Change is where the heart is

Yesterday I had the opportunity to call in to visit Albany Senior High School to see how they were getting on since they started as a brand new school at the beginning of this year. What I saw encouraged me greatly – a good opportunity to see the school operating, “warts and all”, but at its core a strong commitment ot the vision and values that the staff have worked so hard to establish, and are continuing to refine and develop.

Over the past couple of months I have had the privilege of visiting several new schools, including the Leigh Academy in the South East of London, and Discovery Bay School in Hong Kong. All of these places share the same sense of “newness” in terms of their innovative designs, modern furnishings, high-tech infrastructures – and in each I listened to the conversations of principals and staff as they explained how the programmes operating within the schools had been developed in line with the particular vision and values of the school.

The point of this reflection is that when it all boils down to it, the thing that will make any school successful are the shared beliefs of staff and the school community, and shared understandings of the educative purpose of the school. The buildings and environments certainly contribute significantly to the experience students will have while at school, but without a “heart” they are but empty vessels.

I thought of all this when I read the following statement this morning:

“We naively thought, I guess, that by providing a beautiful building and great resources, these things would automatically yield change. They didn’t,”

The comment was made by Jan Biros, associate vice president for instructional technology support and campus outreach at Drexel University and a former member of the SOF Curriculum Planning Committee in an eSchool report titled “School of the Future: Lessons in failure“.The report describes how the school planners worked to design the underlying principles and goals for the school using a Microsoft framework but ‘”Working within this framework often felt more like an academic exercise than a productive process,” said Biros.

I applaud Microsoft for being so open about sharing the results of their SOF initiative – there’s a lot to be learned from the experience, all of which underpins my personal belief that the starting point for any educational change must be time spent on establishing the philosophical frameworks upon which everything else is developed. To achieve this requires an enormous amount of ‘human’ level interaction, reflection and collaboration, based on a view of a school as an ecology, not a process-driven system.

I’m now even more convinced about our work on the EPS as a way of supporting schools in their school change/school development process!

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