Accommodating Linear and Non Linear Growth

In posting this piece we appreciate we are – once again – addressing a development that has likely never been considered in school growth, but it is a reality found in the digital evolution of all organisations.

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The shaping of the desired school ecosystem entails, likely increasingly, the school leadership being able to simultaneously accommodate both planned linear and unintended non-linear growth.

School leaders globally have been schooled on the belief that schools will only grow, and grow in the desired fashion if the development is fully planned and its implementation carried out in an appropriately linear manner. The desired growth is achieved by doing A then B and finally C. So strong is that belief it is rarely questioned. It is taken as a given.

Globally governments and educational administrators reinforce that assumption by obliging schools to submit all manner of finely calibrated linear plans. In addition to the seemingly universal long-term school plans – that assume schools can divine the scene years ahead – there are also all manner of plans schools are obliged to submit to secure and retain grant monies.

The assumption is that only meticulous planning, that minimises risk can yield the desired school growth.

That thinking accords no recognition to the now substantial body of research on digital evolution and transformation (Pascale, et al, 2000) (Westerman et al, 2014) (Lee and Levins, 2016) that reveals when organisations move to a digital and networked operational base they will as complex adaptive systems experience considerable natural, seemingly chaotic non linear growth in addition to that planned.

As the power and sophistication of the organisation’s digital base grows, as that growth disturbs the existing practises, as the staff’s understanding of what can be done with the digital technology increases and the client’s expectations of the digital rise so all will work to further the growth of the organisation.

What is becoming apparent is that as the school’s ecosystem matures it will increasingly socially network and interface with all manner of other digital ecosystems and in so doing will not only realise the desired benefits but will increasingly provide the school and its community with many unintended – most assuredly unplanned – benefits.

In creating tightly integrated, closely interconnected, increasingly sophisticated ecosystems that simultaneously address all the variables that enhance student learning in and outside the school walls the schools are simultaneously creating a highly complex, ever evolving environment that will generate all manner of synergies and unintended benefits.

The ripples generated by that ecosystem will transcend the school walls and impact the school’s total socially networked community.

The digital masters have learned the art of accommodating planned and unintended growth (Thorpe, 1998). They understand that in the midst of a Digital Revolution even the most prescient and capable of planners can only ever ‘guesstimate’ the benefits of a new program and that the organisation needs processes to optimise the unintended benefits – and disbenefits – that will inevitably emerge.

That is what the authors saw transpired with the pathfinder schools when they moved to a digital operational base. Seemingly overnight the schools experienced considerable ‘natural’ growth. The astute principals soon appreciated the importance of giving the developments the space and time to grow (Lee and Levins, 2016).

The further schools moved along the digital evolutionary continuum, the more tightly they integrated the school’s ecosystem, the more they embraced a culture of change, trusted and empowered their staff and community, promoted risk taking and thrived in uncertainty, mess and seeming chaos the more became the natural non-linear growth and the greater the unintended benefits.

Unwittingly the leaders of those schools, like the CEOs of the digital masters in business, learned to accommodate both the planned and unintended.

The challenge for all embarking on the digital evolutionary journey is how best to do that.

It is highly likely the pragmatics of your situation will oblige you to simultaneously play the old and new planning games, and to do both well. There is the strong possibility you will be obliged to experience the pain and waste of time inflicted by bureaucrats set in their ways, desirous of maintaining their ‘control’, who don’t understand the digital evolutionary process. It is probable that like the pathfinder school heads you’ll need pay token attention to the ‘official plans’ while adopting a big picture development strategy able to accommodate both the linear and non-linear growth.

In saying that it must be stressed up front is that the successful schools, like their industry and public sector counterparts have to plan their desired journey and will in many areas need to employ apt linear plans – albeit being in the lookout for the unintended.

All this affirms the aforementioned mention of the shaping school vision and an organisational culture and agility to vary that planning when the need arises.

  • Lee, M and Levins, M (2016) BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling, Armidale, Douglas and Brown – at
  • Pascale, R.T, Millemann, M, Gioja, L (2000) Surfing at the Edge of Chaos NY Three Rivers Press
  • Thorpe, J (1998) The Information Paradox Toronto McGraw-Hill
  • Westerman, G, Bonnett, D and McAfee, A (2014) Leading Digital. Turning Technology into Business Transformation, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press


Selecting the right principal

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In general terms the choice of principal will make or break your school’s immediate digital evolution and possibly its long-term viability.

An astute principal, with the appropriate skill and mindset (Lee and Broadie, 2016   ) who is willing to lead a digitally evolved school can move the school at relative pace along the evolutionary continuum and markedly enhance its performance and attractiveness.

A principal, lacking the vision, drive and acumen unwilling or unable to lead the digital evolution will at best place the school in a holding pattern and might well take the school backwards – all the while diminishing its client attraction.

Some make the fatuous suggestion that when a culture of change is embedded the school can withstand the appointment of an ineffectual head. While that culture might well help, globally the authors have witnessed the deleterious impact of principals unwilling or unable to evolve the school digitally and to create the desired change. Decades of astute effort by a school and its community can be soon dismantled by the poor choice of head.

Improved learning in a digitally evolved school stems from all enhancing how they interact to help other learners learn and teachers teach. If the principal does not understand the importance of this and continuously promote it pupils and teachers can quite quickly start putting their own needs ahead of the needs of the team. A principal who does not understand a socially networked way of working can easily destroy the culture.

It is thus critical that every effort be made to select the right leader.

While it is appreciated that no selection process is infallible and that many ‘state’ schools use processes where the school and its community have little say, do all you can – formally and informally – to get the right person.

Don’t leave the appointment to chance.

Put in place the thoughtfully crafted selection criteria and questions that will bring the desired leaders to the fore. Look at the skill set fleshed out in ‘Leading a Digital School’ (Lee and Broadie, 2016 ….). Specify if you can, demonstrated performance.

Ensure the actual selection processes identify those able and willing to lead, and if needs be weight certain criteria.

If the opportunity exists opt for a fixed term renewable contract, and the capacity to terminate the contract even earlier if the person selected fails to demonstrate the desired leadership. That said also be realistic about your situation, the challenges to be addressed and the time it will take the new principal to shape the desired school ecosystem.

If you have the facility be prepared to pay above the norm.

Use your personal networks to ensure the right kind of people apply, and if needs be assist folk with their applications.   Do your homework.

From the publication of the initial advertisement stress the applicants will be expected to indicate how they will lead the school’s continued digital evolution, shape the desired culture and strengthen its ecosystem. Set the bar high, and expect the applicants to have done their homework on the school’s current situation.

Ensure the panel selection processes do address the demonstrated capability of the applicants to lead a digital school and are not preoccupied with the lower level mechanics that can beset public sector interview processes.

Do your utmost throughout to ensure you look only for those who have demonstrated they can perform at the higher level and genuinely lead. All too often ineffectual people are ‘refereed’ up and out of a school to clear another school of its problem.

If the opportunity exists and the concerns remain be willing to interview non- specified referees. It is the right principal that is the key. View the processes simply as a means to selecting an apt principal.

If the field of applicants is found wanting be prepared to re advertise. Better to wait than to be sorry.

The ramifications of a poor choice are too great.

Conscious of the likely shortage of quality applicants, particularly those able to take over the reins of a rapidly evolving school be willing to grow a person, even in a temporary role before re-advertising the position.

In your planning for the appointment identify the support processes the school will use to assist the new principal get up to speed as soon as feasible. Even the best of principals find new appointments challenging and lonely. All too often good people fail from the want of support.

Understand the critical importance of the principal’s position in a digitally evolving school and do everything to choose and to appropriately support the right person.

Earlier we made mention of the vital role of the principal in fostering a culture where all the ‘teachers’ within the school’s community collaborate and support each other, challenging all to reach greater heights and grow the thirst for learning and teaching across the whole school. The importance of that capability cannot be over emphasised. Though we are in some ways still short of the vocabulary for this conversation, it can be incorporated into the central mission of the school. For example in the way Showk Badat, Principal of Essa Academy (UK) describes his school’s mission as “All children will succeed”, adding “And that’s ALL not most and WILL not might.” Or in the motto of Trondheim School (Norway), that is drilled into the children from the day they arrive, that “Nobody is perfect but a team can be”, reinforced by the way the teachers found ways to ‘reach’ all children and give them success as the basis on which to build challenge (their key way of ‘reaching’ the children being music – 98% played a musical instrument). Note that these ways of talking about the impact of digital evolution focus not on the digital but on the human reasons why digitally evolved schools achieve more.




The Critical Role of the Principal

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The more we examine the digital evolution of schooling the more we are convinced the principal is critical to the successful digital evolution of the school.

An apt school principal is as important as the CEO of a digital master in business.

Westerman and his colleagues observed of the digital masters

Our research shows that successful digital transformation starts at the top of the company (Westerman,, 2014, p100).

The same holds of schools. The principal has to lead.

Indeed we’d go out on a limb and contend that without a principal willing and able to lead a digital school the school has little chance of significant digital evolution. No other staff, no deputy head, e-learning coordinator nor a committee can cover for a principal unable or unwilling to lead a digital school. They might be able to keep the school from regressing but experience after experience demonstrates even the best of deputies or leadership teams can’t advance the school’s evolution while ever the head is lacking. Digital evolution requires everyone to be empowered to creatively improve how all can work and interact. Only the Principal can fully empower everyone in the school.

While the research has long affirmed the vital lead role of the school principal the paper based school compared to its digital counterpart is a relatively simple organisation. The further the school evolves digitally, integrates its operations, socially networks, empowers its community, marries the in and out of school teaching and learning and moves to higher order teaching the greater will be the demands on the role of principal.

Pleasingly – and in marked contrast to the traditional highly hierarchically structured school – the principal is now afforded very considerable support by the empowered staff and school community. The change is very similar to what happens to teachers in digitally evolved schools. For them the pupils take more of the load of progressing the learning activity, enabling the teacher to focus more on helping pupils raise the level of their outcomes. Similarly, the principal in a digitally evolved school can rely appreciably more on the support and independent decision making of the professionals and a school community that better understands the workings of the school.

While as indicated there are a plethora of variables schools have successfully to address in their digital evolution all are dependent on the school having in the principal able daily to shape and grow the desired, increasingly complex, digitally based school ecosystem.

Ideally every school requires at least one, but preferably several assistant principals can undertake the lead role when the head is out of the school.

Few today will question the critical importance of the CEOs of the digital masters in industry or indeed the monies paid to secure the services of the best.

However as yet few seemingly appreciate

  • how important the ‘right’ principal is to the successful digital evolution of the school
  • the shortage of those leaders
  • the dearth of apt training for potential school leaders
  • why schools might have pay to secure those principals who can continually deliver the desired evolution.

Every – and we stress every – school wanting to evolve digitally ideally requires such a principal.

Most will likely need to be grown locally – hopefully with external support – although increasingly there will likely be younger staff who possess both the drive and digital acumen needed.

The ten-week leadership programs run by the authors are designed to assist both grow the digital leadership insights and skills (

Tellingly all the principals leading the pathfinder schools grew their skill and mindset on the job. Indeed in rapidly evolving schools moving into unchartered waters, on the job, just in time professional development is essential. Gone are the programs of the world of constancy, continuity and the luxury of learning by looking through the rear vision mirror. That said, much can now be learned not only from the pathfinder principals but also the digital leadership of business.

The difficult question that many a school and school community will have to ask – is our current principal willing and able to lead a digital school? Can she/he be assisted to grow in the job? Are they of a mind to empower the staff and the wider school community or are they basically an autocrat unwilling to distribute control?

Related is – what does one do with a principal unwilling or unable to lead such a school? Can they be convinced to grow or do they need to be replaced?

The key is to appreciate the critical importance of the principal in the digital evolution of the school and to address the challenge in context.

  • Westerman, G, Bonnett, D and McAfee, A (2014) Leading Digital. Turning Technology into Business Transformation, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press




Digital Evolution of Schools and School Libraries

Mal Lee

(The following article can be found in the May/June 2016 edition of ALIA’s magazine, Incite)

At a time when the Australian Government is espousing the importance of highly agile innovative organisations, the digital technology is transforming all manner of organisations and schools are moving at pace to a digital operational mode it is critical Australia’s school libraries and teacher librarians take advantage of the opportunities opened. They need move quickly and proactively to ensure their contribution is central to the workings of rapidly evolving, increasingly integrated schools.

There is now a clear understanding in all organisations, including schools, that organisations have to go digital to remain viable (Lee, 2015). The efficiencies, economies, benefits and enhanced capability of the digital organisation far surpasses that of the traditional paper based operation.

Moreover there is the growing recognition that all digitally based organisations, as complex adaptive systems will continually evolve (Pascale, et. al. 2000), and will do so more rapidly, taking advantage of the digital convergence to become evermore integrated. They will abandon their old ‘silo like’, ‘loosely coupled’ (Weick, 1976) structures and discrete operations, and adopt an increasingly integrated and networked form.

The word ‘critical’ was chosen carefully.

‘Silo like’ school libraries that sit alone, operate largely autonomously, that are perceived to be paper focussed and removed from the core workings of the school can be readily dispensed with in the creation of more tightly integrated and productive school ecosystems.

To thrive and to continue making a significant contribution in any rapidly evolving digital organisation – be it a company, university or school – the library and librarian need play an integral and lead role in the organisation’s workings and its on-going evolution.

Most schools have been slow to move to a digital operational mode but teacher librarians have only to talk with their colleagues within the pathfinder schools, business and the public sector to recognise the pattern of change.

School libraries and teacher librarians need to position themselves where their service is perceived by the principal and staff to be central to the school’s vision, operations and growth, and where the role played grows and evolves naturally – and largely unwittingly – as the school’s total ecosystem matures.

That is easy to say, but it is difficult to achieve, particularly when the principal lacks vision, digital acumen and the willingness to lead.

It is appreciated most teacher librarians now have as their focus the teaching, with little interest in the macro workings of the school.

However the stark reality in most schools and education authorities is that unless the teacher librarian looks after his/her own situation, has a sound appreciation of the macro workings of the school, its vision and its digital evolution and is proactive and positions the information services at the centre of all operations no one else will do so.

Accept the folly of trying to defend the bastions against digital evolution.

Recognise that by being proactive you can assist in shaping the desired future, and lessen the risk of becoming a digital casualty.

The experience of the pathfinder schools suggests the following could assist that quest.

  • It is not personal. It is natural to feel that. The Digital Revolution is simply impacting you.
  • Understand the macro workings of the school. In tightly integrated school ecosystems it is vital all staff, teaching and professional support – and not just those atop the apex – understand the macro workings of the school, able to contribute as professionals to its growth (
  • Appreciate the evolution of complex adaptive systems. Those with a science background will already understand the importance, but all staff need to recognise the implications of working with seeming chaos and constant change, and the new order the disturbance creates.
  • Thrive on chaos. Embrace and promote a culture of change and support all one’s colleagues in their work, continued growth and evolution.
  • Adopt a digital and networked mindset. Grasp the marked contrast between analogue and digital thinkers provided by Bhaduri and Fischer (2015). Then you’ll appreciate why a pathfinder school in a networked society has chosen to ‘outsource’ its e-book services to the local library.
  • Integrate the school ‘library’ and ICT services. Move to the centre of school operations. Look to the kind of iCentre model advocated by Hay (2010, 2015) and have it play a lead role in the digital workings and evolution of the school.
  • Support the principal’s leadership. Provide the principal, the staff and the wider school community the on-going support and information services they will need – as well as supporting the students.
  • Make your services indispensable.


The Digital Revolution is daily occasioning immense on-going organisational transformation that could, unharnessed hurt many.

School libraries and teacher librarians are on trend to be hurt badly, unless each teacher librarian genuinely collaborates with his/her colleagues and the school leadership in positioning the school library’s programs and services at the centre of the school’s digital evolution.

Digital Evolution of Schools and School Libraries


Bhaduri, A and Fischer, B (2015) ‘Are You an Analogue or Digital Leader?’ Forbes 19/2/2015 –

Hay, L (2010) ‘Shift happens. It’s time to rethink, rebuild and rebrand’. Access, 24(4), pp. 5

Hay, L (2015) ‘The evolution of the iCentre model: Leading inquiry, digital citizenship and innovation in schools.’ Teacher Librarian, 42 (4), 15-19.

Lee, M (2015) ‘Why Schools Have to Go Digital to Remain Viable’, Educational Technology Solutions August 2015

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

Weick, K (1976) ‘Educational organisations as loosely coupled systems’. Administrative Science Quarterly 21 1976





Address the Totality, Not the Parts

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

One of the more challenging tasks in shaping a digitally based school ecosystem is to focus on the desired totality, not the parts. School leaders need to shed their traditional school development thinking and its preoccupation with the parts, and put to the fore the shaping of the new ever evolving total entity.

Unwittingly, and here we include ourselves, we have a generation of school leaders, and indeed politicians who have been weaned on a factory model of organisational development, strongly impacted by Frederick Taylor’s work (, that has had us believe that by enhancing parts of the production line the overall organisation would be more effective and competitive.

That thinking might have been appropriate in the Industrial Age, but is not within a Digital Revolution, where the successful organisations are those tightly integrated school ecosystems evolving at pace.

Globally one continues to observe governments and all manner of educational leaders contending that if schools improve a segment of the school’s operations their overall performance and relevance will be enhanced. We thus see calls to improve the likes of the curriculum, the quality of teacher selection, pedagogy, professional development, resourcing and the digital technology but surprisingly few calls to create schools that can continually deliver in a rapidly evolving world.

Seemingly unaware of the Digital Revolution, the digital transformation that has fundamentally reshaped all manner of businesses and public sector organisations and the critical importance of increasingly productive digitally based ecosystems, globally in 2016 one finds scant call by educators to create schools appropriate for a digital and socially networked society.

It is simply assumed the old factory organisational model can play that role if parts are updated.

There appears to be little appreciation in education that digitally based organisations are fundamentally different to their old paper based counterparts.

The pathfinder schools understand the very considerable difference and are daily transforming their nature and form on the fly to better educate the young for today’s world.

Their focus is on shaping the desired evermore tightly integrated, mature, higher order and productive ecology – where the culture and all operations are directed towards realising the school’s shaping vision.

In that transformation they appreciate the kind of resourcing, teaching, professional development, digital ecosystem and program evaluation required in a digitally based, strongly socially networked 24/7/365 mode of schooling, that marries the in and out of school teaching and learning will be appreciably different to that off the traditional stand alone paper based school.

Simply focus on the parts, and moreover do so but within the school walls, and one will fail to understand the workings and requirements of socially networked school communities.

Harnessing the Social Networking

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

In alerting those on the digital evolutionary journey of the potential positives of digitally based school ecosystems we neglected to address the likely negatives and the potential considerable pitfalls of unbridled social networking, and the importance of schools more consciously ‘controlling’ and harnessing the power of social networking.

Social networking, as many an individual and organisation can attest has, can be damaging.

Schools are not immune, and yet globally many are schools naively entering into the world of digitally based social networking, hoping for a positive experience, but being ill equipped to control its power.

In shaping of the desired school ecosystem look factor into your thinking the desired controls, the avoidance of undue risk and ways to use the power to the school’s advantage.

Understand the instant schools opt to communicate digitally they immediately – and usually unwittingly – markedly up their involvement with the unbridled world and power of digitally based social networking. While hoping for benefits the school immediately also exposes itself to many potential negatives. In using the expression ‘communicate digitally’ we are referring to the many forms of digital communication and social networking used by the schools – the class blogs, online forums, websites, e-newsletters, email, school apps, online surveys and not simply the mainstream social media facilities.

Indeed it bears noting that many of the pathfinder schools have consciously opted not to use the latter social media in their digital communications suite, rightly believing they had no control over them.

In seeking to control the social networking the authors suggest viewing the facility in its traditional, wider sense of ‘a network of social interactions and personal relationships’ (OED). By adopting that perspective and appreciating the digital element is but part of the organisations effort to enhance all manner of human networking and collaboration one can more readily appreciate that part to be played in shaping the school’s ecosystem.

Intriguingly human networking has always rightly been viewed positively and the home-school collaboration it engenders has been shown to enhance student performance (Hattie, 2009) but the instant the digital is added the thinking changes. Emotions invariably rise, folk become paranoid and the positives that flow from humans networking and collaboration are often forgotten.

That said the pathfinders, like the authors recognise that by adding the digital to the social networking the schools enter into a vast, rapidly growing, largely ungoverned world that can hurt the school and its students. Within seconds of digitally distributing information the school’s message, often with an accompanying comment is redistributed throughout the social networks of the immediate and wider school community. The hope is that the accompanying comments will be positive and supportive but there is no surety.

The message coming through very strongly is that the schools that have successfully normalised the use of the digital will be appreciably better placed to control the social networks and manage the risk than other schools. The years of concerted and astute effort the schools have invested will invariably see them viewed positively by ‘their’ social networks. If per chance there were an untoward comment the school’s digital community would likely take ‘control’. Digital normalisation is only possible when the school has been willing to distribute the control of teaching and learning, and create a culture where the total school community is trusted, respected, empowered, and through genuine collaboration is made aware of all the school’s purpose and shaping educational vision (Lee and Broadie, 2016).

The related reality is that when schools – like all other organisations – attract a significant number of friends the algorithms underpinning the social media garner supporters and the social dynamics of the online make if that much harder for people to criticize the school.

Those without that ecosystem, that culture and years of concerted and astute homework and detailed understanding of the digital and networked world are far more vulnerable. They are highly susceptible to negative social networking, unable to call upon the kind of controls, the ecosystem support or the digital and networking acumen found in the digital leaders.

The message for all schools, at all points along the digital evolutionary continuum is be wary of the power of digitally based social networking, opt for digital communications facilities over which the school has reasonable control, avoid using high risk services and move as fast as possible out of the danger zone and into a digital environment where the school can exercise greater control over the message.