The Transformation Fantasy

As the year draws closer, I’ve been reflecting on which are the words we use  in education that we have managed to normalise, appropriate, or in some cases bastardize over the past twelve months.  No doubt ‘narrative’ has to be a big contender for a top 3 spot and it would all be very funny except for the manner in which continual excessive use usually leads to the sort of trivialisation which Alfie Kohn referred to as progressive labels for regressive practices.

However, I have a dark horse, one that I don’t think we can avoid, because to my mind surely the favourite nominee for trivialised word of the year for 2015 has to be ‘transformation’. It’s been a big year for the ‘T’ word and everybody seems to have gotten on board. I’ve been humoured by some of the more absurd examples where we are lead to believe that a simple change of medium to digital textbooks will transform everything, and the stampede to online assessment in Australia and the US even warrants repeated use of the term; however in that case I would have said it is yet another sign of the resilience of education to acknowledge change rather than in any way to be transformative.

So the real question is why? Is this just yet another example of incidental misuse that morphs into whatever meaning people desire, or in this case is there something a little more sinister? I really think this is an idea that deserves a little more than to be bastardized through loose use, and I think there is some value in trying to unravel what’s been going on.

In the first instance we could maybe put it down to simple political opportunism, at every level, be it school, cluster, District or system. These are the policy makers or politicians, or in some cases school leaders, who realise ‘transformation’ is possibly ‘an idea whose time has come’, and they latch onto it as means of gaining some sort of significance, either for their ego, school or system.

Sadly these are too often also the ‘T word users’ who get the most media publicity, usually not by accident, as they seek to be the ahead of their peers or more blatantly have an election looming. Quite simply they’re fakes, and if the media actually cared about education they would be exposed over time as their inaction became evident.

The second group are simply unaware, or very poorly informed and are often completely oblivious to the fact that transformation is not a new coat of paint, a thrilling new school-wide wi-fi network or even lots of laptops. These are interesting leaders because they in turn fall into two groups; the first are people who have some sense that things must change, and when fully informed about what transformation really is, will do their level best to move towards it…and in turn will hopefully use the word more appropriately.

The second group however, aren’t quite so virtuous and once they realise what transformation really entails, frankly they run a mile. These are the school leaders who embraced Open BYOx as the perfect storm of avoidance. They don’t have to require anything of anybody, while at the same time talking freely about transformation. They don’t have to make any of those picky technology choices, they don’t have to address equity issues, and most satisfyingly because their access strategy didn’t require commitment or investment from the school other than a wi-fi network that actually worked, they pay only scant attention to any notion of the development of new pedagogies or rethinking their learning architecture. It’s a rather satisfying option in many ways. While that is certainly not to say all byo initiatives playout this way, but sadly too many I have seen do.

So who do we have left? Well sadly not too many; in fact I would venture to say in the low single digit percent of people who actually freely talk of transformation. The most common strategy for such word abuse in the education sector is usually the evolution of a new one, but this time I would like to make the case for us to not only persist with talking about transformation, but in fact to fight back. This is too important a concept for us to let misappropriation dilute the dialogue around such a critically important idea.

Let’s make 2016 the year that both the word and the very powerful idea that it represents be the year that it is taken seriously. Let’s invest a little more time challenging its liberal and random public use, and in turn let’s maybe seek to better inform those users of exactly what it means, and most importantly what it can make possible for their young modern learners.

Image Credit: Karen Roe ( btw the photo is the work of Scottish artist Paul Westcombe whose work deals with the fantasy worlds of the imagination and human desire as a means of alleviating boredom and confinement; it seemed most appropriate for this topic)

1 thought on “The Transformation Fantasy”

  1. Rick

    It is true that it is the rare situation where we see anything approaching transformation of (amazingly resistant) educational institutions. But I would suggest our real focus should be on transformation for our students. This would require transforming our schools but it would keep our attention where it should be–on the ends rather than the means. It is all too easy for us adults to focus on structures and institutions and teachers and administration and technology rather than how do we transform kids’ lives. If we start by thinking of what are transformative experiences for kids–travel immersion, entrepreneurship, following personal interests, having real accomplishments, exercising voice and choice, feeling valued–this would lead us to consider how to really transform our schools .

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