Category Archives: Stages of school evolution

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

Purpose of Blog


The desire with this blog is to help promote international discussion on

  • the concepts allied to the notion that once schools as organisations go digital they will progress along an ever-expanding evolutionary continuum
  • the many profound implications that flow for associated with schooling from an acceptance and understanding of those concepts.

The authors’ research suggests that

  • all schools will move along an evolutionary continuum once they leave their traditional paper operational base and move to one that is digital and networked.  Once organisations go digital and networked – be they banks, newspapers, hospitals or schools – they will move from era of relative constancy and continuity to one of on-going, often rapid and uncertain change and evolution.
  • that continuum will be ever-evolving, ever-expanding and vitally will be largely common in form regardless of school type or size, level of schooling, socio-economic standing or context, at least within the schools of the English speaking world
  • all schools will moreover move through a series of common stages, with each stage having a suite of remarkably common, interrelated attributes.

In 2013 the authors have identified the six below stages but are conscious the pathfinder schools are moving at pace to another.

  • the vast majority of schools will need to move through each of the stages before they are ready to move to the next.  To view the six stages and the stage indicators click here.
  • In moving along the evolutionary continuum the schools will undergo on-going organisational transformation and become ever more tightly integrated and unique ecologies.
  • Each school, and in particular its leadership has to chart and be responsible for its own movement along the evolutionary continuum.  While education authorities can assist individual schools the school itself has to take responsibility.
  • Once schools become digitally based organisations they will experience a significant degree of natural growth – regardless of government aspirations – and will need to shape that raw growth to ensure the desired education is provided.

In 2013 all of the above are novel concepts.

Governments in most instances like to project the image that all ‘its’ schools are basically the same.

Schools, education authorities and governments globally also perpetuate the perception that the basic form of the school is somehow immutable and unchanging, and that all that is required to enhance the schools’ effectiveness and relevance is some simple tinkering with the existing structure.  Daily one reads of the latest simplistic ‘silver bullet’ fix mooted by the governments of the world.

Allied is the assumption that government’s have in ‘their’ schools institutions over which they have near complete control.

The reality is that schools across the world sit at different points along a continuum, and indeed an evolutionary continuum that is growing ever-longer by the day, where the variability between the schools is becoming ever greater.

Vitally most governments, education authorities and indeed policy makers and educational researchers have prefaced their operations – probably unwittingly – on the assumption that schooling will always be largely constant in form.

That is not so and hasn’t been so since the early 2000’s.

The Research

Previous research (Lee and Gaffney, 2008) revealed that around 2002/2003 the first schools globally finally succeeded in getting all their teachers to use the digital technology in their everyday teaching, to achieve digital take off, to shift to a digital operational base and to embark on the path of on-going evolution.

Over the last five years Mal Lee has focussed his research on the work of those pathfinding schools globally (Lee and Winzenried (2009), (Lee and Finger, 2010), (Lee and Levins, 2012) (Lee and Ward, 2013) as they capitalised upon the opportunities opened by the digital technology and moved along the evolutionary continuum.

Conscious that 2013 was a decade on since the first schools succeeded in achieving total teacher use of the digital and 20 years on since the launch of Mosaic Mal embarked on the writing of a major work on Digital Normalisation and School Transformation that would explore the impact of the digital technology on all facets of the school’s operations in those pathfinders that had or nearly had normalised the use of the digital.

In researching that publication Mal set out to interview around 70 pathfinder schools/school leaders in the UK, US, NZ and Australia.

After interviewing around 60 it became apparent all the schools in reaching their current position had addressed in the region of 50 key interrelated variables and had experienced remarkably similar journeys, regardless of their situation, school size and type, financial situation and government.

A copy of those variables can be got here.

When each of the remaining schools affirmed the same experience it hit home that was one was not only looking at a potentially global common evolutionary continuum but also common stages with remarkably common attributes.

In sharing those observations with Professor Peter Twining at the Open University – who was analysing the evolution of 22 schools in the UK – and Roger Broadie from NACCE (the UK ICT educators professional association) who had been involved in examining some 70 UK schools for the Association’s 3rd Millennium Awards it was decided share the thoughts with educators globally both via this site and through the publication of a Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages.  Work is progressing at pace on the latter.

Coincidental with this decision the Project Tomorrow team published its reflective on the 10 years of the US Speak Up research initiative (Project Tomorrow, 2013) and in so doing re-affirmed the fundamental transformation that had occurred in the education of the young in the US in their normalised usage of the US, sadly primarily outside the school walls.

Our study of the journeys of the global pathfinder schools mirrored that transformation, but within the walls of an as yet rare cadre of schools.

What must be stressed is that the current six evolutionary stages and the stage indicators are indicative in nature.

They are a human construct designed to assist all with an interest in schooling address the notion of school evolution.

They most assuredly are not the perfect recipes for school evolution.  Some of the stage indicators could well be evidenced earlier or later in your school.

They, and indeed the Taxonomy and this blog, are intended to provide an insight into what is happening in the pathfinder schools in four English -speaking nations.  We suspect the same kind of evolutionary continuum will be evidenced in other developed nations but the research has yet to be done.

As stressed at the outset we recognise the concepts are novel and need more work by those with far more resources than us but in light of the potential benefits they provide and the many implications that flow it was decided to share them.

Before moving on to the implications it should be stressed that the research affirms the reality that while it was the digital technology and the shift to a digital operational mode that has occasioned and continues to occasion the transformation of schooling the overwhelming message coming from the pathfinders is the focus and major challenge for the later adopter schools has to be on promoting human and cultural evolution.  The technology is the simple part of the evolutionary process.

The Implications

In the evolutionary continuum and six stages, and in particular the stage indicators, schools and educational decision makers finally have a common international scale and set of benchmarks that schools and vitally their communities can readily use to adjudge the current position of the school and what is required if it is to move evolve as desired.

The implications flowing from that facility, as you’d appreciate are immense.

While as stressed only indicative in nature the continuum and the stages not only provide the later adopter schools an insight into where they at and what they have yet to address but vitally provide the pathfinder schools and policy makers with a suite of trend lines they can use to assist the schools’ movement into unchartered territory.

Importantly the associated suite of concepts affirm the imperative of schools, educational administrators, governments and vitally the media recognising they are not dealing with the one size fits all approach of the traditional world of school constancy and continuity but rather with immense and growing school variability with all schools at different points along an ever evolving continuum, each needing to a development solution apposite for its situation and community.

As we flesh out in the Taxonomy the implications are particularly profound for school principals, school councils/boards, education authorities, teacher development, professional development agencies, educational researchers, policy makers and governments.

There is in the global commonality of the evolution and the degree of common natural growth more than a hint that governments don’t have the degree of control over the development of schools, as they invariably like to imagine.

Vitally there is also the affirmation – contrary to so much government and technology corporation spin – that it takes years – not months – for schools to move along the evolutionary continuum and fundamentally to change their cultures.

The pathfinders studied have reached their current position after 15/20 years of visioning, astute proactive leadership and concerted effort.  While it should not take the later adopters as long one is still in most instances talking years – not months – to reach the digital normalisation stage.