Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Another 'buzz' phrase - 'building capacity'!

  Posted by Picasa What is this thing called ‘capacity’?

In the Minister of Educations recent speech, ‘Personalized Learning: putting the heart back into education', given to the 2006 Primary Principals Conference, he mentions that the role of government is to help school build ‘capacity’ to meet students needs.

To develop the transformation required by personalized learning, particularly to return the ‘heart’ or ‘spirit’ to education , will require more than the current system’s ‘capacity’.

Phillip Schlechty, in his paper ‘Creating the Capacity to Support Innovation’, provides some pertinent thoughts.

Schlechty says everyone wants to build capacity’ but it is not always clear what people mean. In the most generic sense the word ‘capacity’ has to do with potentials and limitations. A bucket can only hold the ‘capacity’ it was designed for – no more.

School reformers or leaders seldom take capacity issues into account when they are installing innovation and, because of this, many innovations end up as failures. Most current innovations are about improving the current system to make it perform up to capacity – filling the bucket. As such they are, according to Schlechty, ‘sustaining’ and as such have little impact on the structure or culture of the organization.

In contrast, he says, there are ideas, innovations or technologies that are ‘disruptive’ and are beyond the ‘capacity’ of the current system and require dramatic alterations of both the culture and the structures. They alter roles, rules and relationships and change dramatically the culture of the organization.

Personalization falls into this category – particularly for secondary schools.

Up until now most innovation have been ‘sustaining' rather than ‘disruptive’.

Schlechty believes there are three general capacities that schools and school systems must have in place if they are to transform school along the lines our Minister is suggesting.

1. The capacity to establish a focus on the future

2. The capacity to maintain direction once a clear focus has been established

3. The capacity to act strategically and to create new future rather than being dominated by problems with their origins in the past.

The key to transformation, Schlechty writes, lies in understanding that the present system was designed to produce attendance and compliance. He believes that if public education is to survive and thrive in the 21stC it will be necessary to focus on nurturing student engagement. ‘Schools must be positioned to be in the student engagement business rather than the compliance business.’ ‘They must attend to creating work that commands students' attention as well as commitment.’

If Schlechty’s view is accepted it is clear that school of the future must be organized in different ways and that teachers will need to do new things. Teachers will have to learn to rely less on tradition based authority and rely more on expert understanding that derives from a deep understanding of student motives and how to appeal to them.

To achieve such a transformational change goes beyond the current ‘capacity’ of the present system. The current 'bucket' is already leaking!

To develop 'disruptive' change requires ‘capacity building'. Leaders need to develop the ‘capacity’ to communicate new transformative beliefs, to commit to them, and to encourage a similar leadership ‘capacity’ throughout the school. Leaders need to be able to assess the ‘capacity’ of the school to support ‘disruptive' innovations and, most of all, they will need the moral courage to persevere when innovations go through the 'messy' middle stages of change when everything feels like a failure!

There are lots of barriers to such transformation other than loss of nerve as the current system has a tendency to maintain the ‘status quo'. ‘Disruptive’ innovations require people to do things they have never done and to thrive the school requires the ‘capacity’ to drive out fear and encourage responsible risk taking. Schools need to develop strong collegial bonds of trust so as to able to live at the ‘cutting edge of ignorance’ to be able to absorb uncertainty and failure and to 'stick' with the innovation long enough.

It may be, as Schlechty thinks, that the era of traditional school is past. We need to expect more from our schools. Schools need to contribute to the building of communities as well as engaging all students in meaningful activities. Schools need to transform themselves from organizations, with their genesis in an industrial society that focused on producing compliance, to ones that nurture and develop engagement of all students.

Our Minister of Education’s vision of transforming our system into one that personalizes learning is a true 'disruptive' innovation, one that will require new 'mindsets' from all involved if his words are to be transformed from rhetoric to reality.

If we want our schools to achieve personalization they will need to have the ‘capacity’, perseverance, persistence and real courage to reinvent themselves so all students can learn at the highest level.

It seems we need a new ‘post modern’ ever expanding bucket with an infinite capacity if we are to develop schools as 21stC personalized learning organizations!


Anonymous said...

I am with you. The current secondary system may be full of well meaning people but it was designed in and for a past age.

The bucket is full to capacity and leaking!

Anonymous said...

There comes a time when an organisation ( particularly one designed for a past era) has no 'capacity' left - this is the time to make real transformational changes. Secondary schools are at this point but few of them have the desire or courage , let alone the understanding, to change! They prefer to stay caterpillars!

Anonymous said...

Current fragmented secondary schools structures have very litte 'capacity' to develop into future orientated educational environments.

We need to re-imagine our schools from top to bottom.

steve said...

There's something about the bucket capacity that doesn't quite ring true.
To me capacity in schools has no limit! People are capable of anything. Students and teachers. Developing capacity, to me, is an on-going process of development- of continuous improvement.
Students must learn not to be debilitated by fear- they must believe in their core-that anything is possible and the first step is the most important.
Life's a journey that begins with the first step.
Every new skill gained is increasing capacity.
Joyfully, my capacity is ever growing- and its heartening my learnings will continue forever!

Bruce said...

All metaphors can only be 'pushed' so far but the point of Schlechty's article is that the current system can only go so far and that 'disruptive' innovations require any organisation to develop new capacities. This is what happened ( or didn't ) to US car manufacturers when Japanese cars entered their market.

Schools - designed in an industrial era will suffer the same fate when information technology really hits them. New secondary schools, such as Alfriston in South Auckland, reflect the 21stC information age.

Forget the bucket - it is about the capacity to change to suit the times.