suite of digital technologies and of genuinely collaborating with the homes in marrying its teaching efforts with those of the school.

Indeed we would go so far as to say – based admittedly on an as yet relatively small sample of schools globally – that schools will likely be unable to move to the Digital Normalisation evolutionary stage and beyond until they are willing to distribute the control of the teaching and learning and empower all within the school’s community.

Lee, M and Levins, M (2012) Bring Your Own Technology Melbourne ACER Press

Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: transcending the classroom walls Melbourne ACER Press

Distributed Control of Teaching and Learning

School evolutionary situation and staffing


Mal Lee

A significant issue with staffing is beginning to emerge as the schools at the networked evolutionary stage and beyond employ new staff, teaching and professional support.

The culture, the ecology, the mindset, the expectations of staff in those schools is markedly different to that experienced in the traditional paper based school and as such the selection expectations of the pathfinders are significantly different and of an appreciably higher order than those of the lower order schools.

If one examines the attributes of the schools at the networked, and digital normalisation evolutionary stages and notes their ever-evolving nature, their ever-tighter integration, the networked mindset and 24/7/365 collaboration with their families and community and the imperative of all within the school’s community – the principal, the staff, the parents – having a macro appreciation of the school’s shaping educational vision it should come as no surprise to see the school leadership, and the teacher and parent representatives on the staff selection panels, expecting new staff – teaching and support – to have the apposite understanding and skill set.

It is important to note the expectation comes from both the professional staff and the school community representatives.

It is an understanding and skill set acquired in the main within the pathfinder culture that exists in its entirety in as yet few other schools, but which can increasingly be found within pockets in later adopter schools.

What the pathfinders are finding is that staff that have worked in a temporary capacity in the higher order culture, who are aware of its ecology, have the desired mind and skill set and are applying for a permanent position are advantageously positioned compared to most other applicants, even potentially very capable applicants, currently working within the traditional insular, paper based paradigm.

The pathfinders require teachers and professional support staff able to thrive in an ever-evolving digital and networked environment, who are of a mind and have the skills to contribute to the school’s holistic enhancement. Naturally they don’t want staff in permanent positions that have yet to demonstrate their capacity to make that contribution.

It is appreciated that while today this is a rare situation it is an issue that is set to grow quickly as ever more schools globally move along the evolutionary continuum.

The challenge for the pathfinder schools and those following is to be aware of the situation as they look to appoint apposite new staff and while not for a moment suggesting punishing those applicants who have the advantage of working in higher order school ecologies to be very conscious of potentially excellent staff that have demonstrated their capacity to make a significant contribution to a digitally based school, even though they might be working within a paper based school or coming directly from teacher education.

It is moreover a development that affirms the wisdom of the global moves to accord individual schools greater decision-making and the importance of education authorities and governments better understanding the growing variability between schools, and the implications that flow.


Schools take charge of evolution and technology

Mal Lee

There are pleasing signs globally and across Australia that evermore schools are recognising they have to take charge of their own evolutionary development and the digital technology they employ to achieve that sustained development.

Evermore are recognising they have to be the prime unit of change, and as such they, and not the government of the day or their local education authority, are responsible for successfully addressing the plethora of variables that will allow them to evolve at pace and achieve the desired digital normalisation and provide an apposite 21st century education.

They are long past waiting for government or the system to provide the answers and funding for the way forward.  Yes, they will most assuredly use any apposite support provided by external agencies but they understand they have to take control of their own destiny.

The stark reality is that while in some fortunate situations the ‘system’ is providing apposite support most central offices are currently demonstrating little appreciation of what is occurring with the pathfinders, of the evolutionary continuum or how the continuum can assist individual schools in their journey. Many are adding little value to the teaching in the schools and simply frustrating the school’s evolution.

In many respects it matters not to the individual school what the Federal Government of the day is, whether it be the Greens, Labor or Liberal or indeed who wins the next election.

While governments of all persuasion globally, and not simply in Australia, like to project the profound impact they have upon the running and performance of the nation’s schools, and imagine that by the end of their term in office all ‘their’ schools will naturally have embraced and benefitted from the government’s policies the reality is that most government’s have limited impact on the school’s culture and operations.

The power lies primarily within the school.  To read more Schools Take Charge of Evolution

This article has been published in Educational Technology Solutions September 12 2013 –

Application of the Evolutionary Continuum

In constructing the school evolutionary stages continuum and in writing the soon to be released Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages our desire was to provide all associated with schooling globally a simple measure they could readily apply to position their school and identify the road that lies ahead for their school.

We’ve consciously aimed to provide a facility all can use – and not as happens so often in education a measure that can only be applied by someone skilled in psychometrics.

The desire is to provide an indicative measure that can be readily used

  • to further parents and grandparent’s understanding of the school’s position
  • to give the students greater voice
  • in assisting empower all the staff, the teaching and vitally also the professional support
  • to assist the development of principals
  • to foster whole school evolution and on-going enhancement
  • to highlight the individual school – and not the system per se – as the unit of change
  • in helping the political decision makers better understand the global commonality of school evolution, and the growing variability between schools
  • by those in teacher training to better understand the schools they will be entering
  • by educational researchers to develop measures that can be realistically used in ever more integrated, rapidly evolving schools.

Our hope is that the continuum can be applied without assistance but if help is required Roger at – and Mal at – can assist.

Skype and the astute juggling of time zones should make it possible to assist wherever you are in the world.

In applying the measure in a group setting do bear in mind the earlier post by Roger.

Evolution of Digital Technology in Schools

Closely related to the work done by Roger and Mal is that being undertaken by Professor Peter Twining from the Open University.

Peter is researching the evolving use of digital technology in schools, initially in the UK and soon in Australia.

Details of Peter’s early findings can be viewed at -

School Websites – as Indicators of School’s Evolutionary Position

Mal Lee

Every school’s website provides a telling insight into where it sits on the international school evolutionary continuum.

Within minutes those conversant with the school evolutionary stage indicators – as discussed in the last post – can obtain an insight into the school’s current position.

Possibly unwittingly your website invariably provides all interested a window to the school’s workings.

Vitally it also provides an excellent insight into the school’s leadership’s thinking.

Have you looked lately at the message – intended and unintended – your school website communicates?

In researching the evolution of schooling in the UK, US, NZ and Australia over the last 5-6 years, in exploring the impact of digital normalisation on school transformation I’ve had occasion to examine many, many school websites.

It has become increasingly apparent, particularly now the first schools are moving into the Digital Normalisation stage that astute educators and parents globally – current and prospective – can and do increasingly use the school website as a quick and valid indicator of the evolutionary stage the school is at and if it is a school where one wants to send the children.

Governments and education authorities like to perpetuate the perception that all of their schools are the same.  Most moreover seek to reinforce that myth by trying to have all ‘their’ schools use a standard website.

The reality is that schools are by no means the same. There is now immense and growing variability.  All sit at different points along an ever-evolving, ever lengthening continuum, where the difference between the schooling provided at each end of the continuum is already dramatic and growing daily.

Variability is the new norm, fostered by the moves nationally and internationally to devolve greater autonomy to each school.

That variability is readily evidenced in the school website.

To read full post

Websites as Indicators – online version

The Evolutionary Stages of Schooling and Stage Indicators

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

As mentioned in the previous post we have identified six stages in the evolution of schooling thus far, and within each of the stages a set of indicators; benchmarks that provide schools – at least within the English – speaking world – an international measure that allows them to readily position themselves on the school evolutionary continuum.

Importantly the indicators allow all within the school’s community – and not just the professionals – to both position the school and vitally to quickly identify the kind of variables to be addressed if the school is to evolve as desired.

Feel free to download the stages and the stage indicators. (Part B of the stages threads is being finalised.)

Evolutionary Stages of Schooling

Evolutionary stages threads A 2Jul13