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 Rather than improve an outdated model, Jobs announced that Apple was now in the lifestyle business.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.