Tag Archives: schools

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apparent during the pandemic were the many situations where what was ‘normal’ at the beginning of the year had been superseded by a ‘new normal’ six months later.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.

Corona Virus, Schools and the Window of Opportunity

Mal Lee

Overnight the corona virus has obliged society and the educational decision makers to rethink the nature of schooling in a connected world – in a way few other events have. 

There is a societal focus on the role of schooling, and online education the world has rarely seen.

It has opened the window for the serious consideration of how schools might better genuinely collaborate with their families in the education of the young in a networked society.

The irony is that where only months ago governments were banning digital devices, and supporting schools unilateral control of teaching today that are reliant on those personal devices, the family digital ecosystem and are seemingly wanting to collaborate with the families in the ‘schooling’ of the nation’s young. 

Presently the young experience two types of learning with the digital. The structured tightly controlled linear teaching of the school, that distrusts and disempowers the young. And the highly laissez approach used 24/7/365 outside the school walls, where near on 3 billion digitally connected young (UNICEF, 2017) have largely taken control of their use of and learning with the digital (Lee, Broadie and Twining, 2018).

They are diametrically opposite, with the young outside naturally adopting the approach used by 4 billion plus of the worlds digitally connected (ITU, 2018).

Schools and systems globally have seemingly dismissed, or have not noted that global phenomenon, in the main making no effort to recognise, build upon or complement the global connectivity or universal nature of the approach learning employed.

The virus provides the chance for more schools to enhance the nexus between the two, now parallel approaches, and to collaborate with and provide astute support and leadership for the world’s digitally connected families.

But it is only a momentary chance. Already parents, the wider society and teachers are desperately wanting to return to the schooling they know.

Globally there is a small cadre of schools, that after years of astute preparation are demonstrating what is possible.

There are another group doing their utmost with the online despite that lack of preparation.

And likely globally there are schools where the teachers are going out of the way to continue their teaching with a mix of paper and digital resources.

However, most governments and education authorities in announcing the arrangements for their schools during the virus proclaimed they were taking schooling online. 

They were taking a 1920 model of schooling, which is strongly site based online, from Kindergarten to Year 12, in every area of learning.

The claim sounded highly assuring in a time of crisis.

The trouble was that in most instances it was a myth, convenient spin. 

Literally overnight, with no planning, consultation, staff or community preparation, or infrastructure testing total education systems were through some magic wand waving to move from a wholly site based operation to working online.

Some exceptional schools, that have done the years of preparation have handled the challenge well.

Most however have struggled, with both the concept of teaching in a digital mode, and the logistics of teaching wholly online. One example sighted sought to unilaterally impose a 1920 model of teaching on the lives of all its families, specifying to the minute when students were to switch subjects, and the sanctions that would be applied if they did not. 

Glitch after technical glitch has been experienced by near all.

Little is the wonder most are wanting to return to the established ways.

That said maybe this is the cock-up schooling and particularly governments had to have.

What is now patently obvious from the pandemic experience is that physical attendance at a physical place school must be core to schooling forever.

The virus has daily underscored the critical role schools play in allowing young parents to work.

A related reality is that a century of unsuccessful school change has affirmed that the core structure of schooling will rarely, if ever be changed.

It is possible to make and sustain change within those 1920 structures, but – and it is a vital ‘but’ – it is virtually impossible to achieve sustained structural change in schools. History over the century has continually affirmed the attitudinal, political, structural, educational, legislative, legal, cultural, logistical and societal constraints to be overcome.

While it is pleasing to note is the number of commentators urging schooling take advantage of the virus to introduce fundamental change all fail to grasp how tightly the standard model of schooling is woven into the fabric of modern society.

Change can, and has been made within the existing structures. 

That is where to take advantage of the jolt provided by the corona virus. The culture can be changed, a digitally based school ecosystem grown, control of the teaching and learning can be distributed, genuine collaboration can occur between the schools and families and a greater nexus established between the in and out of school use of the digital.

Work on the reality that society will expect the kids to go school, and return home at a set time each day, five days a week, for X days of the year, and break for holidays in the same weeks each year. 

And just maybe some of the opportunities opened by the pandemic will be realised.

Just maybe governments will better understand how central personal devices, family digital ecosystems and digitally connected families are to the 24/7/365 learning of the young, and just maybe when schools return to the standard model governments will still want to genuinely collaborate with the families of the young.

  • Lee, M. Broadie, R and Twining, P (2018) Your Kids Being Digital. A Guide for Digitally Connected Families.Armidale Australia Douglas and Brown
  • UNICEF (2017) Children in a Digital World. UNICEF December 2017 – https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/SOWC_2017_ENG_WEB.pdf