7. Teachers as Specialists and Generalists

Mal Lee

Teachers within the more networked mode of schooling should ideally play the dual role of teaching specialist and education generalist.

They need to be very good at teaching their speciality/ies and to also have a macro understanding of the school’s increasingly integrated, socially networked operations to assist grow the student and staff learning within an evolving ecosystem.

This not the view of most currently in authority.

To them the teacher’s place is in the classroom, focusing simply on their teaching.

That thinking is expressed, and in many respects is embedded in, in most

  • teaching standards
  • teacher accreditation procedures
  • initial teacher education (ITE)
  • teacher advertisements and selection criteria
  • teacher remuneration

The stance taken by most education authorities, or indeed teacher accreditation bodies, teacher education faculties, and likely most heads and governments, stand in marked contrast to the stance taken by most of today’s private sector organisations.

As soon as businesses began operating as networked organisations, they recognised enhanced productivity would come from all professionals having a macro understanding of the organisation’s workings and customer expectations.  As the operations converged, became increasingly integrated, interrelated, the boundaries between divisions blurred, and were directed towards creating the desired digital ecosystem so all staff had to be readied to work within the new interconnected environment.

The COVID experience should have brought home to all, teachers, and parents, that schools in moving to a more networked mode and meeting society’s expectations should not only be aware be aware of each child’s learning in and outside the school walls but should be encouraged and supported to take advantage of the socially networked environment to markedly enhance each child’s learning.

Lipnack and Stamps, writing in their presciently titled The Age of the Network (1994) foresaw the importance.

The network is emerging as the signature form of organisation in the Information age, just as the bureaucracy stamped the Industrial Age, hierarchy the Agricultural Era, and the small group roamed in the Nomadic Era (Lipnack and Stamps, p3, 1994).

…Boundaries are conceptual, not physical, in virtual workplaces and need to be completely reconceived so that ‘physical site’ thinking is no longer a limitation.

(Lipnack and Stamps, p15, 1994)

In the years thereafter that call has become ever louder in the business management literature and has been validated by research undertaken by most all of the major business consultancies, the likes of Deloitte, Capgemini, and McKinsey.

The late Peter Drucker, one the gurus of business management, made two telling observations about networked organisations.

People have to know and have to understand the organisational structures they are supposed to work within (Drucker, p13, 2001).

…….The scarcest resources in any organisation are performing people (Drucker, p121, 2001).

Inherent in those observations is the importance in a networked organisation of maximising the contribution of all the professionals, of respecting, trusting, supporting, and empowering them, and giving them the agency and understanding to assist grow the business. 

Central to that trust and empowerment is giving the professionals the data critical to their specialist and generalist roles. 

Ideally teachers should have the same kind of access.  

Many, likely most, schools, often at the bidding of their bureaucracy, still use the traditional pyramid like, strongly hierarchical organisational model, with its strict division of labour, retaining it even after having transitioned to a more networked mode.

Few would likely trust classroom teachers to access the pertinent student data let alone data they could use to grow the school as a networked learning community wanting to enhance its productivity.

The teachers invariably remain ‘production line’ workers, micro-focussed, micro-managed, distrusted, disempowered, ill-prepared to perform at their best within the networked mode.

While ever the strict division of labour is retained, and teachers remain disempowered the school’s most expensive and valuable resource, its teachers will remain underutilised, and the ability of the school to provide a quality networked education will be constrained.

That said it is appreciated there are schools, primary and secondary, state, and independent worldwide that have long moved away from the traditional structures and adopted a flatter model befitting the networked mode, who have empowered their teachers thrive within connected world. 

They however remain the exception.

The concept of teachers as specialists needs no elaboration.

It is a role they have played for centuries, and must, even in an ever more networked mode, continue to play.

But within the more networked mode that is not enough.

All teachers, from day one of teaching, must also to be education generalists.

While the concept of the professional as generalist is increasingly rare within academia, it is the norm within industry where near all are expected to make a significant contribution to the on-going productivity and viability of the organisation. To that end they must have a working understanding of the organisation’s digital ecosystem, its shaping vision, be able to play their part in multi-disciplinary, often virtual teams, to innovate and take calculated risks, know where their work fits within the integrated totality, the external forces at play in the networked environment and have the flexibility to play their part in the relevant teams and project groups.

The same should hold with all teachers, albeit in the individual or networked school settings. They should be able to play a lead role in project based teaching, in multi-disciplinary programs, to identify mental health, domestic violence and learning concerns, and ensure those with special talents, be they musicians, athletes or entrepreneurs are moved on to those able to grow those talents. 

Teachers in the networked mode should for example be expected to 

  • be able to get into the helicopter and view the school’s integrated workings from ahigh
  • think holistically, and with a digital mindset
  • network astutely
  • take advantage of the apt networked resources and expertise
  • move readily in and out of across school, across network, across nation teams, and project groups
  • appreciate the dynamic nature of networking, and networked organisations and working with continual change and transformation
  • recognise the megatrends at play, and to shape them to advantage
  • collaborate with all the ‘teachers’ involved in the student’s learning and growth – those in and outside the school walls
  • adjudge daily the effectiveness of the school’s ecosystem and be able and willing to share those thoughts
  • have, and make astute use of the data on all their students and the performance and growth of the school

Few teachers have been formally readied to play the role of the professional educational generalist.

That said many likely will have, largely unwittingly begun growing that understanding. 

Teachers fortunate to be working within schools that have normalised the use of the digital and/or networked school communities will in going about their daily work sit on cross school project teams, committees and participate in school and network wide staff development exercise that naturally further their understanding.

That macro understanding needs however to be more consciously grown from the undergraduate years onwards.

Critical is the assumption, evident in every profession, that all teachers will be expected to have a macro understanding of the workings of the school as an organisation and be able to contribute to the development of a teaching environment that naturally fosters the student’s and teacher’s growth.

Also vital is ensuring staff play their part in significant whole of school community project teams, working parties and planning groups that take the teachers out of their comfort zone and oblige them to better understand unknown territory.

In some respects that is easier to do within primary schools, with their strong holistic focus but the secondary school, by virtue of their size, complexity and the possibilities opened by the networked mode also offers innumerable opportunities.

The key is not to allow teachers to operate solely at the one spot on the teaching production line for years on end, never to set foot in another part of the school.

As Schon noted in his seminal work on the education of professionals (Schon, 1983), it takes time to grow the memory muscle that enables all professionals to perform instinctively.

Serendipitously the COVID experience, coupled with the transition to a more networked mode provided the imperative to markedly grow their ability to teach remotely and better understand the networked mode.

  • Drucker, P (2001) Management Challenges for the 21st Century, NY Harper Business 
  • Lipnack, J & Stamps, J 1994, The age of the network: Organizing principles for the 21st century, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York
  • Schon, D.A, (1983) The Reflective Practitioner. NY. Basic Books

6. Understanding Your School’s Position

Mal Lee

In transitioning to a more networked mode of schooling and teaching it is important for both teachers and heads to

  •  have an in-depth understanding of the transition that has, and has not occurred
  •  adjudge their school’s position and understand where it wants to move, and
  •  contribute to shaping the desired future.

It bears reiterating that every school is at different stage in its transitioning.

It is appreciated that belief is not shared by most governments and education bureaucracies. They still like to perpetuate the myth that all schools are the same, and as such will therefore be at the same point in their transition to a more networked mode.

The pandemic underscored the fallacy of that thinking. 

Rather it affirmed, to the students, parents, teachers and heads the different stages schools were at in the transitioning, and the very real likelihood the better led schools were transitioning much faster and extensively than those lacking the leadership, vision, and drive.

Look at the schools around you, talk to your colleagues, consider how the different schools have handled the pandemic, their level of readiness to teach remotely and to thrive within the more networked mode and you’ll have affirmed their uniqueness, and the different stages each are in their transition.

Indeed, you’ll likely find the same variation within the school. Different teachers and different operational areas like HR, communications, marketing, finance, and staff development could well be more networked than others.

Critical to school’s shaping the desired future is always understanding the school’s current state of transition within all operational areas.

  • Has your school examined its transition to a more networked mode over the last twenty plus years, its nature, and identified the key trends that have emerged? 
  • Has it done so in all operational areas?
  • How well prepared was the school, and indeed the staff to provide the desired, quality remote teaching when COVID first hit?
  • How much better placed is the school today?
  • What steps have now to be taken?

Below is an evolutionary continuum that Roger Broadie and I identified in 2016 (Lee and Broadie, 2016), well before the impetus provided by the pandemic.

Where on first glance would you position your school?

How well prepared are you to adjudge?

Few, if any initial teacher education (ITE) institutions help teachers make that call, particularly in a more networked mode.

Nor do education authorities.

Indeed, you’ll unlikely to find any national or provincial teacher standards that would contemplate classroom teachers making that call or suggesting they should be readied to make that call.

However, a vast body of business research and literature speaks to the imperative of all professional staff within networked organisations having the understanding, ability, and agency to assist in enhancing its performance and growth.

Heretical it might be, but the next post argues that every teacher, from day one in their teaching should be readied to play the dual role of a specialist teacher and an education generalist, immediately able to adjudge where schools are at in the transition. 

5. Accommodating the new normals in schools

Mal Lee

An integral part of schools transitioning to a more networked mode is readying them culturally and organisationally to continually provide the desired education in a world of accelerating, natural technological and societal evolution, transformation, and uncertainty, where the expectation will be that the schools will mirror the ways of society.

That readying will likely be new to many schools, attuned as they are to operating in a world of constancy and continuity, and taking no risks.

Future posts will address how that readying might be done.

But first it is important for teachers and heads to recognise the nature and the challenge of accommodating the new normals.

It is moreover important to appreciate, even within the more tightly controlled education systems the school ultimately decides on the education that will be provided the students.

Allied, in talking about ‘societal expectations’ it is important to recognise one is talking about a vast range of views, from the very conservative to the ultra-progressive.

That said history affirms there has always been, and likely will always be a suite of societal expectations that all schools will accept – even unwittingly – that must be accommodated. Indeed, that has been apparent in the global shift of near all schools, at all levels, to a more networked mode.

One of the first tasks is to better understand the kind of the ‘new normals’ society will expect its schools to accommodate, and the magnitude of the challenge.

As previously mentioned, many of the adaptations will be minor and readily adopted, as they have been for decades.

There are however expectations that all schools will in time have to consider accommodating – even if it opts to reject them.

The following are but a selection.

You’ll likely think of others.

Some are issues that have been growing in prominence over time, some are more recent global developments, while others are social issues highlighted by the increasing dependence on networking during the pandemic. Notwithstanding all are developments schools will have to consider.

In considering them ask, how well your school is positioned to examine, discuss, and accommodate each.      

  • Does it appreciate the transition underway, and at least some of the implications? 
  • Does it have a questioning, learning culture that encourages genuine professional discussion?
  • Is it of a mind to look outside it walls and take on board the evolving societal expectations?
  • Does it have the processes in place to address these developments, and indeed the unplanned benefits and disbenefits?

You’ll soon appreciate the expectations are invariably linked, and that any accommodation of one will oblige consideration of the others.

  • Digital mindset

One of the great unplanned societal, and indeed workplace changes in recent decades has been the natural growth in the digitally connected of the world of an increasingly strong digital mindset, and with it a suite of rising, strong digital expectations.

That mindset is particularly strong among the young, who have only ever known a digital world.  

That suite of expectations, likely strengthened by the COVID experience, includes the likes of, 

  • connecting the moment desired, anywhere, anytime, 24/7/365
  • having in your hands, most every waking moment, one’s smartphone, to action the QR codes, the digital wallet, Apple Pay, vaccine passport and the myriad of other facilities 
  • having agency of the choice, configuration, use and upgrade of our personal devices
  • being free to socially network with whoever you wish, and where in the world
  • using the apps, we want
  • taking charge of one’s own learning; learning what we want, how we want, doing it just in time, in context
  • deciding what protection, we’ll take with our own privacy

How ready is your school, are you as a teacher, to accommodate those kind of expectations?

  • Being digital

The digitally connected worldwide are operating, as Negroponte foretold (1995), in the state of being digital. So normalised is the use of the digital in its many forms that it has become too most largely invisible. 

That is particularly so with the world’s young.

It is a state of being which will not only on trend to strengthen but which will challenge many of the assumptions underpinning the traditional ‘grammar of schooling’.

  • Trust, empowerment, and agency

Core to being digital is trust, empowerment, and agency.

All three expectations, that young children express from around the age of three (Chaudron, 2014), are likely an anathema to the running of many schools.

Many, possibly most schools, still work on the belief that the students, parents, and classroom teachers are be controlled, distrusted, and disempowered, particularly when it comes to the use of the digital and networking. 

The accommodation of these now universal expectations could well entail the school having to rethink its whole modus operandi.

  • Centrality of smartphones

That willingness to trust and empower is communicated in the school’s stance of the use of smartphones.

COVID has underscored the centrality of the smartphones to the lives of all, young and old.

Indeed, most students cannot go about their lives, and even enter school buildings without their QR code and digital vaccination wallet.

Governments worldwide have normalised that reality and simply assume that all will have a smartphone.

How do schools that currently ban the use of smartphones sit with this new normal? 

  • Accelerating networking, connectivity, digital convergence, and digital disruption 

The speed with which a device first released in 2007 has become central to life globally in 2021 is an important indicator to schools of the imperative of accommodating the accelerating digitisation, connectivity, networking, and digital convergence in their everyday workings.

While societies and most assuredly its businesses have long recognised that imperative many schools and education authorities appear to have been loath to factor it into their teaching, operations, and planning.

Many seemingly want to perpetuate the illusion that schools will somehow remain is a constant while the rest of society changes at pace.

  • Transition from loosely to tightly coupled schools

Allied with the increased, connectivity and ubiquitous use of the digital is the burgeoning digital convergence, interconnectivity and organisational integration, and the recognition that the enhanced productivity of all organisations, including schools, lies in the shaping of evermore tightly integrated, efficient, focussed and naturally synergistic digital ecosystems.

Largely unheralded, schools in becoming more networked have moved along that path, shifting away from their traditional loosely coupled organisational form (Weick, 1976), and adopting an ever more tightly coupled mode. The extent varies widely, but in general terms the strong divisions of labour, clear operational boundaries and largely autonomous faculties are slowly but surely being superseded by more integrated operations where every operation is directed towards realising the school’s shaping purpose.

  • Shift from the mass to individualisation

Negroponte presciently identified this shift in Being Digital in 1995.

In being digital I am me, not a statistical subset….

True personalisation is now upon us (Negroponte, 1995, p164).

That is what has transpired.

More than half the world’s people are now digitally connected (ITU, 2020), and control their use of the digital. 

In that control, individuals, and not the state, make the decisions, very quickly individualising their learning and the digital competencies they acquire.

In contrast formal schooling always has been – and continues to be – about mass teaching, believing that every student must be taught and tested on the same thing.

Allied is the assumption that the state must unilaterally decide what will taught, how and when.

While educators have advocated for aeons for the greater individualisation of teaching that quest has been largely dismissed.

How schools accommodate the world’s transition to greater individualisation of will be an immense challenge.

That said the continued outright rejection of the new normal could well be a point of considerable tension.

  • Concern for student health and well being

Another of the new normals, that has been apparent for some time, but which was amplified by the COVID experience is the growing expectation by many in society that schools should play a central role in caring for the student’s well-being and mental health.

This growing trend, identified in COVID study after study, runs counter to many schools and governments increased focus on academic performance and diminished concern for a balanced, holistic schooling.

Accommodating this role asks what the purpose of schooling is, particularly in an increasingly networked society, accelerating at ever pace into the unknown and greater uncertainty.

  • The differences between schools will continue to grow at pace 

The decade’s long trend within the private sector for networked organisations to become ever more different is now being increasingly evidenced in schools.

The trend has been evidenced first-hand by parents worldwide with the remote teaching.

While some schools, that had long normalised the use of the digital and the networked world, accelerated their shift to a more networked mode during the shutdown/s at the other end of the widening continuum there are schools that still view the pandemic as a temporary interruption, who have made minimal effort to attune their teaching to the networked mode.

The new normal will be for schools to be ever more different, with those in authority at best able to shape the natural global megatrend. 

In reality every school, every classroom has been unique since the inception of formal schooling.  The school leadership, the shaping mindset, educational philosophy, context, heritage, culture, mix of staff, school development strategy and availability of resources all contribute to its uniqueness.

It is just that the transition to the networked mode, and the facility of astute heads to select from a growing array of options to create the desired learning environment has amplified the distinctiveness.

While ever the visionary heads continue take advantage of the opportunities opened and the risk averse stay where they feel safe the differences will widen. 

  • Families as teachers

Leave aside for the moment that parents always have been, and always will be the children’s first teachers.

The COVID experience alerted societies and schools to a reality seldom recognised in the teaching literature, that not only were near all the families of school students in the developed world digitally connected and had digital ecosystems that surpassed those in most classrooms, but they also had considerable digital competencies, and the long held desire to collaborate with the schools in the teaching of their children in a more networked mode (Project Tomorrow, 2011).

They have for years been educating their children in the networked mode, giving them the tools, connectivity, and agency to largely take charge of their use of and learning with the digital – on trend to continue playing that role regardless of what might be done by the school. 

The more astute of school leaders principals would undoubtedly have recognised 

  • the changing and rising expectations parents have of their schools
  • the COVID experience has given many parents an agency, and an insight into remote teaching and schooling they will build upon
  • that in living with COVID schools need to be ready, within literally hours, to work with their family’s digital resources and expertise in remote teaching
  • the wisdom of being proactive, of building upon the COVID collaboration and the shift to a more networked mode, to create a networked school community (Lee and Finger, 2010).

Conclusion.

The stark reality is that schools are naturally transitioning at an accelerating pace to a more networked mode.

They have moved from a world of relative constancy to one of continual transformation.

The schools can go with the flow, and shape the developments to advantage, or try to resist and bear the consequences.

Let’s Get Serious About Remote Teaching

Mal Lee

It is time for the world, and particularly its educators to get serious about remote teaching.

Two years on it is time to accept that COVID and its variants will be part of our lives and schooling for years to come.

It is also important to appreciate at the same time that key elements of schooling, that date back to the Industrial Age, are becoming increasingly alien in a socially networked society, where the interconnectedness necessitates a more collaborative, agential style approach. 

The significant digital divide, student mental health concerns, shortage of teachers, falling student enrolments and retention rates and the growing student disengagement and alienation point to major structural shortcomings within schooling, that necessitate astute holistic renovations befitting today’s world.

Schools and governments must address those realities, understanding their experience is being replicated in schools worldwide, and normalise as soon as feasible the apt, attractive, effective, and strongly individualised use of remote teaching in schooling, be in the school or from home.

The new normal should be a schooling that the incorporates the astute everyday use of remote – or some would say hybrid, blended or flipped – teaching.

Let’s get serious.

Banish the notion that the pandemic is a temporary problem, and that the connected world is not dramatically changing our ways. 

Schooling must move immediately out of its holding pattern, the use of Band Aid solutions and political spin and begin shaping a model of schooling for a networked world that can provide a ‘new normal’, largely interrupted schooling when living with COVID. 

Critically continue to base schooling within the physical place called school but employ a socially networked teaching regimen that is equally attractive, engaging, and effective on site and when provided out of the student’s and teacher’s homes.

Let’s take advantage of the global societal shift to a digital and networked existence, the increasingly sophisticated technologies, the greater personalisation of information and the best of traditional schooling and teach for today’s world, and not the Industrial Age.

Many have been calling for years for this to happen.

In early 2020 the schooling of the nation’s young irrevocably changed worldwide.

Let’s accept there is no going back.

Rather there is the necessity, and the opportunity for governments and astute visionary educators to build upon the natural transition to a more networked, personalised mode of schooling to provide every one of the nation’s young an attractive, quality contemporary education, while contending with COVID.

Stop grabbing off the shelf online teaching solutions, still geared to the Industrial Age, that bore most students, and which benefit only company’s bottom line.

Core is shaping the way forward with a digital mindset.

Allied is genuinely respecting and building upon the contribution made by all associated with the education of each child. For far too long students, parents, grandparents and vitally teachers, have been viewed as pawns to be used at whim by education bureaucrats.

Within a socially networked society the dividends come from the collaborative pooling of resources and expertise and treating people with respect; trusting and empowering them to contribute to the holistic education of the children.

Let the village assist in the education of the young.

The remote teaching during the school shutdowns globally was in reality done by the ‘village’, primarily from the students and teacher’s homes, using their personal resources, infrastructure, and connectivity.

Rarely has that financial contribution been recognised or teachers recompensed, or it appreciated that this kind of collaboration exemplified the use of networked resources that should be the norm within a networked society.

COVID has alerted parents, and hopefully governments, worldwide to the oft forgotten reality that schooling should be far more than academic performance, and should also address the growth, development, well-being and nurturing of every child, the marginalised, the non-conformist, the disabled and not simply the academically advantaged.

The pandemic also underscored the imperative of 100% of the nation’s young and their families having permanent broad band home connectivity and all in the family having the digital devices needed to grow being digital, lifelong. 100%, not 95% or even 99% must have connectivity.

In a networked society that connectivity is now critical to most all facets of life, for every citizen. That has been affirmed daily throughout the pandemic. That personal connectivity must be provided all, the 90 year old as well as the young. Every citizen must the ready facility to learn, communicate, and socialise digitally, but also to partake of the evolving new normals, the likes of telehealth, pandemic warnings, digital passports, and permission to access buildings, travel, provinces, and nations.

The astute governments, the likes of Boston in the US, recognise they must ensure every citizen has that connectivity, as they once did with the mail.  While most in the developed world can afford that connectivity the school experience worldwide revealed, even in the richest of nations there was a significant number who could not, particularly when all in the family were working from home.

Let’s also get serious about the greatest resource at the school’s disposal, its teachers.

Start by treating them as professionals, by providing them the trust, respect, working environment, remuneration, training, agency, and support needed for them to lead the way in shaping the schooling for a networked society, and providing the best possible remote teaching and learning.

Stop treating them as mere drones on an education production line, to do the bureaucrats bidding.

Reflect on how governments worldwide treated doctors during the pandemic, and how it treated its teachers. 

Little is the wonder that teachers throughout the developed world, the US, Canada, France, Australia, and England, have felt the need this year to strike to be heard. One will struggle to find any enquiry examining teacher’s working conditions during the pandemic, the inordinate workload, the overtime, the stress, the burnout, the failure of bureaucrats to listen and the percentage of the teachers who have resigned or who soon will.

When one of the world’s wealthier education provinces, the state of NSW in Australia, unilaterally decides from on high to employ unqualified undergraduates and long retired teachers to keep its classroom’s operational one can rightly argue that system’s treatment of its greatest resource has failed abysmally.

The system likely doesn’t realise it is in a protracted downward spiral evermore unable to find the desired teachers.

But NSW is not alone.

Education systems and schools worldwide continue to ineffectually perpetuate the ways of old, still believing the pandemic and the structural shortcomings are but temporary.

It is time to get serious about the use of remote teaching in a networked society.

However, any such move, by either by a school or system must give due regard to the desired totality, to the increasing interconnectedness of the networked world and adopt a holistic approach that addresses the myriad of linked variables at play.

4. Schools and the Evolving New Normals

Mal Lee

Society will expect, possibly unwittingly, the natural evolution and transformation evidenced in daily life and near ever organisation to be mirrored in its schools.

It will moreover expect the lessons learned from the COVID experience also to be taken on board.

In the last two years the transformative impact of these two developments has seen the popularisation, and global embrace of the term, the ‘new normal’. It has come to mean

a previously unfamiliar or atypical situation that has become standard, usual, or expected (OED)

It particularly pertains to the new ways of doing things society expects to be an everyday facet of life, work, and learning. 

While in some senses a redundant expression, in that the societal norm automatically evolves as society changes, the problem is that the term ‘normal’ has become synonymous with a sense of conformity, constancy and a lack of deviation from the established ways. 

The desire would appear to be to use a term that better communicates the speed with which some societal norms are evolving. Particularly apparent during the pandemic were the many situations where what was ‘normal’ at the beginning of the year had been superseded by a ‘new normal’ six months later.

Leaving aside the semantics the crucial point for teachers and heads to recognise is that inherent in the transition of schooling is the expectation that schools will continually accommodate the ‘new normals’.

While much of the accommodation has been, and will likely continue to be, relatively easy there has been, and always will be a set of issues, trends, and developments that will challenge the accepted ways and ask hard questions.

As the digital disruption accelerates, widens, and becomes that much more transformative so schools will likely be expected, implicitly and explicitly, to address evermore of the hard questions.  Fountain pens, immersion in a library of old books, pull down blackboards, teachers ability to control the flow of information and being free to teach as one wishes behind the closed classroom door, no matter how treasured the ways of a digital and networked world are no longer.

There might be well be good educational reasons for choosing to stay with the traditional ways that the parent community will accept.

There might equally be reasons that appear sound to heads and staff that the students and parents don’t believe mirror the thinking and ways of today’s world.

Heads are going, likely increasingly, and forever on, to have make some difficult calls and lead.

Ideally schools, like businesses, should be ready to naturally accommodate the evolving new normals. The thinking, the culture, the processes, the staff, the curriculum, the school community should be attuned to providing the desired constancy while simultaneously continually providing a contemporary education.

It is likely however most schools today are still attuned to a world of constancy, continuity, and conformity, ill prepared to handle rapid, uncertain, potentially transformative change.  

Many, possibly most, principals and schools still likely see the pandemic as a temporary irritation that once over will allow them to return to their ‘normal ways’.

What is thinking in your school?

Businesses wanting to thrive within the ever evolving world have long chartered changing client expectations with highly sophisticated tools.

Most schools have likely not followed that path. Indeed, experience as a head and educational administrator suggests that many loath the idea that students and parents are clients, whose expectations must be heard. Rather they, and often government, remain strongly of the belief that only they have the expertise and understanding to decide what is appropriate for the students.

The past 25 plus years suggests that mindset can accommodate the less disruptive of the new normals. 

How well a top down leadership approach can accommodate the more challenging new normals described in the next post is moot. 

In an increasingly socially networked world, where the digital mindset is so pervasive, organisational transformation is accelerating and where trust, agency, collaboration, working in teams and being highly agile and flexible is increasingly important unilateral control from on high might well be ineffectual, and indeed unacceptable to most staff, students, and parents.

The latter is very much the view coming out of the research with those digitally mature corporations that have successfully accommodated both the digital evolution and COVID (Deloitte, 2017, (Kane, et.al, 2016), (Kane, et al, 2017).  It reinforces the imperative of the chief executive officer distributing control and responsibility and giving the professionals the agency to assist shape the desired ever evolving digital ecosystem.

That distribution of agency is crucial to readying schools to naturally accommodate the new normals.

3.Inexorable Natural Evolution

Mal Lee

The transition of schooling from its traditional, insular paper based mode to one that is increasingly networked has been in the main a natural evolutionary development.

It is moreover an inexorable evolution, that is on trend to become faster, more sophisticated, wide reaching, transformative and to be part of schooling forever.

Critically the transition parallels the transformation occurring within most other organisations, private and public sector, as they make greater use of the digital and networking, and the digital convergence, AI and greater efficiencies promote more tightly integrated, synergistic, and interconnected digital ecosystems.

No world body, with visionary educators planned or shaped the transformation.

No government/s funded the phenomenon.

Rather it evolved naturally out of the confluence of a suite of global developments, linked in the main to the exponential growth in the power of the digital and the networking of the world.

The challenge for schools, likely including yours, is that most education decision makers, and likely most educational researchers believe, often fervently, that every facet of school growth must planned. Nothing can be left to chance. All growth must be approached in a highly rationale, largely linear manner, the progress measured, and the lessons learned factored into the next plan. 

Educational bureaucracies worldwide insist schools have detailed planning documents, that identify to the nth degree the learning outcomes that will be the focus of the school’s work and reporting.  In some of the more highly controlled education authorities priority is given those few outcomes to the near exclusion of all else.

There is little or no place for unplanned or unintended developments, or for the optimisation of the unintended developments no matter beneficial they might be.

With many schools there is little chance of moving away from ‘the plan’.

Implicit is the belief that humans can control every variable at play within in a school, within a tightly interconnected, rapidly evolving world, and plan accordingly.

It is a mindset that likely contributed to the failure by most not to see the transition by the world’s schools to the more networked mode.  While focussing on the forest floor they didn’t see that the forest had changed.

You’ll struggle to find any that acknowledge the students and teachers in their personal lives have been, and are naturally growing their digital mindset, the digital competencies they want and are continually adapting their ways to the global change. 

Similarly, it will likely be difficult to find any harnessing that natural growth in their staff development.

Significantly few schools appear to have factored into their planning the realities of natural, chaotic evolution (Pascale et.al, 2000), digital disruption, the inefficiency of the evolutionary growth or the importance of shaping the natural evolution to advantage.

What moves has your school made in this area in its planning?

Have you, has the school, paused, and wondered how it is that the digitally connected young of the world, all using their own digital devices in a strongly individualised, laissez faire, largely unfettered manner, use and learn with them in a remarkably similar way? 

It is a fascinating expression of natural evolution.  As far back at the late 90s Tapscott (1998) identified the universal mores and attributes that the Net generation had grown in but a few years in their use of the internet. 

The same similarity of thinking and use is to be found today, as we discuss in a future post.

Over 50% of the world’s 8 billion plus population are digitally connected (ITU, 2020), as are 70% plus of the world’s young (UNICEF, 2017), with the trend very much to near universal connectivity.

All have naturally grown their digital mindset, competencies and being digital in their 24/7/365 use and learning with the digital – not in a classroom.

Neither schools nor government have played any major part in funding the personal connectivity of the world’s 4 billion plus people, in providing the devices or in supporting their learning. The devices and connectivity have been bought by the families of the world.

Perelman astutely observed in 1992 that near all the users of personal computers had taught themselves and would continue to do so into the future.

That is the reality.

It is moreover a reality, and a capability that schools and governments were able to instantly capitalise upon when schools shut their doors in early 2020. Few have fleshed out why governments globally were immediately able to ask the teachers to teach from their homes, and the students, K-12, to partake immediately in a fully networked teaching. Neither government nor the schools have played any major part in growing that capability.

Indeed, a growing commentary suggests that most schools and education authorities even in 2021 still don’t fund or actively support their staff teaching from home. 

Does your school or government for example contribute to the cost of setting up your home office or connectivity?

In the early 1980’s Naisbitt (Naisbitt, 1984) alerted the world, but particularly the business world, to the megatrends shaping the world, and the facility at best to shape those forces to advantage.

40 years later, and 50 plus years since Gordon Moore enunciated his hypothesis the ability to shape the megatrends is that much more challenging.

Even more so is deliberately going against the megatrends. Societal expectations, particularly with businesses, but also with schools would soon render unviable any that chose not to adapt.

The critical leadership skill today for both heads and increasingly teachers is to better understand the evolutionary megatrends impacting schooling and to shape those forces to continually provide the desired schooling.

School planning, like that in every organisation is vital but it should be of a type apt for the day and situation, that accommodates both the planned and unplanned growth, and which has the capacity to readily adjusted to often rapidly changing circumstances.

The lesson the COVID experience has taught everyone, and every organisation is imperative of being flexible and agile, able to change plans literally within hours.

It is ever more important schools do what businesses have done since at least the 1990s (Thorpe, 1998) and be open to swiftly identifying the potential unintended benefits and disbenefits. The transition to a more networked mode will have its up and downsides. Schools should be ready to identify, adjudge and optimise the unintended benefits and quickly quash the inevitable disbenefits.

Contrary to the belief held by likely most educational decision makers one can argue that all the major worldwide educational changes that have occurred in the last twenty plus years have been unplanned. The emergence of digitally connected families, their lead role in growing their children’s digital mindset, and use of and learning with the digital, the growth of the young being digital, social networking, the shift from a predominantly text based mode of learning and communication to one that is increasingly multi-media and visual and the facility for the nation’s young to take charge of their learning anywhere, anytime 24/7/365 were all unplanned.

One will struggle to identify a planned global educational development that matches the aforementioned.

That reality should be factored into the school’s planning and workings.

Amplifying that need is the imperative of every school factoring into its planning and operations the accommodation of what society regards as the ‘new normals’.

  • Naisbitt, J (1984) Megatrends London Futura
  • Pascale, R.T, Millemann, M, Gioja, L (2000) Surfing at the Edge of Chaos NY Three Rivers Press
  • Perelman, L (1992) School’s Out NY Avon Books
  • Tapscott, D (1998), Growing up digital: The rise of the Net Generation, McGraw Hill, New York
  • Thorpe, J (1998) The Information Paradox Toronto McGraw-Hil
  • UNICEF (2017) Children in a Digital World. The State of the World’s Children 2017. UNICEF December 2017 – https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/SOWC_2017_ENG_WEB.pdf

2. COVID and The Transition

Mal Lee

The COVID -19 experience, coupled with the transition to the more networked mode is already shaping as a watershed moment in the history of schooling.

The pandemic alerted the world to the historic transformation underway, accelerated the transition, forced teachers, students, parents and schools to pool their resources and collaborate in the teaching, obliged schools to accommodate societies rapidly evolving expectations and bid them think about the desired nature of the school within a connected world. 

Importantly the pandemic, coupled with the network technology necessitated schools use the digital resources of the student’s homes, to collaborate with and actively involve the digitally connected families in the teaching and provide the parents a historic insight into the school’s teaching and workings.

It gave young parents an agency that many are likely not to relinquish lightly.

COVID, in its stress testing of every facet of facet of society and its organisations both transformed significant aspects of life, work and learning and posed fundamental questions of near every organisation. 

It did the same with schools. It identified their strengths and shortcomings and asked how fit for purpose were they to educate the nation’s young today. 

Significantly the pandemic revealed to school communities worldwide the extent to which ‘their’ school had transitioned from their traditional paper base to one that was more networked, and how ready it was to teach in an increasingly networked mode.

Whether the schools saw that ‘reveal’, as flagged in the first post is moot.

The pandemic showed that most all schools could, albeit to varying degrees, educate its students in a fully networked mode, as well as on site, and use a mix of the two modes.

Importantly it revealed that near all students and teachers had in their personal lives naturally grown their digital mindset and competencies, and had the home connectivity and infrastructure, and in the case of the students the family support, to partake in a fully networked mode of teaching and learning.

That said the COVID experience also highlighted the disturbing social inequities existent in most all schools, with the socially economically advantaged continuing to be advantaged while those less well off, and the marginalised were further disadvantaged. Very early in the pandemic the digital divide, even in nations with 90% plus home connectivity, became strikingly obvious.  As did the failure by near all authorities to have put in place the measures to guarantee equity of digital access and home connectivity for all students.

While, for example it is estimated that 9 million plus students (Tyton, 2021) were enrolled in ‘learning pods’ and ‘micro-schools’ in the US in 2020 during the shutdown all were paid for by advantaged families, for advantaged children. 

The poor were left to fend for themselves.

The pandemic also reminded the world that schooling the nation’s young entailed far more than the teaching and testing of a few academic subjects. Schools are not and should never be simply about PISA scores.

Schools are nation’s tools for growing, educating, and nurturing all its young. The many concerns brought to the fore during COVID about student alienation, dropping student retention rates, poor socialisation, student well-being, mental health, digital inequities, the marginalised, racism and the treatment of girls are all matters society rightly should expect schools to play a major role in addressing.

Unintentionally COVID reminded societies and their governments schools were unique organisations. They have simultaneously to be constant while also contemporaneous, always adapting their ways to meet society’s evolving expectations.

The pandemic affirmed the constancy in making it clear to all, that the existing school organisational structures that the world has known for a century plus, could not be changed. They were immutable. Society expects schools, likely more than ever, to nurture and educate the students during set times each day, five days a week, for most of the year within the physical place called school. 

The social, educational, economic, and political imperative became daily more apparent. 

Tellingly the transition to a more networked mode has successfully occurred within the existing structures and will in most instances have to continue doing so in the decades ahead.

COVID laid to rest the belief by many futurists that that the core school organisational structures can be changed, and that the technology removes the need for site based schooling.

COVID also shattered the myth that all schools were the same. It revealed that all had not transitioned to the networked mode at the same rate, nor were all at the same point in their transitioning.

Rather it demonstrated to students and parents globally that every school was unique. Different styles of leadership, mix of staff, heritage, clientele, context, aspirations, shaping vision, culture and level of resourcing all contribute to that uniqueness. 

What the pandemic did was to alert school communities to the different stages schools were at in their transition, and that the differences would likely grow. While the astute, visionary heads were shaping highly focussed, tightly integrated networked learning communities, others were trying to retain the ‘grammar of schooling’ within the more networked mode.  One school observed tried to do the latter with a 100% migration of its site based schooling online, even to the extent of using the existing lesson times, mandating the students wear uniforms and imposing detentions on those who transgressed. 

The imperative of each school shaping their own desired transition became that more apparent.

As did that of schools accommodating, as best they could the ‘new normals’ expected by the wider society. The speed with which schools were required to adopt those changing expectations during the course of the pandemic will be long remembered.

COVID bid each school, like every other organisation, rethink its purpose, its fit for today’s world and to tackle the pitfalls that invariably come with digital disruption, and increased networking.

It should have prompted schools to clarify their educational purpose and the nature of teaching they want to use in a rapidly evolving, seemingly chaotic, networked world. 

Was there any such contemplation in your school?

What became apparent globally was that the digital and network technology can be equally well used to unilaterally control and micromanage every facet of the teaching and learning or to distribute the control, to trust and give agency to the teachers, students and parents and have them work collaboratively in the teaching of the young.

What approach would you take?

Which does you school employ?

Has your school begun to address the issues highlighted during the shutdown? 

  • Do for example all students need to physically attend a place called school, all the time? 
  • What mix of face to face and networked teaching should the school now use, at different age levels, in different areas of learning? 
  • Is yours a school where the socially and economically are further advantaged, and the marginalised are still disadvantaged or does it need to provide all a more equitable contemporary education? 
  • Should ‘success’ at your school still be equated solely with the ability to perform well in handwritten exams that assess academic knowledge, or should it embody something broader, that includes both academic attainment and the ability to thrive within rapidly evolving, uncertain networked organisations? 

This series of posts will not attempt to decide on the purpose or the nature of schooling.

Nor will they suggest any one mode of schooling is better, or indeed what mix of on-site and networked teaching is most appropriate. 

It leaves that to the school, and education authority.

Moreover, they will make no effort to provide a rationale for the natural transition to a more networked mode, or to identify the plusses or minuses of the global phenomenon.

Rather the posts will address the reality, and hopefully assist shape the desired transition, while at the same time factoring in living with COVID. 

  • Tyton Partners (2021) School Disrupted. Part 2. July 2021  

Transitioning from Traditional to Networked Schooling

Greg McKay
  1. Transitioning from Traditional to Networked Schooling

Mal Lee

Schooling worldwide is moving inexorably from its traditional, largely stand-alone, strongly paper based mode to one that is increasingly networked and digital.

The extent of the transition has already been profound, even in the more conservative of schools, far more than most likely have realised, on trend to become even greater.

It has however been largely unseen, unplanned and undocumented, hidden in part by contemporary society’s ready acceptance of the evolving new normal. It is highly likely that most teachers won’t have appreciated the magnitude of the change, although being central to the development.

Indeed, this is likely the first article to describe the transition, and to alert the education community to the transformation underway. 

The implications of the transition for all schools, teaching, and indeed all school operations are already immense. However in many respects the world is still in the early stage of the more networked mode, just beginning to understand the ramifications of the development.

While coming blogs will touch upon some of those ramifications far greater analysis at the school and macro level by many more in the years ahead will be needed. 

What however is clear is that all associated with schools, but particularly the teachers and heads, need to better understand the global phenomenon. They need to understand the key features, the trends, how the teaching and school have already been transformed, the shift to more tightly coupled digitally based ecosystems, able to adjudge the impact of the transition on the desired schooling, and how they might best assist shape the natural, inexorable transition to advantage.

Serendipitously the COVID pandemic, in its stress testing of every facet of schooling, has alerted societies worldwide to the transition that has occurred since the 90s, and affirmed the world has reached the point where for the first time in human history schooling can be provided remotely, in a fully networked mode and not just within a physical place.

In the space of 25 years near all the developed world’s, and increasingly the developing and undeveloped world’s classrooms, K-12 have transitioned from being telecommunications deserts to being networked. Schools have transitioned from a few, highly guarded, 56K phone lines, with none in the classrooms to near all teachers and classrooms having ready connectivity to high speed, multiple media, broadband networks.

In the early 90s a head had several weeks to contemplate the reply to be posted to the office. Near all communication, and virtually every aspect of teaching was paper based, handwriting was all important, books were dominant, the photocopiers daily consumed reams, and the control of the mail stamps and long distance phone calls was paramount.

Schools, three quarters of a century on from their standardisation around 1920, were still insular, largely stand-alone, loosely coupled (Weick, 1976) organisations that operated behind closed doors, replicating year in and year out, what Tyack and Cuban (1995) termed as the ‘grammar of schooling’.

The basic grammar of schooling, like the shape of classrooms, has remained remarkably stable over the decades. Little has changed in the ways schools divide time and space, classify students and allocate them to classrooms, splinter knowledge into ‘subjects’ and award grades and ‘credits’ as evidence of learning (Tyack and Cuban, 1995, p85).

……Established institutional forms come to be understood by educators, student and the public as necessary features of ‘real’ school. They become fixed in place by everyday custom in schools and by outside forces, by legal mandates and cultural beliefs, until they are barely noticed. They become just the way schools are (Tyack and Cuban, 1995, p86).

Schools were viewed as places of constancy, continuity and sameness.

Serendipitously as much the same time as Tyack and Cuban their observation schools, usually unheralded, began to be networked, initially internally within the administration, library and a few computer labs, and then also externally via a series of ever larger connections to the Internet.

In historic terms the transition to a more networked mode has been rapid, starting slowly in the 1990s, gathering pace in the 2000s, and accelerating evermore since 2010.

As seemingly recent as early 2010 the world and its schools could not have handled the pandemic like it did but 10 years later. The iPad revolution had yet to be launched, apps were unheard of by most, the broadband connectivity was lacking, and the primary school age cohort had yet to grow its digital mindset and competencies.

By early 2020 they had. 90% plus of digitally connected families across the developed world had the digital mindset, infrastructure, competencies, broadband connectivity and vitally the desire to collaborate with their schools in a fully networked mode and to support their children. Indeed, few questioned the ability of Year 2 children to participate in Zoom lessons. It was part of the new normal.

Critically near all teachers, mostly of their volition, had also grown their digital mindset, competencies, home infrastructure and connectivity to a level where they could teach remotely from home.

On reflection it has been the networking technology, the connectivity and the facility for ever greater, inexpensive social networking that has been the game changer – far more so than the digital devices.

Significantly history has affirmed the transition to the more networked mode has been in the main a natural evolutionary development. It is on trend not only to increasingly impact every facet of society, learning and the operation of most every organisation, but should also oblige all organisations, including schools to rethink their workings, the desired human resources, their fit for purpose and the aptness of their planning in an environment that necessitates they accommodate both the planned and unplanned developments.

For schools and education authorities still wedded to the belief that all change can and must controlled, planned and measured, natural, often seemingly chaotic evolution and transformation could be a significant challenge.  Many could struggle to reconcile the reality that one of the most significant and transformative changes in the history of schooling has been, and continues to be, unplanned, and that they not only failed to see the change but, in their planning, failed to accommodate the phenomenon.

In the accelerating digital disruption of the world there will in the adaption to the new continue to be the plusses and minuses, and inevitable tensions as people grapple with what of the old to retain, and what to let go, with some gaining power at the expense of others.

That will be true of near all schools.

Schools, like every other organisation, can at best shape the global transition to a more networked mode to advantage, optimising the benefits, remediating the disbenefits, while continually adapting their workings to provide the desired education. 

They cannot stop the transition.

Society will expect schools as public institutions to adapt and accommodate the new normal.

Approached astutely, with a clearly understood purpose, understanding the nature of the transition, the forces at play and being willing to factor in both the planned and unplanned individual schools globally have demonstrated they can not only adapt but thrive.

Neither this or the future posts will attempt to rationalise the world’s, or schooling’s transition to a more networked mode, or to discuss the pros and cons. 

It is pointless.

Rather the focus will be on working with the reality.

One of the realities is how readily all manner of societies have adapted their ways to the accelerating, all-pervasive, digital evolution and transformation, and embrace, invariably unconsciously, the evolving new normals.  Invariably it is only when one stops and reflects does the ease of much of the adaption to the emerging digital technologies and increasingly powerful digital ecosystems, and the willingness to abandon the old ways become apparent. Few comment on the normality in 2021 of near all elders using their smartphones and QR codes, but it is an immense social transformation that barely rates a comment. 

Parents, students, the media and government all speak in the COVID world of returning schools to ‘normal’. In reality most are likely talking about a return to site based, face to face schooling. A related reality is that post COVID most will unwittingly expect a ‘new normal’; a schooling that incorporates many of the plusses that emerged during the fully networked mode. Video conferencing in some form for example has likely already become a normal part of everyday schooling.

In reflecting on the transition and the evolving ‘new normal’ one will soon appreciate that the expectation will be that they are accommodated by the schools.

Their accommodation – or more likely the refusal to do so – has already created tensions, and will continue to do so, probably at an ever higher level as the transition accelerates. 

Think for a moment on the transition that has occurred in your school in the last couple of decades, the transformation that has taken place in near every facet of your school’s workings, and the issues raised and tensions generated as some staff sought to retain the ways of the past, while others wanted to take advantage of new opportunities. 

In reflecting consider the myriad of issues and options that accompany the development.

There is much to be gained by analysing the transition within all facets of your school’s workings in the last 20 years.

How that might best be done will be addressed in the next post.

What however will be immediately apparent will be the 

  • magnitude of the transition
  • shift from a paper based operation to one that is ever more digital and networked
  • ever greater use of networked teaching
  • shift to a more tightly coupled organisation
  • movement from a highly insular to more networked learning environment
  • inexorable, often unplanned nature of the phenomenon and the strength of the megatrends
  • importance of readying the staff and school to thrive within the significantly different teaching environment.

What should also be apparent has been the profound impact COVID has had in accelerating the transition to the more networked mode.

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 Quarterly 21 1976

Digital Equity of Access

Mal Lee

Equity of access to the digital technology is vital for all the nation’s young.

Indeed one could argue it is so from around the age of two or three, the stage when most in digitally connected families begin growing being digital (Chaudron, 2015).

Ideally in a digital world every young person should have their ‘own’ digital device/s and connectivity, free to use largely unfettered. Even the poorest should like every other child be able to stream shows, create, explore, communicate, post, network, and learn collaboratively with the digital 24/7/365, naturally growing in the everyday usage their digital mindset and being digital.

Every child – and not just the advantaged – should enjoy a normal upbringing in a digital and socially networked world.

Without family, and ideally school, access, support and empowerment children will be disadvantaged, educationally, socially and economically.

It is an ideal that has that been pursued, often unwittingly by the digitally connected families of the world for the last couple of decades. Until 2019 they alone had basically provided their children their digital technology and connectivity, and critically shaped its use and provided the requisite support and direction with a digital mindset.

Not government, and only rarely the schools.

The families have done so remarkably successfully, readily evolving their ways in a rapidly changing scene.

Around 70% or near on 4 billion young people are now digitally connected (UNICEF, 2017), (ITU, 2020). That connectivity is not only more than double that in 2010, but is fundamental in that it saw the shift from a dated analogue to a digital medium (ITU, 2011).  

Typically 90% plus of children aged three or more have digital connectivity in the developed and increasingly large pockets of the developing world (ITU, 2020).  A New Zealand study undertaken post the COVID – 19 shutdown found 93.7% of the students attending Christchurch’s 150 schools had ready home connectivity and access to the desired digital devices (GCSN, 2020), with but 6.3% of students needing government assistance. 

Pre 2020 few governments worldwide shared the ideal of national or universal connectivity.

Some did.

England for example mounted its Home Access Scheme (Tolley, 2010), the government of the day believing it imperative all the nation’s young had home connectivity.  Sadly most efforts died with changes in government, leaving the families to fund the connectivity.

Most schools and governments was thus unprepared when the 2020 pandemic hit, and were obliged to operate digitally and work collaboratively online with their families. They had not shared the ideals of the families or the young about connectivity. Their thinking was still in large shaped by the traditional, insular, site based mindset which saw no real role for families in schooling, or the need for all the nation’s young to be connected. Most had only a limited understanding of their digital connected families’ digital resources, competencies, and preferred mode of learning with the digital. 

One will struggle even today to find a government or education authority which regularly monitors the evolving home digital expertise or resources.

Moreover few had readied themselves to work in a networked mode of teaching, even in a limited form. Revealingly the aforementioned Christchurch study affirmed 22% of secondary teachers markedly underestimated the digital resources of their student’s homes (GCSN, 2020).

Not surprisingly most governments adopted a short term, band aid solution, that paid no regard to the ideals or sterling work of the digitally connected families, or the universal connectivity of the young.  Invariably most, in the belief that only they knew best imposed a dated, largely ineffectual, ‘one size fits all’ model of digital use upon the student’s homes. Most opted to hand out laptops – the same model to everyone. A few provided some home connectivity, but the overall message was clear, employ a short term solution until the return to normal schooling.

In fairness most teachers, schools, national and provincial governments, and corporations from the outset of the shutdowns went out of the way to ensure students in need had the gear and connectivity (UNESCO, 2020). You’ll all have heard of the teachers, schools and companies that went to great length to ensure every child was connected, particularly in the rural and regional areas.

Yes sadly in some situations, like parts of the US (Vogels, et.al, 2020) many did not believe it was the role of government to support families in need. In the midst of the first wave of the pandemic only 53% of US adults believed governments should assist home connectivity of the students (Vogels, et.al, 2020). 

Most teachers, schools and governments, national and provincial understood the importance of looking after each child, and the political and electoral imperative of being seen to provide the kit and connectivity. 

The problem was not the effort expended, but rather the thinking that shaped it, and the failure to adopt a solution for today’s and likely tomorrow’s world.

Collaboration is the key within a networked society. Not unilateral, top down bureaucratic action.

The digitally connected families revealed during the pandemic their ability to operate digitally, demonstrating a level of digital resourcing that has for many years surpassed that available in most classrooms (Lee and Ryall, 2010). 

Vitally they also demonstrated their willingness to collaborate with, and support the schools, making possible the remote teaching. They, not government provided the bulk of the digital infrastructure, technology, connectivity and support for the online teaching – at no cost to the schools or government.

They showed why they had successfully connected 90% plus of the developed nation’s young, and why they – and not government – would lead the way to the near universal 24/7/365 connectivity of the nation’s young.

The visionary schools that shaped their operations with a digital mindset, and which had normalised the use of the digital understood the digital capability of their families, and the imperative of genuinely collaborating with them.

They also had long understood the importance of equity of access, and every student having home connectivity.  A decade ago in readying BYOT (Lee and Levins, 2012) school after school used as a case study proclaimed the necessity of looking after every child, and the relative ease of so doing.

Why governments and their administrators have still to embrace that imperative makes one wonder.

While still early days post the COVID – 19 shutdowns it appears most governments intend to return to the traditional ways of teaching and schooling, to continue the focus on the basics and use the digital peripherally in the classroom.  

In early 2021 one will struggle globally to find any government that provides home connectivity for students in need, or which expresses the desire for universal home connectivity. Situations like Lafayette County (US) are difficult to find.

Most appear to view the pandemic as an aberration, and are letting slide the educational imperative of ensuring every child, and not just the advantaged, have digital access 24/7/365, from early in life.

The very strong message at this point in history is that if your school believes in digital equity of access it must take the lead in its achievement.

The job is not hard. 

But it does require a head committed to the quest, and a school staff willing to respect, trust, empower and genuinely collaborate with their families in the use of their digital resources. It entails acknowledging the students will use their own devices and digital resources.

The number of students today in need of support is likely to be small. The Christchurch numbers are likely to be found in most developed nations. A potential challenge is ensuring all students in large families have ready access.

The cost of apt devices has dropped, and continues to fall.  Near all schools can provide the financial support or draw on a range of sources to secure the money.

While most schools can fund the access and connectivity there are invariably local service groups and government agencies able to assist as well.

What is required is that each year the school will, as a normal part of its operations with each new cohort sensitively identify those in need of support, and arrange it is provided.

Approach that support with a digital mindset, understanding each family’s situation and needs, empowering the family to make what it believes the apt decision.

It is time to stop the paternalism – well intentioned and unwitting as it might be.

For too long those in authority, the school, the bureaucracy have decided what the poor need.

Try if possible to give money, particularly for the devices.

Understand how important respect, trust and empowerment is to all digitally connected families, and their children. Connectivity is connectivity, but the message communicated in enabling the family, child/children to choose the desired device and apps is immense.

One of the great failings of England’s Home Access scheme (Tolley, 2010) was middle level bureaucrats deciding what technology was appropriate for those in need. Their actions trumpeted very loudly the poor and marginalised couldn’t be trusted to make the right choice. 

Digitally connected families worldwide are invariably technology agnostic, using within their ecosystem a mix of operating systems and technologies.

That said most in the family like to choose their own personal device/s. Some will prefer a tablet, others a desktop or laptop. Some will prefer Android, some Apple and others Windows.  Some will after a couple of years change.

It matters not.  

Nor does whether the students are using gold plated laptops or reconditioned units. It is the capability of the user that counts.

The bottom line is that every one of your students should have apt 24/7/365 home connectivity, able to take charge of their use of and learning with the digital.

Conclusion 

In an ideal world the funding for those in need requiring connectivity for their children should be factored into the social service payments, enabling governments to operate all its agencies on the knowledge of universal digital connectivity, obviating the need to prop up a decaying postal service.

But until that is done it will be up to the school. 

  • Lee, M and Levins, M (2012) Bring Your Own Technology Melbourne ACER Press
  • Tolley, R (2010) ‘UK Home Access Plan: A Case Study’ in Lee, M and Finger, G (eds) (2010) Developing a Networked School Community, Melbourne ACER Press
  • UNICEF (2017) Children in a Digital World. The State of the World’s Children 2017. UNICEF December 2017 – https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/SOWC_2017_ENG_WEB.pdf

A Century of the Standard Model of Schooling

Mal Lee

2020 marked a century’s use of the standard model of schooling.

Standardised across the developed world from around 1920 the core elements of the model adopted by schools then remain largely unchanged a 100 plus years on –  it long being accepted as the norm globally.

It is very easy to forget how long the model, and its core attributes have been in place and universally employed by the world.

Schooling is one of the few common concerted experiences shared by most of the world’s people, with near 7.5 billion having a working understanding  and expectations of the standard approach.

Indeed it is that universal acceptance that makes it so important that all educators better understand schooling’s heritage, the evolution of standard model, the concerted, on-going but largely ineffectual efforts to sustain significant change, and the lessons to be borne in mind by all contemplating major change.

Suddaby and Foster (2017) in their research on sustained organisational change underscore the imperative of all organisations, public and private sector factoring a historical perspective into the change process. 

That need is ever greater in those organisations lacking corporate memory; a reality in many schools, and particularly education authorities, where career public servants are invariably the decision makers. 

The history of schooling in the last century has seen billions spent on major school organisational change. Remarkably few of the structural changes have been sustained. Most rarely survived the change of head, or government. Those that sustained the change for more than 25 years remain a rarity. Look and you’ll find that virtually all the often considerable structural changes made post Sputnik in the 1960’s and 1970s have disappeared and the schools returned to the standard mode.

Notwithstanding the quest for school change continues unabated, at every level. Governments, education authorities, education reviews, individual schools, the idealists and the futurists all continue the quest. Invariably newly appointed ministers of education and superintendents seek to make their make their mark with substantial investment in a ‘revolutionary change’. Seemingly every new head must begin tenure with a set of organisational changes, even if it is only a return to old ways.

Teachers globally rightly complain of continual change but as Fullan and Stiegebauer (1991) rightly noted

The more things change the more they remain the same…(Fullan and Stiegebauer, 1991 p345)

The COVID-19 pandemic spawned a fresh batch of calls for major structural change.  The shift to a near fully digital operational base was seen to open the way to a host of new modes of schooling.

What most of the calls failed to do, including the more recent, was understand schooling’s heritage and appreciate why the standard model had weathered a 100 plus years obsession with change. 

History provides four key lessons;

  1. Major school structural change is incredibly difficult to achieve, and then sustain
  1. The standard school model has stood the test of time for very good reasons – despite its significant shortcomings
  1. That model, embedded as it is within contemporary society and modern economies, will remain the norm for many generations to come
  1. Major sustained school development and evolution can, and likely will only occur within the existing school structures. 

It is time to drop the obsession with structural change. History and experience says very strongly that far too much time, effort and money has been wasted on that quest. 

The existing structures are a given to work within. 

100 years says very strongly – before embarking on any quest for structural change adjudge the likelihood of achieving sustained enhancement and the degree of disruption of teaching that will occur, possibly needlessly if the change is implemented. 

In brief cease tilting at windmills and concentrate on where the likelihood of sustained enhancement is achievable.

History of standardisation

History informs us that the current model of schooling was standardised in the western world around 1920.

While the model had been existent for years it took until the 1920’s to standardise the approach.

The political skirmishes of the previous 50 odd years, the recognition of the need to better educate the young, the growing influence of a burgeoning middle class, the lessons of the Great War and the concerted efforts by a body of ‘educational experts’ combined to see developed nations like the USA, England, Scotland, Australia and Canada adopt a remarkably similar model of schooling (Campbell and Proctor, 2014) (Curtis and Boultwood, 1962), (McClure, 1971) (Tyack and Cuban, 1995). 

The ‘education experts’ within the new education bureaucracies – aided by the emerging education faculties – took charge of the schooling, deciding the mission, the structure of the schools, their location, organisation, curriculum, testing regime, staffing and operations (Tyler, 1971), (Tyack and Cuban, 1995.

They also took charge of teacher training, and teacher remuneration and working conditions.

The previous stakeholders, the community, parents and invariably the church, were eased out of the decision making.

The schools the experts created are those you know well.

The students attended a physical place called school, at set times, within state determined term dates, with the students organised into age cohorts and taught in class groups, invariably by a solitary teacher.

They moved in a lock step manner through their years at school, all taught using a common curriculum prepared by the ‘experts’, all assessed by paper based exams, with the major exams externally set.

The focus was strongly academic. Success equated with academic performance.

They were schools where the socially economically advantaged families of the society were further advantaged, and the marginalised, the labourers, indigenous, coloureds and migrants further disadvantaged. 

Core to the model was the sorting and sifting of the students, the schools charged with identifying the perceived future leaders while filtering out the lower quality and non-compliant students. 

The nature of the school buildings, with their corridors of teaching rooms, was much the same as today. Indeed, most schools built in the 1920s remain in operation today. Think of the schools in the older parts of the cities and the country towns, and note how many were built around the 1920s or earlier.

Structurally the schools were linear, strongly hierarchical organisations, that drew heavily upon Industrial Age manufacturing thinking and processes. The high/secondary schools particularly were segmented, loosely coupled (Weick, 1976), with a strong division of labour, where the subject teachers taught their speciality to students moving along the ‘production line’.

The principal was all powerful, using ‘his’ position and the hierarchy to unilaterally control every facet of the school’s operation. Teachers of that period were part of the educated elite, their word carrying immense weight in a poorly educated societies.

A century on most of these features still hold – now globally.

In 1995 Tyack and Cuban, in an aptly titled history of US schooling, Tilting at Utopia commented on what they termed the ‘grammar of schooling’.

The basic grammar of schooling, like the shape of classrooms, has remained remarkably stable over the decades. Little has changed in the ways schools divide time and space, classify students and allocate them to classrooms, splinter knowledge into ‘subjects’ and award grades and ‘credits’ as evidence of learning (Tyack and Cuban, 1995, p85).

……Established institutional forms come to be understood by educators, student and the public as necessary features of ‘real’ school. They become fixed in place by everyday custom in schools and by outside forces, by legal mandates and cultural beliefs, until they are barely noticed. They become just the way schools are (Tyack and Cuban, 1995, p86).

25 years later those observations still hold true of most all schools worldwide.

Indeed if anything the COVID – 19 experience has reinforced the standard model. The world has had underscored the critical social, economic and educational importance of the nation’s young physically attending a place called school most working days of the year. While significant strides have been made in the use of the digital, and opportunities with it abound, parents globally likely more than ever expect to send their children off to school in the morning safe in the knowledge that they can get on with their life and work.

It is time to better understand that reality.

Revealingly there are remarkably few publications that address that reality, which provide the historical perspective, and give school leaders the macro understanding of the evolution of school organisational structures needed to shape an effective change strategy.

There are thousands, likely millions of publications on the theory and practise of school change, and all manner of courses and post graduate programs which purport to provide the elixir to sustained change but few that address why a century on the standard model that emerged around 1920 remains the norm in near every country in the world.

Much of that research and analysis has yet to be done but the stress testing of the standard model occasioned by the pandemic already provides important insights.

Strengths and expectations

Unwittingly the pandemic has heightened our understanding of the models strengths – and shortcomings, what society expects of its schools and the opportunities the emerging digital technologies provide to enhance the model’s workings in the contemporary world.

The great and enduring strengths of the traditional model relate in the main to its facility to simultaneously develop and care for most of the nation’s young in a secure, safe physical site, for much of the year. The importance of face to face teaching and social interaction became increasingly apparent as the studies were undertaken, particularly for the very young and the already disadvantaged.

It frees young parents to work, to make a significant contribution to the national productively, while also providing families the monies to live their lives.

The importance of the latter was highlighted when economies worldwide were obliged to operate in a holding pattern until the physical places called school could re-open.

Tellingly the model performs that role relatively efficiently, combining as it does educational development, care, social growth and increasingly personal well-being.

The related strength is that the model continues to give society what it expects of schools. It is a politically and socially acceptable model. It is the model, with all its practises, rituals, ceremonies and traditions that generations have come to know, 

and importantly expect.

While the core structures might be difficult, if not impossible to change what occurs within them can, and does, in often significant ways. Some of the change will be a natural response to an evolving society but other can be readily school or system initiated. 

Today it would be impossible to move away from the northern and southern hemispheres school holidays or the expectation that the kids can be dropped off and picked up at set times most days of the year. That said schools can if they desire readily change such things as the learning environment and the culture, the nature of the teaching and the relationships with the students within the existing structures.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought to the fore  globally those schools which had been moving to a digital operational base. With all the staff and students ‘schooled’ in the art of using the digital astutely those admittedly exceptional schools were able to thrive and grow in full and part lockdown, and sustain the collaborative, all pervasive use of the technology on return to normal operations.

The key was that those schools understood they had to work with their parent expectations and the structures of the standard model.

Conclusion.

Understand the standard model is not about to change, and will continue to be used by the world for many generations to come.

Despite a century plus of crystal ball gazing and ‘futurists’ proclaiming dramatic change most schools will remain remarkably similar to that which you and your parents attended.  

That said it is possible to make and sustain significant changes within the existing structures if approached astutely.

One of the great, unheralded strengths of today’s digital technology is the facility to use it in teaching anywhere, anytime, be it in a heritage listed Victorian era building, an aged outback two teacher establishment, a school without walls or a modern flexible space complex.

  • Campbell, C and Proctor, H (2014) A History of Australian Schooling. Sydney. Allen and Unwin
  • Curtis, S.J and Boultwood, M.E.A (1962) An Introductory History of English Education Since 1800. London. University Tutorial Press
  • Fullan. M and Stiegebauer, S (1991) The New Meaning of Educational Change. London. Cassell. Second edition.
  • McClure, R.M (1971) The Curriculum: Retrospect and Prospect. The Seventieth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. Chicago. University of Chicago Press 1971.
  • Suddaby, R and Foster, W.M, (2017) ‘History and Organizational Change’. Journal of Management.Vol.43. No. I 2017
  • Tyack, D and Cuban, L (1995). Tinkering Toward Utopia. Cambridge. Massachusetts. Harvard University Press.
  • Tyler, R.W (1971) ‘Curriculum Development in the Twenties and Thirties’. In McClure, R.M (1971) The Curriculum: Retrospect and Prospect. The Seventieth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. Chicago. University of Chicago Press 1971.