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renovating education

10 ways reinventing education is like renovating your home

Why are we more realistic when renovating a house than we are with changing the way our schools work?

Imagine that changing education to a blended paradigm is like renovating a large and much loved home that is more than 100 years old and contains lots of wonderful memories.

Would our expectations change?

The change from traditional teaching to blended learning is the biggest change in education for over one hundred years; it changes a core aspect of the way teachers teach. Make no mistake; this is not tinkering at the edges of education. If education was a house it would be a fundamental refit, from the foundations to the roof. (Note that I am talking about organization wide change, not just a few “lone innovators” operating independently in a school. That would be more like repainting a couple of rooms, in the hope that others would then follow suit, compared to a whole house renovation.)

Yet some expect that a whole house renovation like whole organization change can be done quickly and easily.

Change takes additional time, effort, resources, and planning. It usually requires extra money. It also usually involves disruption of day to day activities while the change is occurring. This is true in all facets of life. Why would changing an educational organization from traditional teaching to blended learning be any different?

Nobody would expect a house renovation to occur without the need for experts, a change to living conditions, a bit more mess, interruptions to daily life, finding some unexpected problems, etc. Instead, when making a large scale renovation to a large house we:

  1. Have one vision, instead of an idea of the week or every family member for his/her self.
  2. Plan the updated building (possibly with an architect, design specialist and color specialist).
  3. Hire specialists (plumbers, electricians, plasterers, bricklayers, kitchen experts, etc.)
  4. Expect interruptions to power, water supply, etc.
  5. Understand that there will be inconvenience, such as rooms that cannot be used on occasion, dust throughout the house, etc.
  6. Understand that projects often take longer than initially planned.
  7. Expect that living conditions will go backwards during the project, but that the long term results will be worth it.
  8. Are prepared to act in case some tradespeople are not able to produce the quality and standard of work required to complete the project successfully.
  9. Get a loan or dip into savings to pay for the renovations.
  10. Expect that tempers may get frayed on occasion.

Anyone who expects that “renovating” the fabric of teaching and learning to a new paradigm is going to be different to renovating a house is fooling themselves. Do not expect that it can be done quickly, easily and without expertise, expense and tension.

Next page: 10 things schools need to plan for

Yet how many educational organizations:

  1. Have one clear, defined and well understood vision of the final result that all can work towards?
  2. Plan the change to blended learning in detail, with a long term strategy and a (long) timeline?
  3. Call in or hire organizational change specialists, infrastructure specialists and blended learning specialists to assist with the change? (Instead of expecting teachers and IT staff to just “know” what to do.)
  4. Expect that teaching and learning standards in all areas will be unaffected or will instantly improve during the transition?
  5. Expect that everything will “just happen”, without interruptions to “normal” day to day activities; that the old can continue along with the new and expect no inconvenience while staff, students and parents grapple with new approaches, methods and technologies?
  6. Expect the change to happen quickly, and exactly on time, and get annoyed if results aren’t available quickly?
  7. Expect that even among dramatic change things will always get better and better, at every stage, instead of waiting for the full project to run its course?
  8. Expect that all staff will be prepared to work through the change, learn new skills, and rise to the occasion?
  9. Expect that the change can be done inexpensively?
  10. Expect that morale will always remain high and that people will not get annoyed and frustrated during some parts of the change?

Changing education across an entire organization takes years, not weeks or months. It is messy, inconvenient and expensive. This is also true of any major change in any industry. However, the change is still worthwhile.

There is an implementation surge that must occur. It is resource intensive, a time when lots of extra resources have to be applied to the change and it happens during the renovation. Once it is complete things will return to normal — but a new and more effective normal different to the normal that existed before if it is done well.

This is different to the ad hoc change that can occur in organizations. If an ad hoc approach was applied to renovating a large house, the final result probably wouldn’t be pretty. In fact, the structural integrity of the house might even be compromised.

If an ad hoc approach is applied to whole organization change to blended learning, the same type of thing can occur.

I sometimes hear of people say, “I tried blended learning but it didn’t work.” Well, I have heard of people who have tried to renovate homes themselves and that didn’t work either, but nobody was surprised as they possibly didn’t follow the steps outlined above.

As Michael Fullan points out in “Leading a Culture of Change,” there is usually an “implementation dip” in performance and confidence when implementing an innovation that requires new understandings and skills. It is obvious that this is part of the process of renovating a large house; it should also be obvious in education.

It is about time we realized that the rules of life and change also apply to the move to blended learning and planned and acted accordingly. It is about time we approached this major fundamental shift in the fabric of education in a mature way.

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