School Revolution 2020: Part 1

Your school may have implemented many new initiatives during the last decade. Your students might now be using mobile digital devices or doing project-based learning for part of the week, but it really is time to think big. Researchers, governments, and tens of thousands of teachers are now aware that numerous pressures are encouraging a change to the very purpose of a day at school to meet rapid developments in economies, technology, business, the environment, and social issues around the world.

But … I work in a normal high school. You know, those things with lessons, subjects, and teachers. Why change this and what should schools change into if they are to meet the current world challenges and demands from industries? More importantly, how does a school make real change and keep everybody (most) happy?

Time for a Revolution

This is the first in a series of posts I will be writing over the next two years about the practical issues in revolutionising a school. Now 60 years since its establishment, my own school is formally starting on a journey to launch as a very different high school experience in 2020. Probably one without timetabled subjects, class lessons, and tests. An institution that understands its part in and engages with local and global communities. A school whose structures and systems are designed around respecting and developing the individual for who they are and not processing the masses. I thought it was important to document our journey but let’s start with how my currently traditional high school got to this point and what our aim is.

Stage 1: Our groundwork for change

Although we have allowed only a two year run-in to redesign and launch the school day for most of our students, we have been building towards this shift for at least 10 years. After a decade of talking about change and “modernising,” we have tinkered with the common minor shifts like Bring-Your-Own-Device (2011) and some inquiry-based learning (only for younger learners) but only if they didn’t impact on the core systems that had existed for 60 years. We went digital, we discussed SAMR (most stayed on substitution), we changed observations of teaching into learning discussions with students, we made sharing teachers’ inquiry into their own practice a norm. 

In fact, teachers were often talking about having initiative fatigue, having to make shifts to their routines and habits every year. Any negative conversations I had with teachers about these initiatives clearly indicated that it was precisely because we weren’t changing the core business of the school day that made things like BYOD and Student-centred-learning seem arbitrary and difficult to justify within the context of aiming to do what we’ve always done.

Step 1a : Build a Convincing argument

It’s not comfortable when a leader feels they’re out of the loop on something. If other ‘important’ people are talking about and doing things, then this is what can drive leaders to rush back to school with yet another initiative. But fortunately for people wanting genuine revolution, there is such a raft of evidence and demands for whole-system change from all sectors of society around the world, that making leaders aware of a multi-pronged argument is easy enough with a little homework. To get started, here’s part of my collection that convinced leaders & teachers in my school to start work on our “revolution”:

Step 1b: Spend on time to support change

Once the administration are convinced it’s worth looking at, it’s time to involve your middle leaders but remember, everyone is busy. To prove that real change has true value, you have to prove that value by allocating proper time to debate and plan around what the evidence means. For us this means whole days out of class for planning, school visits, increased PD budget allocation, conferences and training. Only by the administration showing true commitment to supporting the leaders and teachers through this change will momentum be maintained. Too much time between ‘events’ and most teachers will return their mind and body to old routines and habits. Another tool that is helping us is a categorised digital collation of evidence, discoveries, problems, and ideas from all involved. For this, we are using a Google Community. Once we have decided on the final scope for our revolution, this community discussion will be expanded to include as many stakeholders as we can get involved. This approach allows everyone to have a say within their own busy schedule.

Now we have a reason for change and the initial momentum. it’s time for Stage 2

Stage 2: Announcing and shaping our revolution (…coming soon)