All teachers and heads, and indeed all school decision makers should understand the workings of schools operating as networked organisations, the impact the new mode will have on their teaching and the school, the possibilities open and the implications that flow.
So too they should recognise the uniqueness of schools as networked organisations, and the constraints that uniqueness will impose.
But most crucially all should understand networked organisations are dramatically different entities to the traditional school, on trend to be evermore so.
Networked schools oblige all within to continually attune their ways and thinking to a naturally evolving, increasingly integrated, socially networked, and complex synergistic environment. It is a natural transformation over which governments have limited control.
It is a macro understanding that will assist them recognise the almost boundless opportunities the mode provides to enhance the teaching, but also alerts them to the need to continually adjust their ways as they seek to reap the potentially considerable dividends.
One of the greater adjustments will entail enhancing and making greater everyday use of their social networking skills and understanding. All need to appreciate the power and centrality of both the formal and informal social networks, their pervasiveness, dynamic nature, the openings they can provide, the efficiencies, and economies they can yield, the unintended impact they can have and why the art of networking is a core skill every teacher needs to grow throughout their career.
It is appreciated it’s art that isn’t likely recognised in any teacher standards document, selection criteria, data set, initial teacher education or professional development program but it is central to the workings, growth and critically the leadership (Asia Bank, 2017) of networked organisations.
Traditionally schools have operated as largely stand – alone, insular, segmented, organisations, that controlled their own affairs, used their own resources, all literally within the school walls.
That insularity was in large dictated by the use, and in time the dependence, on paper as the underpinning technology. Paper, while historically a revolutionary technology, was and remains a limited technology. Be it in the form of books, work sheets, exercise books or letters paper must be distributed by hand, and as such needed to be used within a physically compact site.
As Tyack and Cuban (1995) noted, few thought little about the situation. That is what schools were. Or at least until an infinitely more sophisticated technology began displacing paper and changing the operating base.
The schools were moreover relatively simple, loosely – coupled organisations (Weick, 1976), built upon largely autonomous, segmented divisions, invariably located within distinct sections of the school site. Likely paper played its part in fostering that segmentation and the creation of discrete infants schools, science faculties, art departments and the like, all having their own space, which most staff rarely left during the working week.
It was relatively easy to scrutinise the work of each division.
Even in the 1990s most schools operated as stand-alone entities, with the internal units run largely autonomously.
Most schools in the 1990s had only telephone lines at best in the faculty rooms, rarely any within the classrooms.
The insularity and segmentation were heightened by the invariably strongly hierarchical organisational and communications structures, where all powerful unit heads focussed on their part of the educational production line. Few departmental heads were concerned about the macro workings of the school.
While astute social networking was important, particularly within the establishment schools, it’s use was very much limited by the communication’s technology. Some might recall long distance calls were a big deal, expensive, made only after gaining approval.
That situation largely held until the start of this century.
As the networks spread, became ever faster, more sophisticated, inexpensive, and ubiquitous they unobtrusively began fundamentally transforming schools’ workings and challenging long accepted thinking and practises – on trend to evermore so.
Those challenges should be addressed by a knowing staff forever onwards.
The physical, and the associated social networking, allied with the efficiencies and opportunities that came with digital convergence soon lessened the use of paper, lowered internal and external school walls, transformed school communication, blurred long established boundaries, challenged the retention of aged practises, and promoted increased integration and staff and job reconfiguration.
While the rate and extent of the transformation has been different in every school, in less than twenty years schools worldwide have ceased being stand-alone, insular, largely segmented organisations working only with their own resources and have become more networked organisations, outward looking, increasing dependent on the resources and connectivity of the networked world.
As Lipnack and Stamps (1994) presciently observed the possibilities with networked organisations are virtually boundless, limited in the main by the human imagination.
In 2010 Lee and Finger, and group of international colleagues wrote of Developing a Networked School Community (2010).
They envisioned this type of scenario.
Figure 2.3: Networked School Community – Mid range structural Change
Lee and Finger (2010, p42).
They moreover detailed the many educational, economic, social, and political advantages and challenges of the networked mode.
In reflecting on the model, it is much the same as that schools unwittingly employed during the COVID lockdown, with the ‘school’ operating online, the Cloud providing most of the resources, and the student’s and teacher’s homes the facilitating infrastructure and connectivity.
That networking, and the use of the expertise and resources of others is on trend to increase, but with several significant caveats.
Physical schools, that students attend most working days of the year will remain the norm.
The fully virtual networked organisation will remain the exception in schooling, restricted in the main to distance education, and older age cohorts.
The full productivity of nations can only be achieved when the young attend the physical place called school and the free the parents to work.
Schools as networked organisations have thus – likely always – to operate and grow within the now century plus old traditional school structures.
The current, often dated, legislation of most every nation will moreover limit, likely forever, school – and hence government – control of the networked school to within the school walls, and school hours. While the technology and desire might exist to extend that control several high level court cases have already made it clear the legislation will restrict school and government control to the traditional remit.
Any effort to extend that control will on present indications be vehemently opposed by most of the electorate. The young and old expect, nay demand they be in charge of their personal use of the digital 24/7/365, lifelong. By extension digitally connected families expect to control the family use of their technology, free from government involvement.
The emerging reality is that the more schools network and spread their operational footprint they won’t have formal control over a sizeable portion, unless they genuinely prepared to collaborate, and respect, trust and empower all powers in the wider networked community.
Currently the signs are that only in a small proportion of schools and education systems recognise the irrevocable transition to a more networked mode occurring, the possibilities and the imperative of better understanding the new scenario.
Presently most schools and governments appear to be more interested in using the network technology to unilaterally control ‘their’ schools and maintain as best they can traditional ways.
It bears remembering that the same network technology can be used equally well to control and micromanage every school operation, or to trust, empower and genuinely collaborate with one’s community.
You can be best attest to how it is being used in your situation, but it is highly likely that you are in a school that has transitioned to a more networked mode but where every facet of the school’s workings is still unilaterally controlled by the school and/or the state.
How long the electorate will allow its schools to reject the new normal time only will tell.
If you’d like a quick overview of the contrast between the traditional hierarchical form found in most schools and the networked look at John Kotter’s explanation at – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIGkUDhuUJc
- Asia Development Bank (2017) On Networked Organisations. Asia Development Bank 2017
- Lee, M and Finger, G (eds) (2010) Developing a Networked School Community, Melbourne ACER Press
- Tyack, D and Cuban, L (1995). Tinkering Toward Utopia. Cambridge. Massachusetts. Harvard University Press
- Weick, K (1976) ‘Educational organisations as loosely coupled systems’. Administrative Science Quarterly21 1976