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