Mal Lee and Roger Broadie
The ultimate challenge as the leader of a digital school is to shape, week after week a school ecosystem that simultaneously, and effectively addresses all the variables that impact each child’s learning in and increasingly outside the school walls.
Where in business the focus is on shaping highly productive digitally based ecosystems that improve the financial bottom line in schooling it is the shaping of an ecosystem that will allow the school to realise its shaping vision and provide each child the apt education.
The focus in both is the desired totality, and not as stressed the discrete parts therein.
In both the schools and business one is looking at shaping continually evolving, increasingly complex and hopefully more productive ecosystems where daily the leader needs to successfully marry the known with the unknown.
Critically one is looking at an evolving organisation that will need to be continually attuned to the changing environment for the rest of its existence.
Gone are the days of seeking to create the ideal school, where the head can sit back and ‘know’ year after year it will deliver the perfect education.
Rather one is talking about organisations, about schools where the effectiveness of the ecosystem can vary over time, where it can be highly productive for a period, and then struggle before once again being even more successful. Success could well be transitory, strongly impacted by changes in the leadership, staff and the context.
The authors have in these monographs identified some sixty plus key variables that need to be successfully and largely simultaneously addressed in shaping the desired digitally based ecosystem. To that number one has to add the plethora of other variables required to make a good school.
All have to be addressed in shaping the desired ecosystem.
One is looking at an environment where
- all the operations of the school, the educational, financial and administrative are increasingly interconnected and where the complex adaptive system is naturally generating all manner of synergies, and intended and unintended benefits
- one poor decision amongst thousands can have considerable ramifications
- even when the leadership address all the known variables there is no guarantee that the ecosystem will function as desired
- the rapidly evolving but sometimes fragile ecosystem needs to work appropriately week after week, year after year, with student cohort after cohort even when contending with the unknown
- it is vital to always have a school leader – be it the principal or deputy – shaping the daily workings and growth of the ecosystem, with the wherewithal to immediately address any malfunction. The having of that able deputy in a smaller school can be an issue that will impact the robustness of the school’s ecosystem.
It is a very different to the world of constancy, continuity and risk aversion that schooling has thus known, where every move was carefully planned and shaped by past best practise.
The authors have used the term ‘shaping’ very advisably. Traditionally terms like ‘building’ and ‘creating’ are used with school development, both implying the designers had full control of all the factors impacting the school’s growth.
The reality is that amorphous entities like digitally based school ecosystems operating with a socially networked society, amidst the Digital Revolution will be impacted by many major forces that can only ever be shaped. And indeed shaped bearing in mind the forces at play at a particular time, which change. Yes the early adopter schools have had their vision, plans, implementation strategies and on-going measurement but they also have had the agility and culture to take advantage of the unexpected.
While governments and indeed many educational decision makers like to perpetuate the myth that they have full control over the evolution of complex adaptive systems they don’t.
Reflect on the impact of the iPhone alone since 2007 on every digital ecosystem, and indeed school community and its expectations, and you’ll begin to appreciate how powerful are the forces impacting on schools, and why even the best of principals can only ever shape those many forces to best educational advantage.
The shaping of continually evolving school ecosystems calls for very capable principals.
Of note is that none of the very successful principals in the case study schools had that wherewithal before they embarked on the digital evolutionary journey. All have learnt and grown on the journey.
You can do the same – however with the benefits of the insights provided by the pathfinders and their affirmation of the necessity of daily shaping the desired totality.