Recently I was working with primary and secondary educators at a conference about leading organisational change.
I usually start this workshop with a Socratic circle, asking colleagues to share their biggest challenge or obstacle towards adoption of technology in their school communities. As attendees rattle off bugbear after bugbear of their sticking points, I listen intently to their key messages and (attempt to) make connections from what they are describing by way of a mind map.
It is always interesting to see how varied these connections are, but ultimately, it seems that regardless of the type of school or where it is located, the problems are seemingly universal:
“Our teachers are not motivated to use the tech”
“We are still debating acquisition strategy (shared / 1:1 / BYOD)”
“Leaders higher up the scale are not supportive of my change”
“We are still trying to push the envelope to truly transform our classrooms with technology”
Adelaide, South Australia
Once everyone has had their say, I often take a deep breath before I admit a simple truth. There isn’t a silver bullet, a definitive recipe, or even a secret sauce for dealing with all of these challenges.
As I have written previously, schools can be incredibly hard places to change, and at times, difficult spaces for re-imagination to take place. Technology itself often becomes the focus of anything that is to be supported or enhanced by technology, when the reality is that it is only just one piece of the puzzle. I use the diagram below in a lot of my workshops to illustrate the point that social capital makes up most of the equation, not technology.
Driving change with technology can be particularly complex, and for some school communities, still not even well understood. Some of my favourite authors around change, leadership and re-imagining schools include Michael Fullan, David Price, Andy Hargreaves, Eric Sheninger, Guy Claxton, Clayton Christensen, John Kotter… and I could go on. But that’s not the point.
Their ideas, frameworks, strategies and even research can indicate how to drive change in our schools, and what that can look like. Whilst their suggestions on what ‘works best’ can be taken as definitive, we should be mindful of the conditions of where and how it ‘works best’.
Schools are incredibly diverse in their people, their needs, and their structures; and just because a strategy worked in my school with my team, doesn’t mean it automatically works somewhere else!
One of the resources I suggest to educators who are interested in driving change in their school community is the Google for Education Transformation Center. It still surprises me how many school leaders I interact with who have not heard of this useful resource, even though it was announced last year.
The Transformation Center is a hub of resources, materials and best practices to support schools in the change process. And whilst no magic secret sauce is offered towards transformation in schools, it does highlight success stories, case studies, and guides which have come from real schools that are driving real change.
The Center categorizes a seven element framework that educators and schools have emphasised when dealing with change:
Financing and Durability
Under each of these themes, educators can find suggested strategies and questions for consideration that can serve as an individual reflection, or a great discussion springboard at a team meeting.
There is also a resource directory where you can filter by ‘problems solved’, which contain the most common challenges reported by schools under each element of the framework, and gives related support material.
Even though our schools are different, we often face the same challenges and opportunities. The Transformation Center is a great way that members of our profession can connect more widely with educators around the globe to realize that change is hard, but possible when coupled with certain strategies for certain conditions.
In my opinion there is no generic secret sauce for change, because change depends very much on the purpose of change, the community context, and stakeholders at hand. However, The Transformation Center does reveal that through the power of a connection and sharing our practices, we can equip ourselves to move our agendas of innovation forward.
If you have your own experiences of innovation and change, consider sharing your idea to the Google for Education team for inclusion of your story as a powerful resource.
Educators, are you using the Transformation Center?
How might educators connect to drive agendas of innovation and change?
Developing the positive connotations around failure, effort, and growth mindsets is one of the most powerful gifts that we can give to our students.
People would agree that if students are not making mistakes and learning from them, they’re not developing as they should be.
I would argue that if you are not making mistakes as a teacher and learning from those, you are not developing as you should be either.
Of course, mastering the classroom curriculum is very different to mastering the fine art of teaching. However, when it comes to the professional standards for teachers, I would argue that a teacher cannot possibly develop through these standards unless they are willing to try new things, reflect, and learn from their practices.
Modern students are encouraged to take risks in their learning. Therefore, we as teachers should be encouraging ourselves to do the same. If we are not failing and learning from these failures, we really need to be asking ourselves if we are daring audaciously at all.
We are creatures of comfort
Teachers tend to find the familiarity of daily practice comforting and predictable. A new process, idea or organisational change becomes a very threat to that because it is in opposition to what we know and expect.
The human brain is hardwired to keep us safe, the consequence of which is to be habitually averse to change. We tend to stick to tried and tested units of work rather than embrace new methods. We wouldn’t want to look silly in front of our students if that new gadget or gizmo didn’t behave on the day, and we certainly wouldn’t want to deal with the mess or chaos that might ensue if we gave a bit more freedom and autonomy to students in the classroom.
Change is both hard and uncomfortable.
We plead with our students to take risks in their academic work, yet many adults in our system seem to stay frozen in time, rarely changing their classroom structure, embracing a new technology, redesigning a curriculum unit or reimagining a lesson plan.
If we are serious about providing the best possible education for our students, we need to face the reality that the traditional schooling that we have inherited is inadequate. If we want to change the way our classrooms and schools operate, then we must put the expectation upon ourselves to dare to do things differently, better and more deliberately.
Previously, I have discussed the need for schools to think and act in agile ways if they are to remain relevant for modern students. Progressive change in our schools goes against the traditional notion of schooling where educators teach masses of content in an orderly and easily digestible way that is ultimately measured on a report card or a test score. We can avoid the ‘same old, same old’ if we decide it is time for us to embrace change and approach our professional practice with a willingness to innovate, try new technologies and pedagogies, and constantly reflect upon and improve students’ classroom experiences.
Pausing to reflect
To progress is to learn more about what we don’t know, which requires a curious mindset and a willingness to be investigative by giving something a go.
All teachers should be encouraged to innovate in their classrooms if they are to reimagine the possibilities for their students. This requires thoughtful reflection around asking the right questions about the current state of the school or classroom, and thinking about where the desired outcomes should be.
This happens best when we slow down and step back. This is seemingly difficult because humans can be very task and goal orientated. Especially, when it comes to workloads, teachers can have the feeling that there should be no time for pausing and reflecting, but rather, getting on with the task at hand. It is hard for individuals, and even harder for organisations to build a culture where reflection and questioning is prioritised.
Stopping may be perceived as the antithesis of progress but, when you stop, you pause and invite questions. These can lead to insights, ideas and new possibilities. For example:
Why is teaching content decided by teachers?
Asking ‘Why’ can provide insights and offer perspectives on problems and challenges that can be used as opportunities for improvement.
What if students had genuine co-creation in the curriculum plans?
Asking ‘What if’ invites the creative imagination and brings an innovative mindset to the fore, allowing for the exploration of new possibilities in the classroom or school community.
How might we include student voices in the design of the curriculum?
Asking ‘How’ invites action and the execution of ideas, which can be explored in an iterative manner, embracing risk and failure as part of the process.
Taking a leap of faith
Organisations and schools are facing times of dramatic change, reflective of the world around us. Therefore, the school community and individual teachers need to be comfortable with constant questioning of and reflecting on current practices.
We may find that each time we challenge ourselves it becomes a little easier and that, in doing so, we gradually expand our comfort zone and deal with our fear of change. It is through deliberate practice that we can build our own capacity for change, just as we tell our students.
Every day we have the opportunity to improve ourselves. Let’s think about our own practices and the bold path and required actions towards great educational experiences for our students.
In the wise words of Dr Suess:
Today, I’m excited to formalize the #DisruptEDU pet project from the incubator. It aims to amplify disruptive thinking and actions in education by providing useful resources for people, and assist myself and others to find their tribes.
You can read more about how and why I chose to be bothered with the status-quo of education by reading these twoposts.
The DisruptEDU logo above depicts a speech bubble within a representative D. To me, amplification of disruptive thinking and ideas in our schools requires dialogue; that is, understanding perspectives from multiple sources within the school community and beyond, conversations and questioning around the current status and intended status of school as we know it, and communication of ideas that helps us to understand that it is possible to design our own relevant futures if we believe we can.
There are a few ways that people can be involved in this dialogue:
At a simple level, you can check out resources that I am collecting through a Flipboard Magazine. Useful for sharing a provocation with that fixed-mindset colleague, or to lobby your school board, or just to have a read to fuel the heart and mind.
It’s no secret that I am advocating for change in education whenever I have a captive audience. You can view relevant posts and updates by following the #DisruptEDU category on this blog, or view talks and presentations on the subject from the static #DisruptEDU page at the very top of this blog.
A question worth considering is, ‘Are our schools agile enough to evolve with society?’
Do they move quickly and easily, with clear purpose? Or are they clumsy, stiff, and slow?
Most importantly, are they responsive to changes happening in society? If so, how responsive are they, and in what way?
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said ‘Everything flows and nothing stays’ — a striking reminder that the only guarantee in our complex world is that change is constant. In modern society, change is occurring all around us, at a seemingly exponential rate. In particular, technology has changed the way in which we live, work, play, and socialise. Yet at times, it seems that our schools are stagnant, unresponsive, and unwilling to adapt, reinvent, and reimagine learning opportunities in order to stay relevant.
Let’s rewind only a modest 10 years ago. No iPhone existed, nor did any iPad. Instagram was unheard of, and Facebook had a mere 12 million users.
Fast forward to today, and it’s hard to argue that technology hasn’t fundamentally shifted our world as we know it.
But has technology pervaded our schools in the same way that it has augmented our lives? To a degree it has, in scattered classrooms, with teachers and leaders who recognise the potentials and pitfalls of technology, and are agile enough to adapt.
Has technology pervaded into every classroom, or has every teacher changed their processes and structure in response to technology? Not a chance.
Our ignorant inheritance
Today we live in an ‘innovation economy’. The skills required to succeed in life have intersected with the skills required to be an effective citizen. Several decades ago, well before teachers and students used the internet, it made a lot of sense to teach the facts and content of a specified curriculum. This ‘factory model’ of education, where the teacher was the ‘dictator’, was acceptable for the time, but bears little relevance for today. However, the influence of an industrial era model can still be observed in schools now.
The tragedy of this inheritance is that we hold a lot of traditional structure that has become engendered in us. Generally speaking, learners are grouped according to age, with the teacher then deciding how to unpack the specified curriculum to those groups of learners. We tend to favour the telling of content to students rather than allowing them to discover. We tend to teach to the cohort rather than personalise pathways. Innovative teaching methods that involve technology such as flipped-classrooms, blended learning, game-based learning, makerspaces, inquiry, and project-based learning are yet to become the ‘norm’ in every school community.
Above all, technology has made access to information ubiquitous. Students no longer have to rely on only the teacher to learn or discover. Yet, the majority of our schooling system reinforces that students should come to school ready to listen and memorise the content from the teacher, or risk a demotivating failure on a test.
There should be no competitive advantage on how much ‘Student A’ may know in comparison to ‘Student B’. Both have, or should have, the commodity of knowledge available to them with the swipe of a finger. Instead, both students need to be able to ask great questions, critically analyse information, form expressive opinions, create products and solutions, and collaborate and communicate with one another, with and without technology. These are the skills essential for life in today’s world.
Essentially, school as we knew it, depended on how well pupils could passively consumecontent and retain facts and knowledge from the teacher, assessed by what students knew. School as we need to know it, should depend on how well pupils can actively consume then create content, critically ascertain facts from multiple sources, and be assessed with what students do with what they know.
So we need to ask ourselves, are we consciously and actively developing these opportunities with our students in mind? Or are we falling short? As the 2016 education machine turns out the next graduates from a system that teaches and tests narrow aspects of a curriculum that any smartphone can handle, we potentially set our future generations for failure, unhappiness, and social discontent.
We need to face the facts and recognise that technology has caused disruption to our economy and society. However, embracing technology will also be one answer moving forward, with many schools having already done so. Has technology fundamentally changed the machine of education? Not yet… but it certainly has started to put the wheels in motion.
Change in our schools
With the rapid change in the last 10 years, one has to wonder what the next decade will bring. Will schools be responsive enough to meet the needs of today and tomorrow, with one eye on the present and one eye towards the future? Will they be agile enough to remain relevant for students and their parents?
Schools will need to be prepared to change, adapt, and reimagine the established machine of school as we know it.
Change is taxing and requires effort. It requires us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. It requires us to challenge the status quo, recognising that what we have always done may not be the best solution; and being dissatisfied with ineffective and no longer relevant pedagogies, procedures, and structures. It requires relentless dialogue and shared vision with all stakeholders about the purpose of school, the alignment of our beliefs and practices, and asking the question: ‘is this best for our students right now’?
We have natural a disposition to protect the tried and tested, rather than embracing the ‘new’. This is why new and innovative ideas are difficult to launch and gain traction, as the natural response of the status quo is to favour the known road rather than the risky foreign pathway.
Creating the space for innovative change to occur requires risk, trial and error, and an open mindset. After all, no real learning happens with failure, for either students or teachers. This means schools, leaders, and teachers need to be prepared to try new techniques if we are to disrupt conventional methods of education. We also need to be prepared for the status quo push-back, and allow space for positive conflict, disturbance and uncertainty to occur, in order to find ideas that will provide the highest level of value and outcomes for all stakeholders.
Schools need to create space for innovation, and at times, tolerate the messy and chaotic rather than the predictable and ordered. (Image credit: A photo by Azrul Aziz)
The age of disruption
Examples of disruptive innovation and its impact on society can be observed at an increasing rate, as more and more organisations exploit technology and the consumer. Uber and similar ride-sharing services are changing the way in which we travel, Airbnb is changing the way we sleep abroad, and Google Cars and other autonomous vehicles are changing the way we commute, deliver, and transport goods.
The innovators behind these initiatives have a few things in common:
They are agile and responsive. They have grown quickly, and have a ‘fail fast, fail quick’ approach to rapidly improve their services.
They leverage technology to find gaps and meet the needs of clients in new ways.
They are not afraid to find problems and tackle them head on.
Schools could probably learn a lot learn from these examples!
American businessman Jack Welch once said: “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near”. As tomorrow comes around, current and future technology trends will continue to push the boundaries of traditional schooling.
Can schools keep up with the pace of change on the ‘outside’? (Image credit: A photo by Tim Gouw)
Responding to these trends will be crucial for schools. They may struggle or embrace, dissolve or evolve with society. Those schools that are not agile or responsive may eventually be scrutinised by society. It is possible that we could see the whole notion of school questioned, and formal education challenged.
A useful resource for schools and teachers alike is the NMC Horizon Report, which discusses developments in technology, short to long term trends in education, and the associated challenges for schools. It is essential reading and research for any educator who wishes to stay abreast of the influences that will drive educational change and policy.
There are no easy answers available to shift schools in the right direction. The ‘right direction’ will need to be determined by the schools themselves, who will write their own futures. It is reliant upon the stakeholders within school communities to acknowledge the need to take appropriate action. The obvious stakeholders who wield the heaviest axe are teachers and staff leaders.
It is up to us to challenge ourselves to embrace change, so that we might evolve education to a rate that reflects evolution in the society in which we live.
It is up to us to challenge ourselves to let go of the past, recognising that it’s not about what we know from past experiences; but about being open to what could be, and what might better suit the needs of young people today.
Every decision we make contributes to this. When we teach in a certain way, question a traditional paradigm, leverage technology to new potentials, nudge a school in one direction, or influence today’s generation, we co-create what is coming next. It is up to us to be responsive. If we are passive, we will be too late. We can make change happen. We are all, each of us, practising futurists and world-makers. Let’s do so with open eyes, hearts, and minds.
Let’s think differently, learn differently, and disrupt the machine of education as we know it.