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System Leadership for Innovation in Education

Notes and reflections 

- Caldwell, Brian J., Professor. "System Leadership for Innovation in Education."Centre for Strategic Education Seminar Paper No 209 (2011): 3-14. Web. 28 Aug. 2013.

My interest is in corporate education and its contextual influence on schools. This interest is in the change based mechanisms within schools. Most of the research information I have read does not study the relationships between corporate and schools (until I read Caldwell's seminar paper). Much of the reading concerning corporate change is based on business principles and not so much on public service (non for profit).

A school is not a silo and impacting change should remove rather than build silos. Many of the contexts presented in blogs, conferences, and academic papers do not consider policy and guidelines despite the significant influence they have on the operations of schools. In general, many of the impacting change-based decisions and financial project money is distributed via corporate (public service) education. The strings attached to financial project money, systems-based restrictions, and inflexible policies/guidelines can become frustrations and disincentives to change and innovation. The recognition and tactics to employ corporate processes would strengthen the program and perhaps increase the possibilities of generating intended outcomes. The question I have are;
  1. What is the role of corporate in change and innovation?
  2. How can schools pro-actively employ corporate direction to generate change and innovation?
  3. How can corporate effectively influence and support change and innovation in schools?
Corporate's position is to instigate in-school activity as an external entity. Most of the projects I know of are based on partnerships to fulfill high level and external needs. The Digital Education Revolution 1:1 laptop and the Australian Curriculum deployment are 2 initiatives generated by Federal politics, supported by state/territory leaders, administered by corporate are 2 significant examples that affect all schools. These I would describe as externally influenced needs. Innovation grants in schools, where schools provide the need and processes, and corporate provides funding and consultation, I would describe internally. In general corporate leaders and school leaders need to become better at project managing external and internal needs to engineer the outcomes expected to realize the promised benefits.

Caldwell's seminar paper describes many of the objectives, incentives and difficulties aligned to corporate influencing whole school and whole system change. The big issue Caldwell frames as whole school whole system change is 21st Century schooling. This corresponds with the purpose of my project. This seminar paper has some insights that important to reflect on. Corporate's efforts is to provide change in some form that is underlined by 'coherence and consistency' (p3). Corporate looks at how to move from novel to whole school to whole system solution. How to have the whole impact and move away from the isolated success story is the area and focus of this page. It is easy to enable the small and isolated good idea innovation. The project manager feels good, the teacher feels good, and the student feels good. 'letting a thousand flowers bloom' where individual (or small teams of) teachers are supported to change in individual processes and gain immediate benefits without consideration of other classrooms, schools, and whole system impact is immediately rewarding. Unfortunately letting a thousand flowers bloom can mean that the resulting near future is one of a thousand flowers dying. Likewise 'coherence and consistency' can result in significant size impact it can also result in little change over a lengthy time period and change that no-longer meets the now need.

From a corporate perspective, change in schools (whether it be a thousand flowers blooming and dying processes and or the slowness within coherence and consistency) has demonstrated little benefits gained. Schools are still managing to operate in similar patterns as they did in the past. Corporate needs to look at their practices if the change is not being achieved. The importance of changing educational practices is expressed in every federal and state/territory election. Australia wants schools to change, improve and to meet the needs of the 21st century - but the what and how is extremely difficult to logistically engineer and operate.

Caldwell states that there is a ''cultural divide', between those who lead at the centre and those that lead in schools' (p3). A similar disjuncture is noted by Schon between the academic and schools, 'growing perception that researchers, who are supposed to feed the professional schools with useful knowledge, have less and less to say that practitioners find useful' (Schon location 169). There is a logistical concern that if the change identified by academics and strategised by Federal/state/territory corporate jurisdictions is not uptaken by the in-classroom teacher how are students going to benefit and demonstrate improved learning. Why does this disjuncture exist?

Caldwell views change as an interaction of reform and innovation. Obviously, both reform and innovation have their own characteristics and it is important to understand which one underpins the actual change in question. Caldwell also suggests that certain changes are going to happen because they are disruptive. The iPad tablets and Interactive White Boards are good examples of changing technologies as they hit a 'tipping point' (p6) quickly with little corporate intervention. Both technologies come at a cost, require a multitude of technical issues to be identified and solved, and professional development/skills training. School leaders need to look at the return on investment. In regards to iPads and Interactive Whiteboards corporate became involved with the promotion of the technologies, provisioning of professional learning, and the development of problem-solving materials. It was essential to have corporate involved as there were many technical issues to be solved. Multiple technical issues result in frustration and limited uptake, however, the most significant is limited use of the technology's capacity. The capacity of an Interactive Whiteboard was mostly limited to and employed as a projector. Many principals mentioned to me that their teachers rarely use the interactive aspects of the technology. In effect, when principals are frustrated by their return on investment innovation and change recedes as a priority.

Caldwell introduces a table titled 'three ways of educational change'. The table is based on Hargraves and Shirely research. Change is illustrated as the domain that houses innovation and reform. Caldwell describes 3 distinct ways of change.

  • 1st Way - The 1st-way concerns corporate supporting professional freedom. This results in change driven through individual and or small group intuition. Individual gains through individual methods. 
  • 2nd Way - The 2nd way concerns prescriptive processes where change is based on standardization. This results in a change driven by the designated need through designated methods. 
  • 3rd Way - The 3rd-way concerns change driven by accountability. This results in a change being driven by data. The 3rd way is interesting and I can easily view where and how corporate influence can be identified and regulated. 
The 3rd way is presently being attempted by corporate as a leverage to make the targeted change. Data is an element that can be used as a stick and carrot. I would suggest that corporate employes methods that are both the 2nd way and the 3rd way. Examples of the 3rd way are Hattie visible learning, NAPLAN scores, and attendance records. The 3rd way seems to be driven by measurable outcomes similar to formal project management processes. The 2nd way is a way of simplifying technologies. It is easier for centralised bodies to support specific technologies rather than supporting a variation of the similar. This is where technology could be described as the tail wagging the dog. In many cases, it is easier to deploy a generalist technology that relies on the user changing their practices. The 2nd way is about the user confirming their practices.
Hargraves and Shirely refer to a 4th way as a pathway to social change. I would like to suggest that perhaps the Melbourne Declaration is concerned with the 4th way whilst corporate education is emphasizing the 3rd way, and corporate technologies emphasizes the 2nd way. I do need to read The Global Fourth Way by Hargreaves to gain a stronger and more sophisticated understanding. Based on my in-school activities and experiencing the disjunctures Caldwell and Schon refer to perhaps I would like to make this observation. This observation requires some research and analysis however, In the large I see that the general teacher sits in 2 camps. Camp 1 - autonomy. Camp 2 - prescriptive

  • Camp 1 - Many teachers prefer the autonomy aligned with the 1st way. From my perspective these camp 1 teachers know their students best and that they do not need any interference. I will call you when I need help. (Innovative and creative but not change focussed)
  • Camp 2 - Many teachers are tired of change and the inconsistencies that exist. A standardisation environment would make things clear and simpler to achieve. This would mean that corporation would provision teachers with the tools and learning materials required. Give me what you want me to teach. 
Camp 1 and Camp 2 teachers are not fond of data generation, synthesis, and analysis. Data requirements for change can be a burden on teachers. Teachers operate in a complex and demanding studio like environment that is essentially knowing in action (Schon). I would suggest that camps 1 and 2 would dominate (as a percentage of teachers) over the data led change 3rd-way teachers. The 1st way teachers are the teachers corporate should target to work towards the tipping point of whole-school change.

I agree with Caldwell's writing that new ways of change need to be designed to accommodate many sources. The complexity of the student body and their 21st century learning needs is far more complicated than pre-2001. The complexity of sources is a problem that corporate needs to identify to actually address if solutions can be developed, contextualized, and applied across other schools, regions and or clusters. One of the solutions is that innovation is everyone's responsibility.

Caldwell's primary argument is that innovation should be across all levels - corporate leaders, school leaders, teachers, and students. This cross innovation should permeate within all teaching and learning settings '- through organisations, systems, and platforms, to the social movements and the ideologies that inspire them.' (Leadbeater, 2011, p4. The question is how and being prepared to recognize that it is not a quick fix. Caldwell and Leadbeater are describing what can only be described as cultural change and this change is a hard (hierarchy) and soft structure (mandate).

Caldwell refers to Christensen's theory of 'disruptive' change (Christensen, Johnson, and Horn, 2008). I am aware of Christensen's theories from seminar and video interviews posted on YouTube. In general, Christensen believes that innovation should be a key feature in every job description, with the intention to permeate change across organizational systems (school and corporate). In context to education, this would include the CEO to Senior Directors, General Mangers, District Inspectors, Principals, and Teachers. If society is to enable students to gain 21st-century skills it can only be achieved via 21st-century schools and corporate. To achieve this objective, each position should have prominent innovations portfolio. The key feature of disruptive change, within school sites and corporate, is that small innovative project teams should exist, and these projects should take smart risks.

The importance of change whether it should originate within schools or corporate is that all levels of leadership should be identified as innovators. 'Coaches and mentors who help others reproduce the status quo may have limited value'(p8). Many projects I have been involved in rely on project participants who demonstrate a willingness and want for change. However, if the school leadership is not invigorating the worth of the project across the school the project suffers. Projects, where the participants want to remain in the status quo, are the projects that produce little to no benefit. The participants of those involved must feel part of a culture of change. Without addressing the participant's cultural environment corporate-led-change has limited impact.

In the McKinsey & Company report How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better, 4 ranking are employed to identify what type of change (who and by whom) can be applied. These rankings are good identifiers of the school's context and cultural situation.

  1. Poor to Fair - achieving the basics of literacy and numeracy (raising the floor)
  2. Fair to Good - getting the foundations in place (raising the floor)
  3. Good to Great - shaping the profession (opening the ceiling) - peer led creativity and innovation in schools
  4. Great to Excellent - improving through peers and innovation (opening the ceiling) - peer-led creativity and innovation in schools
The 4 rankings point to where corporate can effectively strategize funding, human resource, and intent. The rankings emphasize what change through what innovation and what reform are to be contextualized. If the school is struggling with innovation and student outcomes, there is little to be gained through introducing 'open the ceiling' strategies. It is essential to meet the emerging needs of the school's students and teachers. 

To activate change Caldwell reflects on a number of countries and jurisdictions who are successfully implementing the task. These schools would be in the Good to Great and Great to Excellent rankings. The progressive change in jurisdictions resulting in improved student learning outcomes was generated through;
  • encouraging schools to innovate in curriculum and pedagogy.
  • encourage educators to network.
  • encourage educators to share innovative achievements.
  • innovation champions in all levels of corporate.
  • setup projects that are conducted under terms and conditions.
  • innovative creative projects based on local needs.
  • innovative creative projects objective - explore approaches in teaching to improve learning outcomes.
  • project requirements - project plan, benefits measurements (I would suggest Prince 2 structure), report structure, an annual show case of successes.
  • projects that remove the 'cultural divide' between school and corporate structures.
  • enhance university partnerships - school administration, curriculum, and teaching, parents, and community.
  • all schools should be participating in a grant. 
  • corporate should be represented in key school focussed conferences such as ACEL.
  • development of a strong corporate memory.
Caldwell suggests that corporate is often playing catch up with schools that are at the forefront of innovation. In the 2nd way, the corporate was and is presently standardizing systems and processes. Corporate bodies that actively standardize systems and processes are actively stifling schools that wish to operate at the forefront of innovation. Whilst a standard equality of service is being provided it is actively stifling progression. Jurisdictions need innovative schools that are at the forefront. Corporate ICT needs to address and support a differentiated approach to services.

Caldwell asks the question - how can government-funded systems scale-up projects from novel to full-scale implementation. He then answers 'there is no best way to achieve scale-up' (p13). From my perspective I feel diminished by the improbability of whole system scale-up, however from this reading systemic change (innovation & reform) could be achieved if an appropriate differentiated lens of benefits can be applied.

A good example of a standardized whole system scale-up failure is the Victorian Ultranet. In 2011 when this paper (System Leadership for Innovation in Education) was published the Ultranet was one year old. The paper describes the Ultranet as a good example of how corporate can optimize their technologies to benefit schools, teachers, and students. In 2013 the Ultanet is facing the scrap. It is now viewed as a failure. The cost of the failure (up to June 2013) is $180 million. According to the Jewel Topsfield (Age reporter), the Ultranet 'failed to deliver promised benefits and was shunned by the schools' link.

There have been many examples of systemic based standardized technology solutions that have failed. Whilst, the Ultranet promised so much and delivered so little it is not the only and last big-dollar spending that will fail to bring innovation and reform. I do share Caldwell and Gladwell's identification of the tipping point in conjunction with knowledge-based learning networks as a step to bring on change. Looking at the jurisdiction through a differentiated needs-based lens could improve the achievement rate of benefits. An innovation portfolio in all job descriptions would give change a priority. I have attained an optimistic position to move forwards and towards the development of a 4th way in building corporate and school relationships. In essence, it is cultural structures and not the standardized technologies that will enable benefit achievements.

The step forward is to instigate the 4th way is the strategic focus. To achieve this within the context of this seminar paper the following approaches need to be achieved;
  • update the agreements between corporate and school leaders to ensure that innovative practices are a priority.
  • ensure that each school involved with the project has a leader who is monitoring and supporting the innovation practices.
  • key corporate positions are engaged with the innovative practices.
  • ensure that the invigoration of the innovative practices is school-based.
  • cross-divisional units should be proactively seen as supportive to the innovative practices within the schools.
  • knowledge and outcomes should be distributed across the system.
  • schools should network with other schools across the world who are employing similar change agents.

Topsfield, Jewel, Ms. "Ultranet Facing the Scrap Heap." The Age. The Age, 19 June 2013. Web. 31 Aug. 2013. .

Caldwell, Brian J., Professor. "System Leadership for Innovation in Education."Centre for Strategic Education Seminar Paper No 209 (2011): 3-14. Web. 28 Aug. 2013.

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