Technology, schools and change...

Schools and education systems are not widely known for their agility and adaptability to change, all the more the case in the technology domain. Interestingly, it could be argued that, from a device and infrastructure perspective, schools have been at the forefront of technology deployment. Take my experience in the Victorian education system (Australia), where, in 1995, a 1:1 laptop program for teachers was rolled out to 35,000 educators, where broadband was deployed to every school (ISDN back then), and that system wide serves such as email and intranets were very much on the agenda. Did any of the above transform education in Victoria? Sadly (from the perspective of ROI), probably not a great deal.

You see, for change to occur, both at the level of the individual and their behaviour, and at the level of organisations and their systems, attention and time have to be diverted (as mission critical resources) to creating new workflows, new habits, new explorations. When a teacher, as driven by imperatives of the system of education, spends nearly every available moment on the delivery of teaching (preparation, delivery, marking and followup, reporting...) there is no time left for learning. Teacher learning that is.

The good news is that many schools are finally getting it - that organisational change is the aggregation of individual adaptation, and that the growth of the individual demands vision, focus, clarity, reflection and (most importantly) time. Teachers need access to learning opportunities that allow for differentiation of learning styles and entry points of engagement. Sound familiar? Isn't this what we try to provide our students?

The way that this is approached at AIS here in Singapore is constant with the complexity and diversity of learning in any brain (teacher or student):

  • Vision and Mission - at a school level, and at the ICT intent level. We have both a school level vision, and a document that positions the intent and design of ICT use ("driven by pedagogy, inspired by technology). 
  • Structure and Strategy - we have leadership and management structures across the school, and within the ICT department, that are reflective of and adaptive to the changing demands of integrating ICT. Two clear strategies (initiatives) that pervade the whole organisation are our PLRS (Professional Learning Review System), a coaching approach to individual teacher growth, and TIGs (Teacher Inquiry Groups) that provide the opportunity for group learning around key pedagogical inquiries.
  • A Culture of Learning - where the vision and strategies shape what people do on a day to day basis, and where the accumulated behaviours of many individuals lead to a set of beliefs and values that become 'who we are'.
  • Workflows and Opportunities - as provided through both the PLRS and TIGs initiatives, as well as collaborative planning, targeted professional learning sessions and a strongly developing teacher-as-learner culture
  • Action and Reflection - where at the ground zero level of change within an individual, goals, reflection, feedback, discovery and action are intertwined in an action learning cycle. 

What should be immediately obvious in the above list is that a simple approach to 'training' teachings is far from sufficient. The other discovery available here is that this all takes time and effort, and successful schools have deliberately created resources for developing this approach by strategically abandoning strategies and workflows that do not contribute to mission and vision. In other words, some hard calls have been made about prioritisation to release precious time for learning.

Watch this space...