Improvement is no longer the challenge

I have just returned from two days at the third annual Leadership for School Improvement Colloquium.  The passion and pride for Catholic education is always evident at these gatherings; it reinforces the importance of taking time to reflect collectively on the how and the why.

I have to say however I left feeling a little flat and disappointed in the scope of thinking and models presented. There was nothing new, no stretch and certainly no innovative thinking or practice.  Unfortunately this seems to be consistent with most large education conferences.

If we look at other industry sectors we seem a much different approach. Businesses have shelved improvement because in this rapidly changing world of work, lifestyle and technology, they recognise the urgent need to transform themselves into something different.  Business communities across the globe are now responding to the challenge of the ‘Internet of Things‘.  These businesses are turning their backs on the improvement agenda because it’s no longer the challenge today.  I think this shift opens up a whole new perspective especially for education.

There is no better example of this than Apple. Up until 2001, Apple branded itself as a technology company within a manufacturing model (we see ourselves as contemporary schools operating within an industrial model). Steve Jobs and his team saw there was no future in the manufacturing space as it moved offshore.  Rather than improve an outdated model, Jobs announced that Apple was now in the lifestyle business.  This simple decision shifted the goal posts.

A Harvard Business Review article has examined how more businesses are moving away from improving old models to responding to the changing needs of consumers (and employees) within the context of a rapidly changing world.  In addition, real time data has helped to create a whole new paradigm for doing things differently, thinking creatively and responding immediately.

On the flip side, education is still wedded to the improvement model; looking for enhanced solutions to old problems. We operate on the assumption that we can control the variables, link performance to accountability measures and tighten up processes. Where are the innovative solutions?

Improvement is no longer the challenge so let’s use educational conferences and colloquiums to focus on how we change the system not how we fix it. As Sir Ken Robinson says the challenge is not to reform but to transform.




6 thoughts on “Improvement is no longer the challenge

  1. It was Freidrich Hayek, the economist, who developed the concept of “spontaneous order” whereby the desires of people, and not external controls, lead to economic innovation and prosperity. Could we apply the same principle in education????

    Rob Muscat

    1. Rob, it’s an imperative. The old education paradigm was predicated on supplying labour to the factories. We need a new coherent narrative that challenges that strictly utilitarian view that still dominates educational policy.

  2. Greg, where do we start? I attend conferences in the hope that the idea of really redefining schooling is on the agenda but like you I leave with more of the same, i.e. patching/rebranding of a tired old model. I wonder, did the other attendees at the conference leave feeling the same? Or did they think that is was breaking new ground? If they did, how can we open their eyes and ears to the problem? Looking outside of education can really bring great new ideas to the table and I really love the idea looking at how we create and capture value in education? As always after reading one of your great posts, I’m left with more questions but left buzzing because you are asking the right questions.

    1. Steve – it would be interesting to survey participants at conferences on this point. As Seth Godin said if we aren’t asking the same questions, we’re not going to get close to changing the models of schooling. Thanks for your comments.

  3. Hello Greg,

    Thanks for taking the time to share. I am in the process of pulling together some threads from the same colloquium and the consequent conversations regarding improvement and innovation. That thinking will be shared in a blog post soon; however, there is a lot to reflect on and therefore, I am struggling to ‘trim it’.

    In the meantime, I offer this link to the Leading Innovation Skills Pack by an organisation called Futurethink….

    Click to access leading_v_for_web.pdf

    The report starts……

    “Innovations like Hulu, iPhone, and Prius didn’t come to market because their creators asked status quo questions. They didn’t happen because somebody began a meeting by asking: “Who has an idea for improving our product/service?” or “How are we going to increase sales?” Those innovations exist because disruptive, creative, even uncomfortable questions without easy answers were asked. As a result, minds were stretched, assumptions were questioned, and old ways of doing things were eliminated.”

    I look forward to reading more in the near future…. after I complete my blog post.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.