Monthly Archives: April 2014

On-going evolution of schooling


Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

When organisations, be they international corporations, banks, newspapers or schools, move to a digital and networked operational base they like all living systems will forever continue to evolve, to transform their operations and adopt an ever higher order form.

In moving to the digital base that evolution will be rapid and is likely to escalate at a rate roughly comparable with the pace of the technological development, albeit lagging slightly behind.

Importantly the organisations, schools included will moreover experience significant natural growth driven in large by the ever-evolving technology, the ever-rising expectations of the users, the increased understanding of how best to use the emerging technology and by wider societal developments; developments the organisation will have limited control over and which at best they can only hope to shape to their advantage.

The evolution, as is to be found in other complex systems is invariably non-linear.  It is most assuredly not always a case of moving from A to B to C. At times the evolution appears chaotic, messy and virtually every one of the case study schools examined admitted to making major mistakes, of travelling along a path only to realise it was wrong and that another approach was needed.

Paradoxically out of that seeming mess and chaos, with each school doing its own thing, remarkably similar evolutionary paths emerge.  The six evolutionary school stages, with the remarkably common stage attributes were, as indicated elsewhere on this site, evidenced in all the pathfinder schools in the UK, US, NZ and Australia.  Bar and his colleagues at Stanford (Bar, et al, 2000) found similar evolutionary patterns within the networked industries in the late 90’s, as did Pascale and his colleagues in their Surfing the Edge of Chaos (2000).

It should be stressed that what we are talking about is evolution and most assuredly not revolution.  While many august bodies, even the likes of the US Department of Education (2010) have called for revolution to redress digital lag between schools and society in general what one is seeing in all the pathfinder schools is reasoned evolution, where the schools and their communities are adjusting their ways to provide the best possible education in an ever-evolving scene. Much of the evolutionary transformation is small, seemingly insignificant, some aspects are major, seemingly antithetical to the ways of old but in sum they are already providing a mode of schooling fundamentally different to that of the traditional paper based school.

Importantly the evolution in the schools, like that with other living systems is creating ever-higher order organisations, increasingly complex, ever more tightly integrated where all the staff and the school’s community expect ever more of the school.  This development has become starkly apparent in the selection of teachers and professional support personnel for the pathfinder schools, with all the schools – often unwittingly – seeking empowered professionals with the macro educational understanding and skills needed to move the school to an ever-higher level. For example all new teachers from day one are expected to be lead teachers, a trait previously expected of a few experienced staff.

One of the distinguishing features of the pathfinder schools is the vast majority of teachers’ ready acceptance of the evolutionary process and their willingness, invariably their excitement in grasping the educational opportunities opened.  When one documents the transformation, small and large that has occurred in every facet of the pathfinder schools operations it is extraordinary how many long established practices have been relegated to history. The staff view the school driven evolution as the exciting norm, and not as that dreaded thing called ‘change’ that was invariably inflicted upon them from on high. That is not to say there haven’t been casualties with some staff opting to retire or move to a more traditional school setting.  There have but they are remarkably few in number and stand in marked contrast to those thriving with new environment.

Bar, F, Kane, N, and Simard, C (2000) Digital networks and Organisational Change. The Evolutionary deployment of Corporate Information Infrastructure Vancouver 2000

Pascale, R.T, Millemann, M, Gioja, L (2000) Surfing at the Edge of Chaos NY Three Rivers Press

Empowering All


Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Paralleling the pathfinder school’s graduated move to distribute the control of the teaching and learning was their quest to markedly empower all the members of the school’s community and enable them all to have a greater and more effective say in the on-going operation and enhancement of the school.

An important part of that empowerment was the more distributed control of the teaching and learning, however it entailed significantly more, particularly in relation to the empowerment of the salaried officers of the school.

The desire in all the schools – in keeping with other networked organisations – was to take advantage of the technology that made it that much easier for all to better understand the workings of the organisation and contribute to its enhancement.  Lipnack and Stamps (1994) in commenting on the opportunities opened in networked organisations speak of the importance of encouraging leaders at multiple levels and staff having the autonomy, the independence and the encouragement to take risks in enhancing the organisation’s agenda.

That is apparent in all the pathfinder schools and not simply with the staff but also in the parent and student contributions.  While the business literature spoke only of the staff the schools looked to all in the school’s community

Once again that quest was in marked contrast to what was found in traditional highly hierarchically organised schools at the Paper Based evolutionary stage.  In those schools not only are the students and parents disempowered but so too are a very sizeable proportion of the teaching and professional support staff.

The traditional, strongly hierarchical ‘Taylor like’ organisational structure found in many schools, ensures only the few managers at the apex understand the macro workings of the school.  The rest of the teachers are bid concentrate on their part of the assembly line.  Theirs is very much a highly convergent and micro focus that invariably leads to them viewing school enhancement through their particular micro perspective be it as a maths, physics, drama, special needs or early childhood teacher.  Possibly unwittingly, the ‘assembly line workers’ were professionally disempowered.

All of the pathfinder schools commented on the imperative of ensuring the school’s greatest resource, its human capital was used to best advantage.  One thus sees in the evolutionary stage attributes the graduated empowerment of all the teachers, the development of their macro understanding of ever-evolving, ever more networked and integrated schools and the opportunity for all to contribute to the school’s enhancement both holistically and in their specialist area/s.

The same kind of empowerment has been evident with the professional support staff, readying all to play a fuller part in the ever more integrated school operations.   In strong hierarchical school structures the support staff sat at the bottom of the pecking order, to do the bidding of the teachers and focussing only on their specified duties.  Invariably the professional support officers, even when involved in the teaching were not included in ‘staff meetings’ or provided any digital tools.

Jump forward to the Digital Normalisation stage and into the tightly integrated school ecologies where the traditional walls and boundaries have disappeared, operations are interlinked and where every member of the staff needs have at least a macro understanding of the purpose of the school, the desired educational benefits and its workings and you’ll find the professional support staff strongly empowered and assisting all the school’s work.

The children, their homes and the school community had little or no real voice in the shaping, implementation or enhancement of the paper based school (McKenzie, 2009), (Lee and Ward, 2013).  While a few might have a voice on a representative council or school board their views were often not representative or acted upon.

As the 2011 Project Tomorrow study revealed one is talking digitally empowered parents and students wanting to collaborate with their schools, wanting to acquire the technology their children will use in those schools but being denied that opportunity by school principals unwilling to cede their unilateral control.

In moving to the digital operational base that situation begins to change rapidly such by the Digital Normalisation stage all within the school’s community have not only been empowered but folk from all quarters are contributing to and helping enhance the school’s operations.

The normalised, all pervasive use of the technology, and in particular hand held technology makes it simple, swift and inexpensive for the school to communicate with all its community, to keep them informed, to provide the desired support and when desired to quickly secure and analyse its views.

Significantly the digital communication was complemented by extensive face-to -face communication, be it in formal meetings, focus groups, parking lot conversations or chats on the football sideline.

One is struck by the openness of the pathfinder schools’ activities and the all pervasive sense that all within the school community can readily talk to the teachers or the principal, and if needs be express their thoughts.  It might simply be to express a concern about their daughter but they have the power to share that concern.

It is largely antithetical to the schools we knew.

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

Lipnack, J & Stamps, J (1994), The age of the network: Organizing principles for the 21st century, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York.

Mackenzie, J (2009), Family learning: Engaging with parents, Dunedin Academic Press, Edinburgh.

Project Tomorrow (2011), The new three E’s of education: Enabled, engaged and empowered,

Speak Up 2010, National Findings Project Tomorrow.