The Eight Principles of Modern School Transformation

In light of the seemingly endless discussions around innovation and change, it can be difficult for leaders who are looking to invest in a transformation agenda in their schools to find a clear path forward. What is realistic and where should be their focus? How do they align what they know about good learning and teaching with transformational opportunities that will results in meaningful change?

What follows are eight principles that modern leaders can follow as they think about meaningful change efforts in their schools.

  1. Modern schools believe that school-based innovation is the best the driver for transformation.

While it may be tempting for schools to rely on experts who espouse evidence based best practice, modern schools are increasingly recognizing the limitations of doing so.

What is important is for modern schools to consider their unique situation, their student cohort needs, their staffing profile, and their access to new technologies, as they seek to identify where their time and effort is best placed. Developing a longer-term school-based research initiative with faculty is a significant starting point to drive sustainable transformation.

  1. Modern schools believe that genuine transformation is only possible if it embraces new pedagogies and a shift in practice.

Having decided to pursue school-led transformation, modern leaders need to be able to define the scope of the impact that innovation will have, and to be able to clearly articulate their beliefs around how children learn.

nbThe examples of  Seymour Papert and George Siemens are worth reflecting on.  Both Papert and Siemens believed that new technologies transformed the way people use computers and the Internet to learn by such an extent that it forced a rethinking of pedagogy and learning theory.

Papert’s constructionism was developed from his observations of children building their own knowledge and understanding from their experiences with LOGO, which enabled them to immerse themselves in a virtual world controlled by and exploring the laws of mathematics.  Siemens, on the other hand, conceived connectivism as a theory of learning in response to the networked learning he was experiencing in his own life.

This is not to suggest in any way that every modern school needs to articulate a new unique theory of learning, but rather that modern leadership requires schools to be mindful that their current theories around learning may be inadequate. They most likely will require new language and new pedagogical models to explain how their students  learn in a digitally-rich space and how their teachers now teach in that space.

  1. Modern schools believe that pedagogical transformation impacts all facets of education and learning.

An inclusion of pedagogical change in the scope of school-based transformation leads to a rethinking of the impact of innovation.

For modern schools the impact of innovation isn’t limited to the content knowledge and competencies that are tested and reported against in school-based, jurisdictional, and international testing. Rather, modern schools draw upon their school’s vision, their moral purpose, and opportunities for innovation when considering how transformation can impact their student’s learning.

This is not to suggest that transformation won’t improve test scores, but rather that a more complete narrative is needed. A more holistic understanding of student learning and development in turn provides modern schools with the framework to more accurately understand the benefits of transformation.

  1. Transformation will only happen when we develop a clear understanding of how modern learners learn in the digitally rich world they live in. A better understanding of learning in this informal space will help us develop new pedagogies to explore deeper, more relevant learning within schools.

Currently in our schools we too often tend to look backwards at our existing practice and seek ways to layer technology use over the top. This is simply additive rather than transformative, and even in a ubiquitous technology environment the, results are limited and often disappointing.

To discover the real transformational opportunities for student learning, schools need to look beyond the walls of their schools and seek to better understand how modern learners are using new learning strategies outside of formal education.

Effective transformation doesn’t focus on the tools, but it doesn’t focus solely on the pedagogy either. By focusing on the innovative learning strategies that are enabled by the tools and new learning practices, transformation isn’t limited by tools or the pedagogy.

  1. Teachers are empowered to make the decisions about changes in pedagogical practice.

Though modern learning strategies may be discovered outside of classrooms, they need to be tested inside them. It is folly to assume that what works outside of the classroom will also work inside. Classroom teachers, therefore, are the only ones in a position to know whether new innovations will reap the expected benefits.

Some teachers might consider that their primary role is to demonstrate high-level content knowledge and content specific intervention strategies. Other teachers might consider that their primary role is to develop highly functional relationships with their students in order to be in tune with their individual learning needs.

For modern teachers, their primary role is to understand, discover, and implement transformational learning and teaching approaches. They need to feel empowered and confident to be always looking for better ways to extend and enable higher order learning with their students.

  1. Modern teachers see a deep understanding of both the science and art of teaching and learning as fundamental to their pedagogical growth.

Typically a teacher’s understanding of pedagogy can often be quite a messy mix of educational beliefs, formed through their experience as both a teacher and a student.

To increase pedagogical capacity teachers need a deeper understanding of the science and the art of their craft. It’s the science that explains why and how different learning and teaching strategies work and are most effective. It’s the art that provides the subtlety and fine balance of effective delivery.

As a result this enables them to have pedagogical conversations with other teachers to discuss core issues around their own learning and teaching, even if their practice differs substantially.

The deeper they are able to engage in the science of their craft, the more they are able to make informed predictions about the impact an innovative learning strategy might have on a specific learning and teaching approach.

  1. Modern teachers see innovation as an opportunity to continuously refine and improve their practice, and ultimately transform the learning experiences of their students.

While it may be tempting to implement whole scale change or emulate learning and teaching programs from other schools and other external sources, too often these programs fail to live up to their expectations, and nothing is learnt from the experience. Pilots and trials can suffer a similar fate.

Modern teachers are more likely to take an incremental approach to transformation, which is in turn is often more likely to succeed. They implement in small iterative steps, which in turn allows them to continuously assess impact, and improve their practice as an ongoing commitment.

  1. Transformation is measured and celebrated by the qualitative growth in pedagogical capacity.

Modern schools measure transformation as a function of the shift in how students learn, rather than simply what their students have learnt.  It’s about building evidence of this shift from their students work, and qualitatively assessing their progress.

This includes capturing the change in the way their students learn, the way the work on complex projects, the way they construct knowledge with others, and the way they make better decisions about their learning.

This also comes with a change in the learning environment; the roles and responsibilities of teachers and peers, the physical learning spaces, and of course, the technologies that are used.

It’s about capturing the complete transformation narrative, and the pedagogical growth that accompanies that.

Image credit: Danny Munnerley

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