Brick houses to huts

Thomas L Friedman writes that if Singapore has one thing to teach America, it is about relentlessly asking – what world are we living in and how do we adapt to thrive? “We’re like someone living in a hut without any insulation,” explained Tan Kong Yam, an economist. “We feel every change in the wind or the temperature and have to adapt. You Americans are still living in a brick house with central heating and don’t have to be so responsive.”

How do schools adapt and thrive in today’s world when we are living in uncertain times?  In Europe, leaders are in the throes of avoiding economic collapse. Our Prime Minister is hoping to build consensus among Commonwealth nations for a new global financial model.  It’s time to think and do differently.

I wonder what would happen to the future of schooling if there was an across the board reduction in expenditure of 10 per cent? What would our response if there was another GFC?  We can’t assume everything will stay the same or even expect gradual increases in education funding. And simplistic reforms like cutting staff or reducing class sizes would only work in the short term and do nothing to ensure viability in the long term.

Karen Hawley Miles in Phi Delta Kappan Journal has written about strategies to create higher-performing schools during these challenging economic times. Miles argues that instead of doing less with less during these fiscally challenging times, we need to think outside traditional costs structures and better align the use of people, time, and dollars with vision for the future.

Miles states that powerful transformation needs to happen in schools in order to thrive during these times, and she makes a case for linking priorities to restructuring resources in ways that can reduce spending in the short term while moving toward a new long-term vision. Miles lists seven key strategies for restructuring to free unproductive resources and at the same time move toward higher-performing designs for schools and systems. These are:

1. Restructure one-size-fits-all teacher compensation and job restructure to foster individual and team effectiveness and professional growth

2. Rethink the standardised class-size model to target individual attention

3. Optimise existing time to meet student and teacher needs and extend where needed

4. Redirect special education spending to early intervention and targeted individual attention for all students

5. Maximise use of buildings and land

6. Invest to support and develop leadership

7. Leverage outside partners and technology to maintain or improve quality at lower cost

The shift from brick houses to huts and beyond is inevitable. Until then, our education systems are going to have to heed a common sense approach of doing things very differently.  We need leaders who understand the past, can work with the constraints of the present and have the courage to imagine different futures.

What should we be doing now to support these leaders?


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