Constancy and Sameness: On-going Evolution and Uniqueness

Mal Lee

Few teachers, principals or head teachers will have failed to notice the ever-greater transformative impact digital technology is having upon schooling.

Few parents will have failed to see the very considerable impact of the digital on their workplace and the fundamental structural and organisational changes that technology has occasioned and continues to occasion in the business world.

All of us will have watched with fascination and delight the young’s – indeed the very young’s – embrace and normalised use of the digital 24/7/365, their love of and excitement with the new and the impact that technology is having upon their lives and learning, particularly in their homes and on the move.

Yet despite this profound societal and organisational change most governments and education authorities continue to project the image that schooling is generally constant in nature, unchanging, largely immutable, not at all impacted by the digital and that all they need do is to fine tune the workings of an approach we have known for the past 40-50 years and all will be fine.  They might try charter schools, middle schools, specialist schools or academies but basically the place called school, operating within its physical walls should continue unchanged.

The same authorities also project – possibly unwittingly – that all their schools are much the same, at the same stage of development and as such they can validly apply top down ‘one size fits all’ solutions for all the schools in the country or region.  As all the schools are the same they can successfully introduce common interactive whiteboard, laptop, phonics or staff development programs into all the schools in the same way.

My reading is that most teachers and school leaders – probably also unwittingly – work from a base premise of constancy and sameness.

When an a new program, or major technology is introduced implicit is the assumption is that it will operate successfully and appropriately for many years, even though folk deep down know society and the technology is evolving at pace.

It is an outlook that fuels the retention of the status quo – even when it is becoming ever more irrelevant – and the idea that change is difficult and is to be avoided.

The constancy and sameness underpins the belief that central offices or national governments can validly prepare the same teaching materials for all its schools, employ the same tests and accountability processes, use common pay scales and leadership programs, apply the one technology model to every school or indeed that all the schools in a region can profitably come together and benefit from a common staff development program.

This thinking stands in marked contrast to that within those schools operating at the Digital Normalisation Stage where all within the school’s community – the leadership, the staff, the students and the homes – have accepted that change and on-going evolution is the norm with schooling, that the excitement associated with opening ever more learning opportunities is natural and that all within the school’s community are welcome to join in the on-going quest to provide the best possible education.  It is an environment that fosters excitement, strong student, parent and community involvement and ownership, collaboration, risk taking, flexibility, responsiveness, the adoption of solutions particular to the school’s situation at a stage in its evolution and vitally an on-going focus on the desired educational vision.

By the Digital Normalisation Stage all within the school’s community accept their school is unique, and that while it can learn much from other schools at the same evolutionary stage they require educational solutions apposite for their school’s situation and evolutionary stage.

With the benefit of hindsight what is now evident is that:

  • constancy and sameness is the thinking of the paper based stage
  • in moving along the evolutionary continuum and through the evolutionary stages the schools will gradually shed that thinking, such
  • by the digital normalisation stage all within the school’s community will assume on-evolution and school uniqueness are the norm.