Below are two screen capture videos I've created just in case there is anyone who might be in the position of needing to create online sessions during university closedown, but have little support or little technical experience. They are deliberately quick and simple to create. Hope they might be of some use.
Since the 2008 financial crash, there has been much said about the non-death of capitalism. Within this discussion has emerged the notion of ‘parasitic capitalism’, a new way of looking at finance capitalism in particular. The basic premise of parasitic capitalism is that profit can be made through value extraction and the rise of the rentier. In the case of value extraction this occurs vis inserting financial practices into other industries as a way of syphoning off money as profit. Kamalakanthan gives an example of such parasitic behaviour through his discussion of Goldman Sachs and their purchase of an aluminium warehousing company, Metro International. By slowing down shipping times and moving aluminium between warehouses rather than to markets, Goldman were able to extract $165 million a year in rent, and due to Goldman’s position as a commodity trader, it was also able to extract money form rising commodity prices. Finally, a favourite of finance, the betting of future trends in financial markets was yet another way of profiting from the original investment.
This extraction of wealth has also extended ever more towards the rise of the rentier class. If we accept that there are two main ways of legally making money, one is through work – using our skills, strength, knowledge etc to make things, provide services, etc in return for which we earn money. The second way is that of the rentier. Here, individuals gain income and profit by leveraging things which already exist, such as land, knowledge or money. In the past, the superrich of the 17th – 19th century inherited land and simply charged others to use it or allowed others to work for them as long as they got a share of the profit. Here, no real effort was required, money was simply leveraged from a resource they already had. And the size and opulence of the stately homes of Great Britain demonstrate how good they were at it.
In the modern economy the rentier class has emerged in both finance and hi-tech industries. Rutger Bregman writing for the Guardian argue that tech firms such as Amazon, Facebook and Google all owe their businesses to government funded innovation which they took up and used, whilst ensuring they don’t pay very much in the way of tax. They also grow through other people populating their platforms with content, so that they don’t even have to bother with producing very much themselves. Tom Goodwin goes on to highlight that Uber owns no cars, Facebook creates no content and Airbnb owns no properties.
In the natural world, an important characteristic of many parasites is that they don’t actually kill their host. They will cause harm, but can potentially feed for prolonged periods of time, often for years without killing their host. Likewise, parasitic capitalism has been successful in extracting the wealth form its host, the wider human population, without killing it – but sections of this form of capitalism is now showing worrying signs of moving towards a position where it will progressively kill the host it is reliant on.
One stark illustration of the impact of parasitic capitalism is the estimated 120,000 deaths in the UK as a result of austerity. This suggests that whilst the richest in the UK have expanded their wealth significantly since the financial crash of 2008, extracting value from the economy, there has been a mirrored collapse in the support for others – and this has led to deaths. David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu have identified other results of austerity such as increased suicide and a ballooning in the amount of depression across Europe and North America. This would suggest that rather than being parasitic, capitalism is moving into a process of killing and harming people on a large scale.
The near future would also suggest that this may get worse. The impending deadline for a Brexit deal shows the potential for further parasitic activity leading to harsh, and possibly catastrophic, results. Whilst some very rich people move their wealth abroad to ensure it is not impacted by a financial crash they are attempting to trigger in their own country, others, as they did during the 2016 referendum, have already bet against the pound. If it collapses, whilst the general population suffers, perhaps without medicines which support life, the rentiers will be able to use their recent boost in wealth to spend in the subsequent fire sale of British assets. Letting in the large pharmaceutical companies from the USA to charge exorbitant prices for near free-to-produce drugs will just be the icing on the cake. But this may lead to further death, and certainly to greater poverty. The parasitic capitalism of the last decade will be overstepping its boundaries and will be starting to kill off the host.
But this process is not confined to the USA and UK. The rentiers have been busy over the past 30 years. They have not only become parasitic to the economic system, but to the political system as well. Here, they have done an equal, if not more acute, level of damage. They have used their wealth to manipulate global narratives and concerns. There are many examples which could be given here, from the manipulation of national votes, to the use of social media to create climates of confusion and a collapse of trust. But climate change is the most obvious, with wealth making sure that early attempts to deal with climate shifts were never allowed to happen. As a result we are now in the position of having to call for climate emergencies, to take radical steps to avert a catastrophic impact – and still some of the rentiers attempt to stop us form taking action. The Amazon is set alight, fracking is seen as the solution in some cases, and some countries continue to mine coal as if it wasn’t an issue. Here, we are no longer talking about the national disgrace of capitalism killing individuals, we are talking about the continued desire to extract ever more wealth and power potentially leading to the death of not only much of the human species, but much of the biodiversity of the planet as well. Capitalism may well lead to the 6th extinction – its made a good start.
The above suggests that we have crossed a line – parasitic capitalism is ethically abhorrent, but it at least tended to make the host ill, finding it useful to keep it alive to aid in the continued extraction of wealth. But now, there are signs that parts of the capitalist system are actually beginning to kill off localised areas of the host on which it feeds; a form of necrosis. Necrosis can be caused by a number of processes. But I suggest that the most useful analogy here is necrotising fasciitis. It can start from a minor injury but once it has taken hold it can spread rapidly and is life threatening. The only way to stop its spread is to cut out all of the infected areas – otherwise it will continue to kill off the host. Necrotic capitalism has life threatening impacts on the wider population of the world, and ultimately, the wider biodiversity of the planet, and all so that it can continue to extract a wealth that itself will begin to be meaningless and ever less valuable. Not only will it kill its wider planetary host – in the end it will also end up killing itself! But for many of the rentiers, perhaps that will happen far enough in the future that they don't care.
Since the passing of the 1988 Education Reform Act there has been a near constant process of change in English education. This has been driven by a move towards ‘soft’ marketisation and the rise of the accountability culture (Green, 2011). This is a pattern which is repeated across many countries, all of which have common features in the drivers and impacts of this policy/change agenda. The period since the late 1980s has been a global trend towards a more aligned set of policies in education, leading Sahlberg to identify it as the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) (Sahlberg, 2012), the result being an ‘epidemic of reform’ (Day and Southern, 2009). These reforms are at least in part driven by a belief that education should act as the servant of the economy, creating well educated and trained individuals for the jobs market, education as an economic weapon to attract inward investment. Sugrue (2006) argues that it is this explicit link between economy and education which has driven educational change in Ireland. And with this link comes the identification of efficiency as the main driver in educational policy and practice. As a consequence of the need for efficiency comes the twin foci in education of accountability and performativity.
Green (2011) argues that accountability is a difficult concept to define, but that, ‘at the level of policy governance…’accountability’ has come to have a very specialized meaning, one associated with ‘satisfactory audit’’. This has led to official structures to carry out such audits, in England for example this is the role of Ofsted. In turn, school management and teacher work have become focused on examination results, a test of efficiency and effectiveness, as there is an assumed link between student results and the quality of teachers (Labaree, 2011). As an aside, this is in stark contrast to some, mostly Asian systems which focus on improving teaching as opposed to focusing on the results associated with teachers (Stigler and Hiebert, 1999). Policy-led accountability has also impacted on the way in which teacher work itself is understood, leading to the introduction of systems of official teacher standards, giving an explicit framework for what teachers should know, how they should act, and hence, how they should develop their expertise over time. By binding such frameworks together with examination outcomes and the need for efficiency, performance management has become a central point in the accountability system for teachers. By incorporating teacher standards into this system, teacher professionalism has been made a formal, and policy-driven process, what Whitty (2014) calls ‘official national professionalism’, and Evans (2011) ‘performative professionalism’. Many of the policy developments which have been introduced since 1988 are merely different attempts to intensify and refine a system of accountability, in some cases with ever greater potential for micro-management from the political centre.
However, with the constant advance of policy, leading to associated change for schools and teachers, comes the potential for ever greater impacts on the work and professional identity of teachers. Valli and Buese (2007) argue that there has been a shift in teacher roles in the USA, with both extensification and intensification of work. The extensification is identified by the constant rise in activities which need to be completed outside of the classroom; new curricula to be planned, increasing levels of testing and the need to record all aspects of teacher work so as to make it available for accountability purposes. Intensification has also occurred, with ever greater drives towards efficiency in how time is used, leading to teachers feeling constantly time pressured. Some of these patterns are discernible in England, with teachers now spending more of their time on activities outside of teaching than with their students (DfE, 2017). Day and Smethem (2009) stress that the constant increases in the need to service accountability measures leads to ever greater levels of workload amongst teachers. The greater levels of workload drive aspects of work intensification, and both together lead to incremental loss of professional autonomy. This in turn leads to greater feeling of time pressure and can lead to demotivation.
Several researchers point out the potential negative impacts that accountability-related pressures can precipitate. Berryhill et al (2009) working in the USA make a link between increases in accountability processes and teacher burnout. They create a constant level of high pressure from which there is no escape. Over time this can lead to feelings of ineffectiveness, exhaustion, of be emotionally drained and a lack of achievement, all symptoms of burnout. They make the case that these feelings tend to have one or both of two causes. The first is role conflict where teachers believe the aims they are being asked to meet are incompatible with each other, leading to exhaustion as they attempt to make them fit. The second is a lack of self-efficacy. Where teachers are constantly operating under the direction of others, they have little opportunity to show and develop their own professionalism. This can lead to demotivation and a feeling of time pressure (Wood, 2019). However, where teachers are given greater levels of autonomy, they actually begin to work harder and longer hours as they are motivated by the work they have identified as being important to them and their students.
The pressures relating to accountability are not consistent in their impact across an education system. Schmidt and Datnow (2005) stress the importance of values, beliefs and prior experiences in how teachers make sense of policy shifts. As they point out,
‘Reforms that conflict with teachers’ own moral purposes inevitably become ethical dilemmas for teachers, especially when they involve compliance with a policy that conflicts with their concerns for their students.’ (951)
Our values and emotions play an important role in our sensemaking of the world. Teachers are no different, evaluating policies and potential change to practice through these lens, framed by their prior experiences to decide what they are comfortable in advocating as professional practice. When suggested changes fit with values and prior knowledge, they will have a good chance of being embedded in practice, where they don’t they will tend to be resisted. What Schmidt and Datnow (2005) stress is that where teachers can see that a change has a positive impact on their students, they will tend to have a more positive view of the policy being introduced. Their research demonstrates the importance of seeing policy enactment as both complex and driven by values and experience, and underpinned by a strong ethic of care towards their students.
As outlined above, much of the literature stresses the negative impacts of rising accountability in school systems, but Day and Smethem (2009) emphasise that whilst these dangers and effects are real, they are not ubiquitous. They are critical of the changing system in the same way as many other researchers, but also highlight that some teachers are content, particularly younger teachers who have no alternative to compare their experiences to.
The research strongly suggests that the policy shifts since the late 1980s have brought an ever expanding accountability agenda, supported by agencies and frameworks to ensure these changes are embedded, at least at a surface level. This has brought fundamental change to teacher activity, with more and more focus on accountability, standards frameworks for professional development, and a resulting explosion of work.
Berryhill, J., Linney, J. A., & Fromewick, J. (2009) ‘The Effects of Education Accountability on Teachers: Are Policies Too-Stress Provoking for Their Own Good?’ International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership, 4:5, 1-14.
Day, C. & Smethem, L. (2009) ‘The effects of reform: have teachers really lost their sense of professionalism?’ Journal of Educational Change, 10:2-3, 141-157.
Department for Education (2017) Teacher Workload Survey 2016: Research report. London: DfE. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/592499/TWS_2016_FINAL_Research_report_Feb_2017.pdf (accessed 2 June 2018).
Evans, L. (2011) ‘The ‘Shape’ of Teacher Professionalism in England: Professional Standards, Performance Management, Professional Development and the Changes Proposed in the 2010 White Paper.’ British Educational Research Journal, 37:5, 851–870.
Green, J. (2011) Education, Professionalism, and the Quest for Accountability Abingdon: Routledge.
Labaree, D.F. (2011) ‘Targeting Teachers’ Dissent, 58:3, 9-14.
Sahlberg, P. (2012) Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? Teachers’ College Press.
Schmidt, M. & Datnow, A. (2005) ‘Teachers’ sense-making about comprehensive school reform: The influence of emotions.’ Teaching and Teacher Education, 21:8, 949-965.
Stigler, J.W. & Heibert, J. (1999) The Teaching Gap: Best Ideas from the World's Teachers for Improving Education in the Classroom New York: Free Press.
Sugrue, C. (2006) ‘A Critical Appraisal of the Impact of International Agencies on Educational Reforms and Teachers' Lives and Work: The Case of Ireland? European Educational Research Journal, https://doi.org/10.2304/eerj.2006.5.3.181
Valli and Buese (2007) ‘The Changing Roles of Teachers in an Era of High-Stakes Accountability’ American Educational Research Journal, https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831207306859
Whitty, G. (2014) ‘Recent Developments in Teacher Training and Their Consequences for the ‘University Project’ in Education.’ Oxford Review of Education, 40:4, 466–481.
Wood,P. (2019) ‘Rethinking time in the workload debate’ Management in Education https://doi.org/10.1177/0892020618823481
Thinking through change and time in educational organisations
Organisations are complex entities which are undergoing constant change, sometimes consciously, sometimes not. Given that all organisations are made up of groups of people, there will always be a desire to try out new things, to make activities and systems better. Unless an organisation was micromanaged so severely that individuals were not allowed to do any of their work in anything other than an allotted manner, change, at whatever scale, becomes a natural consequence of work.
Whilst change is a natural consequence of activity, to undertake considered and ‘formal’ change is actually a difficult task. There are many barriers to coherent and sustained change (for a discussion see here), which might in part be due to a lack of critical and deep understanding of the processes of change themselves. What follows is in large part based on the excellent discussion about organisational change in Iveroth and Hallencreutz (2016) (a brief review can be found here) who consider the dynamics and complexity of change in organisations.
When undertaking a change process, how often do we think consciously about the type of change we are instigating? It is very easy to see change as simply something we need to plan for and execute without really considering the dynamics which will be at play. Iveroth and Hallencreutz offer a simple set of contrasting change processes, shown below. They identify rate of occurrence and scope and scale of the change as being important variables which need to be reflected upon as a change process is planned and undertaken. The process of change involved in small-scale, continuous change (fine tuning) may be embedded within pre-existing work practices, and it may even be possible to subsume any change activity into the core work of the organisation. Here, there may be very little resistance to change, as the cultural norms of the organisation may not be disturbed. However, at the other end of the spectrum, those large scale, dramatic changes which lead to major transformations may require a much longer period for planning, process and embedding. However, how often do organisations and those who lead them consider these dynamics in detail?
ajor transformations are not just difficult because they are large-scale and will require a lot of time. They will tend, almost by definition, to include the need for major cultural shift, convincing individuals to change their working practices, resources and even beliefs and professional identities. But how often are such projects just seen as a scaled-up version of a fine tuning project? It is crucial that an organisation has the opportunity to reflect, discuss and understand change before it begins so that those involved are able to have some notion of the processes and shifts which are ahead.
Another aspect of change which is crucial is the way the process is understood both in the planning phase and through the process itself. There are many different ‘steps to success’ style change frameworks. Such models see change as being something which can be successfully managed and led by following instructions which take the leaders through a set of well-established stages. If these are followed carefully, they will lead to ‘success’. This approach to change sees it as something which can be planned ahead of time in fine detail, before being executed.
Iveroth and Hallencreutz contrast the ‘planned’ approach to change with that of ‘emergent’ change (further going on to argue that a good approach to change actually requires a variable mixture of the two). The predominant paradigm of change in organisations is that of planned change. This form of change is characterised as linear in nature, and is driven by ‘change agents’, in educational settings often being part of a leadership group. Ford and Ford (1995, cited in Iveroth and Hallencreutz, 2016: 20), state that planned change,
‘occurs when a change agent deliberately and consciously sets out to establish conditions and circumstances that are different from what they are now and then accomplishes that through some set or series of actions and interventions either singularly or in collaboration with other people. The change is produced with intent, and the change agent is at cause in the matter of making the change.’
This is the perception of change developed in improvement plans, with senior leaders having personal or collective responsibility for driving forward an agenda decided within the leadership team. The process of change is then understood and carried out through a number of linear ‘stages’, and relative movement towards a predefined end point can be tracked, often using some form of traffic light system which reductively boils down the complexity of a change process to ‘red’, ‘yellow’ or ‘green’.
An alternative view sees change as emerging out of the activity of individuals and groups, occurring in the everyday work of those in the organisation. This emergent view characterises change as coming about through often loosely associated activities which can become linked and increasingly coherent over time. Change is an ongoing process which includes improvisation and experimentation by those involved in day-to-day practice; this is change as created at the ‘front-line’. Whereas planned change is often characterised as linear in character, emergent change is cyclical, and hence, temporally, very different.
Therefore, planned and emergent change can therefore be summarised as shown below.
Simplified from Iveroth and Hallencreutz, 2016: 24.
Because much of the change in schools is planned and tracked in detail, change often becomes a heavily bureaucratic exercise, with a great deal of monitoring (often led by quantitative measures), and fixed timelines. Time is seen as a quantitative resource, with so many hours being audited into the work. This leads to a linear, reductive and stage-driven view of instigating a new practice. But, much of the change in schools is not of this form. It requires a cyclic understanding of time, with practitioners attempting to both understand the dictated change agenda, whilst also attempting to embed it in everyday practices. These very different understandings of time and magnitude can lead to serious problems when it comes to successfully ‘delivering’ the desired outcomes. Add to this the possibility that the rate, scope and scale of a change project might not have been carefully considered, and a series of dissonances can occur between the leaders who may see the world through a strategic, managerial and planned view of change, and teachers and others who may understand and experience change through a practice-driven, emergent view of change. The final issue that may then need to be confronted is that often leaders will be given a number of change agendas to drive forward at the same time. When this occurs, the temporal aspect of change agendas becomes turbo-driven, and can overload the practice of others to the extent that they begin to suffer under a form of high ‘temporal density’ (Wajcman, 2013) where so many agendas appear at once, and who’s rhythms clash, that there are a number of agendas which need to be attended to at once, resulting in an ‘arrhythmia’ in the workload and processes of teachers and others. This can lead to feelings of an acceleration of expectations and workload, and ultimately may lead to ‘hyper-accelerated standstill’ (Rosa, 2014: 38), a context where apparent fast change is actually underlain by a stalling of change and a development of inertia.
What the work of Iveroth and Hallencreutz (2016) offers us is a pause for thought. That perhaps we need to spend more time reflecting on why we want change, the type of change we might be embarking on, the nature of the process involved, and the ceiling at which change becomes inefficient, and leads to increasing amounts of work for little impact. It also begs the question as to the degree to which change agendas need to be shared processes across an organisation, considered, debated and agreed upon from both the top and the bottom of the organisation so as to allow for a meaningful mix of both planned and emergent approaches to change. By doing this, change might be attempted less, and that which is focused on might allow for more positive and sustainable movement across the whole organisation.
.My engagement with the education literature over the past 20 years has tended to range quite widely. I like to make links, to think about the complex network of ideas which emerge from many different starting points. During this time, I’ve spent some time engaging with the huge literature on leadership and management, a research activity backed up by many schools of education which offer ever popular post-graduate degrees primarily focusing on these concepts. What I’ve also noticed is the generally peripheral focus on schools as organisations. Why is it that leaders and managers are considered as a separate sphere of research, almost as if they sit above the organisation rather than being embedded within it? I don’t have a deep understanding of organisational contexts beyond England, and therefore what follows is heavily influenced by my experience in this system; what follows may have greater or lesser relevance in other jurisdictions.
In England, the tendency to identify leaders as a separate focus seems to me to have emerged as a direct result of the Education Reform Act in 1988. This legislation fundamentally altered the structure and processes of education and set them on a course towards marketisation, competition, and hyper-accountability. The role of head teachers altered in this evolving climate from ‘head’ teachers, towards those in charge of accountability and strategy. The move towards a quasi-market system, driven by accountability, reached a critical point with the introduction of a process called the Self-Evaluation Form (SEF) a process which compelled head teachers to collect a series of data sets to demonstrate to Ofsted (the schools inspectorate) that they were working efficiently and to full potential. Introduced in 2005, the SEF essentially turned the head teacher and their senior leadership team into an internal inspection team, leading to continuous surveillance, and in many cases, creating a fault line between leaders and teachers, the former the inspectors, the latter the inspected. To further emphasise the chasm between leaders and teachers, whilst the latter were given little in the way of major pay rises, or better working conditions, New Labour solidified the position of the former with big wage hikes, a clever way of tying them into the new accountability and leadership frameworks.
Higher education has followed a similar trajectory, with the creation of the ‘third-space’ of academic/professional managers leading to large central management teams which have become increasingly remote from academic departments. They have increasingly, as in schools, become focused on accountability, setting the strategic direction and making the important decisions within the university. With the introduction of the REF (Research excellence framework), and more recently the TEF (teaching excellence framework) and the KEF (knowledge exchange framework), senior leaders have plenty of data to work towards, increasingly driving the way they think and act. And increasingly, the work of academics and administrators becomes attuned to supplying the required activities and outcomes to feed these frameworks.
Obviously, some educational organisations have avoided the dichotomy of leaders and ‘others’, retaining a community approach to education, but this philosophy has slowly started to ebb away as older leaders retire and new individuals take their place, many of whom are more attuned to marketised and individualistic philosophies. Indeed, the situation is now such that those who do run their schools or universities in a democratic, community driven way are heralded as the experimental exception rather than the expected rule.
These changes have led to leaders as somehow being in the organisation, but also beyond it. This split has been further solidified by an educational research tradition which isolates and focuses on ‘leadership and management’ as a core issue considered in its own right. Yet elsewhere, whilst leaders are seen as crucial, they are also seen more as an embedded element of a wider narrative – the most obvious example being organisational sciences. But what is the result of focusing on leaders as in a sense ‘above’ the organisation within the research literature and the culture of many educational organisations?
In The Republic, Plato outlines the main features of a ‘utopian’ state which he names Kallipolis. This city is ruled over by the philosopher king, an individual who having been raised as a philosopher can see the world as it really is, the result of their wisdom and knowledge gained through their philosophical pursuit. Th e philosopher king has both the wisdom and the ethical responsibility to develop the strategies and make the decisions which lead and manage the city. Plato sees this as a selfless act, the philosopher king focusing all their energy on the successful running of the city. Sitting below the philosopher king are the guardians, the ‘enforcers’ of the policies and decisions made, acting as a police and military force. Finally, at the bottom of the hierarchy are the artisans, the ‘workers’ who are expected to discharge their artisanal skills to their best abilities but who cannot be trusted to make important decisions due to their predominantly experience-driven nature. This outline characterises a strict hierarchy, where important civic decisions are left to the individual who has the wisdom to make good and ethical decisions, decisions which are then enforced by the guardians who are fully beholden to the philosopher king. This leaves the artisans to carry out the wishes of the philosopher king, well trained, practical individuals who can carry out their duties with experience and skill, but who are trapped by their understanding of life through experience rather than wisdom and a philosophical view of the world. It might be argued that this same hierarchical view is now a characteristic of many educational organisations.
To what degree have educational leaders become philosopher kings? In universities, vice chancellors are often somewhat remote to the establishments they lead. Many spend much of their time surrounded by the upper-levels of management and administration (the guardians), deciding on policy, on strategy, reliant upon their ‘wisdom’ of the sector. They and the guardians then disseminate these insights and actions to the academics and administrators further down the organisational chain of command. This, in some cases, leads to decisions remote from the staff who are responsible for instigating them. In addition, where the wished-for outcomes are not forthcoming, the guardians are those who then ‘enforce’ the original decisions made by the vice chancellor.
A similar hierarchical process occurs in some schools and academy chains, in this case, the head teacher or CEO acting as the philosopher king, with the senior leadership team acting as the guardians. Teachers are the artisans, charged with making the decisions from above work. Their role is not to question, to suggest alternatives, as they do not have the wisdom or ‘true’ knowledge of the philosopher king.
It is important to recognise that this is a pattern which does not occur across the educational sector, there are other ways of working which occur in many schools. However, this is a pattern which occurs all too often. Is such an authoritarian system sustainable? And does the fixation with leadership in the educational research field help or hinder when considering how to develop sustainable organisations environments?
The main problem with an authoritarian view of leadership is that it rests on the assumption that a single person, or a small group of individuals, can control what happens in an organisation. As I outlined in an earlier post Streatfield (2001) argues that organisations are too complex and messy to allow for a single person to ‘control’ what happens across the piece. This means that those leading organisations need to be willing to relinquish some of their power, allowing others to have freedom and an ability to affect the running and direction of the organisation. This is what Streatfield calls the paradox of being in control and not being in control at the same time. This suggests the need to loosen the hierarchy, taking seriously the wide spectrum of other ways of running an organisation. Trying to run everything, trying to enforce particular ways of working unless agreed and embraced across an organisation, will only lead to conflict and trouble. Resistance can begin to build, often carried out quietly, but effectively, something I’ve referred to elsewhere as ‘zombie innovation’ (Wood, 2016: 34)
‘Another potential problem which can occur during a change process where teachers become the implementers but are not involved in the creation of the innovation is that solutions may be viewed as remote and divorced from the contexts and complexity of practice. Newton (2003) suggests that where solutions appear to be too simplistic, teachers can give the illusion of change without real engagement in the process. This can lead to innovations which exist in strategic plans, which are shown to be successful in evaluations, and which are recorded in set piece observations but which are absent in day-to-day practice. I characterize this as a form of ‘zombie innovation’, where a change process carries on lifeless, sometimes for years, in the twilight of official documents, plans and quality assurance reports, but never lives in the normalized practices of the organization.’
Therefore, I would argue that we need to begin to change our perceptions. Education cannot make space for philosopher-kings. Leaders are essential, but they are only part of an organisation, and there needs to be as large a flow of ideas, information and critique going up the organisation as down, and there needs to be an understanding that in schools and universities there is as much wisdom at the bottom of the organisation as at the top. As I’ve said already, some schools and universities already understand this, but all too many don’t.
Finally, I want to quickly consider the role of research in the creation of the philosopher king. Education has a large, and ever expanding, research focus on leadership and management. In some respects, this should not be an issue, but all too often it leads to an isolated worldview. Leadership becomes a topic for research in its own right and can become dangerously divorced from the wider notion of organisation. Over the past couple of years, however, I have spent a lot of time reading literature from organisational studies. As might be expected, the most important unit of analysis is the organisation; leaders are important, but integral, to wider issues.
I would argue that we need to see a serious shift in education, abandoning the idea that leadership and management is the most important focus for the successful running of schools and universities. We need to refocus onto organisations as the main unit of analysis and activity, considering how the different groups involved can work together to create great environments for teaching, learning and in the case of universities, research. This means we need to downplay the idea of ‘transformative’ leaders (surely an insult to the multitude of others in an organisation how put in the hard work to make transformation happen), or the cult of the philosopher king, and instead talk of organisations and communities of which leaders are an integral part.
Over the past year or so, research I was undertaking on a method for improving teacher practice led me to begin to think about why it is the case that change processes develop so differently in different organisations. Why is it that change in some organisations seems to work well, but in others, change is a difficult process which sometimes falters, sometimes fails altogether. The processes responsible for the success or otherwise of change are numerous and varied in nature; I don’t think it is possible to create a ‘5 steps to change’ style model which works for all organisations, and yet it is such models which appear to be popular.
Over a number of posts, I want to reflect on, discuss and suggest possible issues we need to think about when understanding change in the hope of beginning to sketch out a philosophy for organisational change. At the moment, I’m calling the ideas I’m developing a philosophy because it is about a way of thinking, and an admission that in most organisational contexts change processes are inherently dealing with aporias (Jones and Bos, 2015: 4), meaning ‘impasse, puzzlement, a situation where one finds no way out.’. It is a matter of developing a system of ideas which can act as the basis for practical work, rather than creating a single framework which can be followed like a recipe. If change in organisations regularly involves aporias, we need understanding and flexibility as the basis for contextual action, not abstract, universal frameworks to be blindly followed.
The posts which follow consider some of the experiences that I and others have experienced as a consequence of change, before thinking about the issues which arise from them. Finally, further posts will go on to outline some of the elements I believe can be brought together as the basis for a philosophy for organisational change.
leaders in organisations begin to be led predominantly by numeric data which covers major aspects of their work. This might be National Student Survey data in universities, GCSE results and attendance figures in schools. These data are important, and they need to be analysed and incorporated into the thinking of an organisation. However, in some cases they become the predominant evidence on which leaders try to understand their organisations. But as the video suggests the problem here is that these data are also a very reductive summary of a complex and contingent environment. Here, over-reliance on numeric data leads to ‘working with the shadows’, as it ignores the need to understand and work with large numbers of processes and people.
Another problem with putting numeric data at the heart of an organisation is that they generally characterise outcomes rather than processes. Therefore, organisations which come to rely heavily on numeric data also tend to rely on a view of the world very much focused on outcomes. Again, I am not suggesting that outcomes are not important, but unless the processes involved in leading to those outcomes are constantly investigated, discussed and understood, when outcomes are less than satisfactory, the activities and effort required to improve them becomes problematic.
The focus on outcomes can in turn lead to an ‘individualistic’ culture where data is used to prove an individual’s excellence, becomes exemplification in CVs, and at the same time is used to identify and root out individuals who are failing. All too often, the collaborative and complex activities responsible for various outcomes are reduced to individual success or failure. An example of this are the systems operating in many universities and the wider sector where fellowships and excellence awards are offered. Here, the narratives cannot be based on what ‘we’ have achieved, or how ‘our’ work has made a difference. Outcomes need to be appropriated by individuals to create heroic stories of ‘transformative’ change.
Numeric data is crucial for the running of organisations, but when it overpowers, other, alternative and rich narratives this is hugely problematic; the associated recourse to a fixation with outcomes is equally damaging. Both of these characteristics in organisations can lead to individualism, and possibly even ‘narcissistic collegiality’ which are both dangerous for sustainable change and organisational well-being.
Jones, C. & Bos R.T. (2007). Philosophy and Organization. Abingdon: Routledge. <link>
The mainstream view of change and innovation in organisations is one based on a linear view of process and management. In this view of the world, we should set clear objectives and targets, chart a clear route to reach them and then regularly measure and manage individuals and teams to ensure that they are moving towards those targets. This is a view of organisational change based on hierarchy and a simple, linear view of the world. This approach to leadership and change within organisations is underpinned by an attempt to bring heightened certainty, and ultimately to ‘control’ all aspects of change. In turn, in many organisations, particularly in the public sector, these attempts to control change at a micro-level have led to an explosion of quantitative measures used to indicate whether or not individuals are following the desired trajectory, and in some cases, even a desired process.
Streatfield (2001) offers a different view of innovation and change in organisations. Based on his work in the pharmaceutical industry, he sees the activities which make up an organisation as being messy, complex and of a form which cannot be reduced to simple, wholly ‘controlled’ processes. Uncertainty is a fundamental aspect of work in any organisation, even in sectors such as pharmaceuticals which some outside of the industry might assume is a highly mechanistic and controlled process. Consequently, Streatfield suggests that an organisation should be characterised ‘as complex responsive processes of relating in which patterns of meaning emerge’.
This gives two very different views of leading and managing quality, one based on measurement, within a predictable and closely defined environment, where variability is consciously reduced, leading to planned conformity. The alternative is to see organisations as complex, at least in part, unpredictable entities which are characterised as networks both internally, and in connections externally. Here, Streatfield argues that control needs to be of a different type, ideally a form of working within a paradox of ‘being in control’ and ‘not being in control’ at the same time. This is partly the result of a view of organisational change based on emergence. One way of understanding the nature of emergence is provided by Davis and Sumara (2006):
Therefore, in organisational change there is a need for greater flexibility than that afforded under strict, quality controlled, and reductive approaches. However, it is important that the system has coherence and direction. If change is accepted as being an emergent set of processes, affected through the interaction and insight of individuals across the organisation, leaders cannot expect to be wholly in control. However, leaders do have a crucial role in setting boundaries (coherence) allowing for neighbour interactions and drawing together the narratives from across the organisation to help it develop in coherent ways. In this sense, Streatfield argues that leaders need to see themselves as being both in control and not in control at the same time. It is how they navigate this paradox which determines the quality and form of formal change which the organisation is able to create.
‘The river where you set your foot just now is gone – those waters giving way to this, now this.’ Heraclitus (Fragments, 41)
Heraclitus is sometimes seen as the ‘father’ of process philosophy, the statement above emphasising that change is a fundamental part of reality, and that this reality is one drive by process; it puts the flow of change at the centre of how we can understand the world. As Rescher (1996: 28) states,
‘Becoming and change – the origination, flourishing, and passing of the old and the innovative emergence of ever-new existence – constitute the central themes of process metaphysics.’
As we inhabit ever more complex societies, there can be a tendency to attempt to reduce that complexity to make reality more easily understandable. In research, this complexity reduction takes a number of forms. The calculation of ‘effect sizes’ in large scale experiments, the capture of a ‘case study’, the results from a survey. All are attempts to capture an instance in time, a stable moment or relationship. If Rescher’s notion of reality above, one marked by flow, change and emergence is correct, however, then perhaps we need to rethink the fundamental approach we take to research.
Process philosophy is based on the centrality of process and time (change) in allowing us to understand our world. This presents a serious set of issues and problems which we need to consider if research is to help us understand and act positively in and on our environments. To capture and uncover the complexity of processes and how they lead to the patterns, artefacts and events/situations we wish to understand is difficult. In many social situations such as human experience in cities, student learning in classrooms, or political perspectives in communities, patterns emerge due to the processes at play and lead to resultant behaviours which are not merely random (as the processes involved are in some way causal). But neither are they simple and linear. Some of the processes involved may remain hidden, or may change in magnitude and form over time. And yet many of the research tools and approaches we rely on do nothing more than capture these complex flows at a point in time. Or perhaps at points in time – from which we extrapolate and then build relationships. Sometimes we might do this accurately (do we ever really know?), on other occasions we might only begin to uncover a small part of the processes responsible (again, how do we know?). On other occasions we trick ourselves into believing we have uncovered stable classifications which tell us something foundational about the world – such as leadership typologies!
Given the complexity involved in social processes and in social contexts, when we analyse the ‘things’ they produce, how do we begin to make sense of these networks of activity and creation? In a world of process is there a methodological approach which can allow us to get close to uncovering the ‘reality’ of the social, the cultural, the economic and the environmental? As we create an ever more complex world we will increasingly lose our ability to understand it unless we can begin to take seriously the need to develop research approaches which help us engage with process as the driver of change.
I'm currently working with some international masters students on the concepts of innovation and reform in education. I always think that one of the main questions we need to ask ourselves when developing ideas around innovation is 'why'? Here, we can get carried away discussing the place of technology, endlessly argue about the 'right' way to teach, or debate what the structures of schools should be (the politicans' favourite). But I suggest here that perhaps the main initial rationale for any innovation or change needs to be set in aims - what are we trying to do and why? And therefore we need to look outwards from education; after all it can be argued that whilst education is a good in itself (it has to be if we are to encourage people to engage with their world, develop their understanding of it, and lead a meaningful life) it also needs to serve other purposes. For example, whether we like it or not, as societal systems stand, education serves a purpose in helping people gain the knowledge, understanding and skills they need to get the job they want.
So what should be the aims of education? I'll consider this more fully in a future post, but for now I want to think about how we might start to develop a discussion about the embeddedness of education in wider socio-economic, cultural and environmental issues. When I work with the master students one of the first things I ask them to consider are some of the issues which are currently emerging as major processes of which society needs to take account (I discuss the factors I've highlighted in the image to the right in more detail in a short video). The issues raised are not necessarily new, but they have developed a greater degree of urgency in the past decade or so, some even in the past few years. The questions I ask the students to consider are shown in the image, and centre on whether these issues are the concern of education.
Part of the discussion tends to gravitate towards how such issues should be included in education - if it is accepted that they are important and worthy of discussion. The development of knowledge is a key aspect of any good education, but we need to think about which knowledge and how that knowledge is put to work. E D Hirsch, who offers the philosophical backbone of many of those advocating a return to a 'knowledge' curriculum makes the case for why knowledge is so important.
'To be truly literate, citizens must be able to grasp the meaning of any piece of writing addressed to the general reader. All citizens should be able, for instance, to read newspapers of substance..'
E D Hirsch (1987: 12)
I can't see that anyone would find this statement controversial. But, surely there is a very strong case that as we move forward, if anyone is to make sense of the average newspaper then the issues listed above, and others like them, are central to their readership? This is where I think we have a problem in education if we base the curriculum solely on the notion of including 'the best of what has been written and said'. This might be useful if culture (in its widest sense) was a generally very slow moving or static concept. But it isn't. Culture shifts and changes - it is a process not a 'thing'. If education is only about looking backwards rather than looking forwards we will always be in a reactive space rather than a proactive one. I would argue that inclusion of issues such as those above is central to a meaningful curriculum as there needs to be a fusion of established knowledge, intertwined with new ideas. And I don't see this as a linear process. We shouldn't develop an educational system which exposes students only to the 'greats' of our culture with the thinking around new insights coming later - say at university for example. The new, the uncomfortable, needs to be fused with the established from the word go, to be brought into tension and fusion together. This suggests that debate, discussion and application of what is learned is also very important. The issues I've outlined shouldn't be represented as knowledge to be transferred but ideas to be debated, critiqued and reflected upon. To offer knowledge as so much information which needs to be memorised without substantial opportunity to apply, to link to other, perhaps seemingly disconnected ideas, leads to a severe case of 'dumbing down'. Only through understanding and discussing the emerging knowledge and understanding gained can the individual become the critical newspaper reader in Hirsch's statement. Knowledge in a curriculum is necessary but not sufficient.
It is in seeing education as a complex, dynamic process, embedded and intertwined with a rapidly changing series of contexts that we can help children become the critical newspaper readers of tomorrow, and hopefully beyond to engaged and critical citizens. This is also why the role of teachers is so crucial. Biesta (2015) argues that the role of the teacher should be to help students make sense of a world beyond which they are aware so as to move away form the dangers of an 'egological' education. He argues that this can best be done when seeing the student as a subject in the process, not the object. This means that the teacher needs to be sensitive to issues, ideas and insights which are important both within and beyond their own subjects, but which are also helpful in expanding any student's worldview in critical and useful ways. This suggests a varied and flexible approach which has an underlying focus on fusing 'core knowledge' with new, developed through a variety of opportunities. Education is part of a wider series of processes which already impact on children and will do so increasingly as they grow up. Is education flexible enough to change as the world changes around it?