School Websites as Indicators of School’s Evolutionary Position

Mal Lee

Every school’s website provides a telling insight into where it sits on the international school evolutionary continuum.

Within minutes those conversant with the school evolutionary stage indicators – as discussed in the last edition – can obtain an insight into the school’s current position.

Possibly unwittingly your website invariably provides all interested a window to the school’s workings, that is in many respects greater than that provided by the Australian Government’s My School site.

Vitally it also provides an excellent insight into the school’s leadership’s thinking.

Have you looked lately at the message – intended and unintended – your school website communicates?

In researching the evolution of schooling in the UK, US, NZ and Australia over the last 5-6 years, in exploring the impact of digital normalisation on school transformation I’ve had occasion to examine many, many school websites.

It has become increasingly apparent, particularly now the first schools are moving into the Digital Normalisation stage that astute educators and parents globally – current and prospective – can and do increasingly use the school website as a quick and valid indicator of the evolutionary stage the school is at and if it is a school where one wants to send the children.

For more

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Digital Normalisation: Key Variables

Key Variables Evidenced in the Pathfinders

Allied to the post on the evolutionary stages of schooling is this that lists the near 50 key variables addressed by all the schools studied that have or nearly have normalised the use of the digital in the everyday operations of the school and its community.

The list highlights the many interrelated variables schools wanting reach the digital normalisation stage in their evolution will need to address in their quest to create the desired school specific ecology.

Digital Normalisation – Key Variables

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The Evolutionary Stages of Schooling

The Evolutionary Stages of Schooling

Key Indicators 

A Discussion Paper

Mal Lee

June 14, 2013 version

This paper emerged out of an analysis of that as yet rare cadre of schools in the UK, US, NZ and Australia that have or nearly have succeeded in normalising the use of the digital in all their operations, educational and administrative.

The research was undertaken as part of the preparations for a forthcoming publication on Digital Normalisation and School Transformation I’m writing.

The belief was that the work had so many implications for schooling globally, and it would be beneficial to place the thoughts on the evolutionary stages online and allow all interested to read, reflect and if they wish to comment.

Indeed I’ve partnered with Roger Broadie in the UK in creating a Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages, a work that will provide schools globally an international measure, with easily used benchmarks to identify where they are at on the evolutionary continuum and to readily identify the path ahead.

That work will be published as an e-book in the near future.

If you would like to provide me a comment please do at –

The Evolutionary Stages

At this point in the evolution of schooling I’ve identified six main development stages.

The transformative Digital Normalisation stage has only come on to the radar this year, even though there were strong signs in 2012 of its emergence.

The stages are a construct designed to assist schools with their planning and development. They have emerged after noting the remarkably similar journeys of all the pathfinders studied. The indicators within each of the stages are intended as guide, full well recognising that in different situations a particular development might come earlier or later.

The crucial variables at each stage are italicised.

In considering the stages it is important to appreciate all the schools displayed an excellent understanding of organisational change, with all throughout the stages being highly proactive, consciously seeking to foster a culture of change and understanding the imperative of the leadership being politically astute.

To secure a PDF of the full stages click here.

Evolutionary Stages

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Review of Bring Your Own Technology


Today’s School a new series on Channel 31 in Melbourne Australia has done the below review of Bring Your Own Technology by Martin Levin’s and myself.

It is well worth checking out not only because it is highly laudatory, but also because it is a very different way of doing a book review.

The review also strongly differentiates between BYOT and BYOD

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The Principal and the Digital School


Leader or Dead Hand?

Mal Lee

Australia has principals on par with the best in the world, showing the way internationally on what is required to lead a successful, ever-evolving digital school.

Sadly Australia also has too many ‘dead hand’ principals seemingly content to maintain the status quo, operating in an Industrial Age mindset, lacking the desire or possibly even the wherewithal to create and lead a digital school.  The ‘dead hand’ they are laying upon their school’s evolution is admittedly not helped by bureaucrats preoccupation with micro-managing the everyday workings of the schools.

In recent months Australia’s Prime Minister has expressed the desire for Australia’s schools to be ranked within the top five internationally.

Bureaucratic micro management of school principals will most assuredly never bring about that lofty global standing. As Britain’s peak business council in its November 2012 report on UK schooling noted in its criticism of the UK’s micro management

At the moment, inspirational headteachers still tend to be mavericks – rebelling against the system to do what is best – rather than the norm (CBI, 2012, 46).

All school principals have to have the same lofty educational expectations as those pathfinders, be given the same kind of professional freedom as the mavericks have ‘taken’, be expected to perform at the international level, be given the apposite support and to openly account and be held responsible for their performance if Australia is realistically to compete internationally.

It is time society and governments recognised it is the principal who determines the international standing of the school, not some external bureaucratic process.

The Principal’s Leadership

Without an astute principal with the wherewithal to lead a digital school the school is destined to stay in its present mode, tinkering with the technology falling ever further behind and failing to meet the parents’, students’ and indeed societies ever-rising expectations (Lee, 2012).

If Australia is to successfully educate its young for the C21 and a digital and networked world and compete internationally with ever strongly and more focussed opposition it must appoint principals who can lead schools apposite for that world, able to compete with the world’s best.

It needs leaders and most assuredly not acquiescent managers.

What hit home in recent interviews with pathfinding schools internationally were the principals’ awareness of the leadership role they were playing in a global ‘competition’.

It is a competitive awareness rarely expressed by Australian principals or indeed sought by Australia’s political leaders.

Australia is very happy to set those expectations of its athletes and to laud the achievements of its team captains. The same kind of expectation needs to be set of the school’s ‘captain’ – its principal – for even more than team sport within the digital and networked mode that position determines the school’s on-going evolution and success.

As ever more schools go digital and experience the fundamental organisational transformation that comes, as industry found 15-20 years ago (Thorp, 1998), with the normalised use of the digital Australia must have principals who can successfully lead rapidly evolving, ever more tightly integrated, ever more complex organisations.

It is vital all appreciate the growing complexity and the ever-changing nature of schooling as it moves from an era of constancy to a period of on-going organisational transformation and rapid evolution.

Digital convergence naturally promotes ever closer integration of operations in and outside the organisation, tightens the interrelatedness of all the parts and opens the way for genuine synergy but at the same time positions the organisation’s CEO – the school’s principal – as the only person who can ultimately decide how all the myriad of parts can best be fused and directed to the on-going realisation of the school’s educational vision.

It requires a special kind of person not only to understand the interconnectedness of the parts in a networked organisation but also to ensure in a time of rapid, invariably spasmodic change all the variables, in and outside the organisation impacting on the school’s performance are constantly attuned to providing the desired education.

The more we research schools working within the networked mode the more we recognise the critical importance of and central role played by the principal, and the impact of his/her appointment and performance on the on-going success of the school.

The importance of the principal in a traditional paper-based school was, as the research attests, considerable.

Our research is suggesting that importance markedly escalates once a school goes digital and in particular networked.

The importance is as great, if not more so, as that of the CEO of a modern corporation.

Like a CEO principals alone can’t ensure the organisation’s success.

Principals alone can however most assuredly stultify a school’s development by laying on the ‘dead hand’.

Newly appointed principals can most definitely destroy years of hard developmental effort by the school and its community.

The research undertaken with colleagues over the last five years (Lee and Gaffney, 2008, Lee and Winzenried, 2009, Lee and Finger, 2010, Lee and Levins, 2012, Lee and Ward, 2013) affirms success in the digital and networked mode is always dependent on the leadership of astute principals. Whether it is

  • adopting an apposite shaping educational vision
  • the choice of the desired staff
  • the empowerment of all staff
  • cultivating a culture that accepts change as a natural part of the developmental process
  • ensuring a tight nexus between the educational vision and the use of the technology
  • providing all staff the requisite digital tools
  • expecting all teachers to normalise the use of the digital in their teaching
  • ensuring every teaching room has the requisite connectivity and technology
  • genuinely collaborating with the parents in the teaching of the young
  • the dismantling of internal and external school walls
  • pooling the resources of the school and its homes
  • the move to BYOT
  • the measurement and optimization of the benefits to be realised

ultimately it is the principal who determines the success or otherwise of those moves.

One can add many more.

Many of the principals whose work we examined, working as they are so often in unchartered territory, openly admitted to making wrong calls and needing to take an alternative route but all understood that after the listening they alone had to make the final decision.

Digital Acumen

In our research over the last five years all the principals leading successful schools operating in the digital or networked mode demonstrated a high level of digital acumen.

On first glance that might seem blindingly obvious.

If today I were in my old position as a director of schools or chair of the principal selection panel I’d not appoint a principal unless she/he had demonstrated that acumen.

Again that would appear to be obvious but in Australia today that is still not readily evident in the literature or the policies of the national or state governments.

In 2008 Professor Michael Gaffney and I writing in Leading a Digital School (Lee and Gaffney, 2008) stressed that although principals did not have to be an expert they did need a macro working understanding of the digital technology with which they would be working.  The digital in all its forms is core to all facets of the school’s operations and as the school’s chief educational architect they have to know how it should be used astutely.

Principals who delegate the technology to a middle manager are abrogating their role as the school’s chief educational architect and any hope the school has of going digital.

As the school’s ultimate decision maker the principal requires a level of digital acumen to see through ever more sophisticated technology sales pitches, keep ‘under control’ enthusiastic staff and technology specialists, ensure the apposite technology only is acquired, waste is avoided and the technology deployment is tightly linked to realising the desired educational benefits.

In the years since that imperative has become ever greater, and importantly will continue to do so as the digital moves from the periphery to being core.

So too has the importance of the principal working with a networked mindset, a mindset that emerges out of the understanding acquired in the normalised whole school use of the digital and networked technology.  As Thorp identified in 1998 in those businesses that had gone digital and networked (Thorp, 1998) the CEOs had to abandon their Industrial Age thinking and bridge the then considerable lag between the capability of the technology and the thinking of the organisation’s leadership if the organisation was to use the ever more sophisticated technology astutely.

The same has to occur with all school principals.

Those lacking that mindset and associated digital acumen will almost inevitably curtail the school’s effective use of the technology or botch its use, in both cases impairing the school’s development and the education it provides.

So too do unwittingly do the Australian National Professional Standards Principals issued by AITSL in July 2011. While the Standards contain much that is laudable and should rightly be expected of all principals they express what Sergiovanni (1987) was expecting of principals 25 years ago.

The all-pervasive sense in those Standards is that schools and the role of the principal will largely remain the same as we have known.

The use of technology, let alone digital technology is not mentioned once, nor is the notion of schooling undergoing a fundamental organizational transformation or they requiring principals able to lead rapidly changing, ever evolving, ever more integrated and complex organizations.

If Australia’s governments and education employers regard those as the standards that will enable Australia’s principals to compete internationally the Australia is already well behind the competitors.

One of the great shortcomings of the Standards is that the methodology used to identify them ensures they are an expression of the current expectations of those at the middle of the bell curve, most of whom are still leading paper based schools.

They don’t express in any way the requirements of the global pathfinders.

In contrast our research focuses on their cutting edge work and experience and uses that analysis as a guide for others following.

Principal’s Selection Criteria

If you want to appoint a principal with the wherewithal to lead an ever-evolving digital school able to compete with the best internationally you must plan the appointment as meticulously as any high stakes education initiative.

The appointment can’t be left to chance or the dumping of a compulsory transferee.

The selection criteria must express the expectations of the school, and specify the digital acumen and high-level awareness of and skill in leading highly complex, ever-evolving, tightly integrated and complex organisations required.


The emerging reality is that the quality of the principal will determine the success of all the school’s offerings and the students’ attainment such is the importance of the principal in a digital school.

If Australia genuinely wants to continually enhance the nature and standard of its schooling and move to the fore internationally it is imperative it advocate the appointment at schools small and large of principals who can successfully lead ever-evolving digital schools operating increasingly in the networked mode.

What does one do with the current ‘dead hand’ lot?


CBI (2012) First Steps: A new approach for our schools November 2012

Lee, M (2012) ‘Sustained Evolution or Increasing Stagnation?’ The Australian Educational Leader Vol 4, 2012

Lee, M and Gaffney, M (eds) (2008) Leading a Digital School Melbourne ACER Press

Lee, M and Winzenried, A (2009) The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools Melbourne ACER Press

Lee, M and Finger, G (eds) (2010) Developing a Networked School Community Melbourne ACER Press

Lee M and Levins, M (2012) Bring Your Own Technology Melbourne ACER Press

Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: Transcending the schools walls Melbourne ACER Press

Sergiovanni. T (1987) The Principalship, Boston  Allyn and Bacon

Thorp, J (1998) The Information Paradox Toronto McGraw-Hill

Posted in Digital normalisation and school transformation, Digital Schooling, Leading digital schools, School principals and digital school | 1 Comment

Digital Normalisation and School Transformation


Search for Apt Folk to Interview

I’ve embarked on the writing a major work on the impact of the normalised use of the digital, in and out of the school, on the nature of schooling in the developed world.

The work will focus on the fundamental transformation of schooling that has occurred in those pathfinding schools which have gone digital in the last decade and moved away from the traditional paper based operational mode, the impact of the normalised use of the digital in those schools today and from that analysis identify the likely major trends and issues all schools will have to address.

The study will make use of the research undertaken in writing seven previous works in this general area, but conscious very little has as yet been written on the impact of digital normalisation, particularly on schools I’ve embarked on interviewing a cross section of some 50 -60 folk in the UK, US, Canada, HK, NZ and Australia who have played a leading role in those schools or who have observed the impact of digital normalisation on schooling, particularly over the last decade.

I particularly want to talk with the leaders of that as yet rare group of schools that have normalised, or near normalised the whole school, indeed whole school community, use of the digital.

I’m talking about schools not simply with the digital technology in every teaching room but where the digital is being used naturally in the everyday teaching by all the teachers.

I’m not looking for anything written.

I’d simply like the chance to garner the observations in a Skype interview.

To guide the thinking I’ll provide an overview of the areas I’d like to cover, as the desire is to address all facets of the school’s operations, thinking and relationships, not simply the teaching and learning.

If yours is a school that has either normalised the use of the digital or you know well the work and thinking of such schools and are happy to give of your time and thoughts I’d like to hear from you and then arrange a time in the coming months when we can talk.

Email me at –

Mal Lee

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Where to After the Digital Education Revolution

Included under Articles is a copy of the lead article of the first edition of Educational Technology Solutions for 2013, that on ‘Where to After the Digital Education Revolution’.

Highly critical of the Australian Government’s Digital Education Revolution the article draws on my earlier work to suggest the best way forward educationally and economically is not more government hand outs but is for all Australia’s schools to pool the considerable digital resources of the students’ homes with those of the school and to use them collaboratively.

Posted in 24/7/365 teaching and learning, Benefits of IT in schools, Benefits of school technology, BYOD, BYOT, Collaborative Schooling, Collaborative Teaching, Digital Schooling, Home-school collaboration, ICT waste, Normalised use of the digital in schools, Use of Instructional Technology in Schools | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Where to After the Digital Education Revolution

Identifying the Benefits of School Technological Change

Mal Lee and Lorrae Ward

One of the great shortcomings in schools today is the absence of appropriate approaches or methods school leaders and teachers can readily use to adjudge the various benefits flowing from the introduction and use of an ever-growing suite of digital technologies in their school. These benefits are wide ranging, relate to more than one group of participants in education, and vary in nature. Some are financial, others are academic, still others are related to relationships and the way people collaborate and work together. Adding to the complexity there are also the unintended consequences and the potential dis-benefits for some.

That shortcoming is ever more apparent in those schools that have gone digital and networked. They have daily to decide on the value of technological solutions while contending with the pressures of constant, rapid and often uncertain change, and of undergoing a fundamental organisation evolution where there is a pronounced move away from the old silo like operations, the dismantling the traditional internal and external school walls, an ever greater integration of operations and a realisation that educational success is dependent upon astutely addressing suites of interrelated variables.

The present measurement tools were designed for schools characterised by their constancy and continuity, and are of little use or value in the new ever-changing environment.  They were most assuredly never intended for schools where game-changing technologies can markedly impact a networked school’s modus operandi within months. Rather, they were intended for the siloed, paper based world of the 19th and 20th centuries; a world where the complex interactions and relationships between activities, people and contexts were not as apparent as they are today. In that world one measured specific outcomes and attempted to attribute causality to specific interventions or events. In this world the potential of technology to disrupt business as usual was not recognised, or realised.

The solution we believe lies in learning from the corporate world and how it has enabled organisations to identify the impact and value added by the technology in a constantly evolving setting.

We full well recognise that schools are, and should be, very different from business but as you’ll see below there is much to be learnt from how the corporate world has successfully addressed a raft of the issues that schools that have gone digital are now facing.

Fundamental is the adoption of what has been variously termed the Benefits Realisation Approach or Benefits Realisation Management (BRM). More recently benefits realisation has become an integral part of a framework known as Managing Successful Programs (MSP).

With adaptation, and the recognition of the complexity of teaching and learning, of the multiple contexts, multiple participants and widely divergent outcomes, we believe that benefits realisation can, and should, be successfully utilised by schools. One of the key issues is the language used and the confusion between notions of outcomes and benefits. Schools have always focussed on achieving outputs or outcomes. In benefits realisation these are the stepping-stones to realising benefits – the “good” that comes from successfully implementing an initiative.

That is what the authors are currently working upon.

The desire is to provide an approach with rigour that can be readily used in every school, small and large, at little or no expense, by those working everyday with the technology and constant change to inform their decision making, while at the same time allowing them to identify and account for the program benefits accruing.

The growing imperative is to provide those in the schools the tools to identify the benefits and to measure their realisation, while also monitoring the successful implementation of new initiatives and their impact on other areas of the school.  The speed, complexity and distinct local nature of the change largely remove external bodies from the play.

Note that we are not advocating the large-scale collection of data or evidence beyond that which schools currently do. Rather we are talking about a framework for better utilising the evidence schools already have; for directing its use to realising benefits rather than compliance activities alone.

To read the full article click here.

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Now Available – Bring Your Own Technology

Bring Your Own Technology: The BYOT guide for schools and families, that I’ve written with Martin Levins is now available through ACER Press.

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Normalised Use of the Digital & School Websites

Debbie Northway from Ipswich in Queensland asked after the last post if I could point her in the direction of some exemplary sites. In response I wrote:

Thanks for the question.

Had the chance to reflect upon it last night

Tis very important because I suspect it may well be a question that has never been addressed before – hence my replying both to you and the list.

Rather than pointing you to specific sites – which as mentioned I’m reluctant to do for a number of reasons – I suspect it would help your quest more if I made a number of observations you could build upon.

Thus far most educational administrators, the bureaucrats – and sadly politicians – have regarded schools as places of constancy and continuity, where nothing really changes and where they can continue to apply ‘one size fits all’ solutions.

The ‘cookie cutter’ website reflects that thinking.  So too does the base most are built upon. They were never designed to accommodate on-going rapid change or the plethora of purposes for which they can be used.

The reality, that all on this list full well appreciate there is now an immense – and indeed ever-widening difference between schools, with some still firmly staying with their paper operational base and others that have long left that mode of schooling, that have normalised the use of the digital across their total community and which are operating in a fundamentally different networked paradigm.

In contemplating one’s school website the key is to recognise every school is unique, with its own distinct context, community, resource base, size, leadership and staffing mix, all at different points in their evolution.

The kind of site employed by a small regional primary school with limited staff compared to that of a 2,000 student multi-campus school will, and ought be significantly different.

One needs a site apposite for one’s situation, the school’s educational agenda, the principal’s thinking and where the school is at and where it wants to be operationally.

That said there are a number of common attributes that our research has revealed hold with all schools, small and large.

The principal has to commit to the on going resourcing, operation and evolution of the website.

Significantly every one of the websites we examined in those schools that had normalised the use of the digital was employing what we called a digital communications suite, which had at its core the website and which was integral to the everyday workings of the school.

That communications suite was a tightly integrated, multi-faceted, multi-way facility, built around an integrating website, with personalised communication with all within the school’s community and a complementary set of social networking facilities that allowed the school to take full advantage of the efficiencies, economies, productivity and ultimately the synergies possible in a digital world, and in particular the student’s personal technology.

The suite is integral to the school’s everyday collaboration with all within its it’s community, in and outside the school walls and as such needs to be a facility all can readily use and access.

While other might want to comment these are suites to be used by all, and as such ought not be simply the domain of a school promotion’s unit or a contracted web designer.

They all used some type of WTSWYG platform able to accommodate rapid on-going change, that required little specialist know how to operate, could be used by all members of the school’s community and most importantly could be seamlessly integrated with other ever-emerging facilities.

Significantly most were inexpensive that made extensive use of free or inexpensive Web 2.00 facilities or apps.

All had an operational overseer – often from the information services, instructional technology or iCentre team, who were allocated the requisite time and support – but all also were designed to be used by all members of the school community from the very young upwards.

That to which I contribute allows three of us as community members to work on our weekly contribution outside the school walls, to post it several days before its due use and for the work to be readily integrated with other contributions in the weekly multi-media communiqué with the school’s community.

That particular school in a village setting has a commitment to collaborate with its community in the 24/7/365 education of its kids and so includes in that communiqué information on both school events and those being conducted by local organisations for the kids.

All incorporate in the communiqués a regular, sizeable body of material on the school’s information services.

Each school, and in particular each school principal has to make the call when the school should open its operations for scrutiny, take away the password block and trust the teachers, the students and parents.

It is a significant decision but vital if the school wants close, normalised collaboration between the school, its homes and its community.

What needs to be borne in mind on contemplating such a website one has to do the requisite homework and address basics like having parent permission to show student’s photos and ensuring you always have the parents/interested parties latest email, SMS or Twitter address.

Debbie – think by now you’ll appreciate the answer you are after is that you’ll want a solution apposite for your current situation but which has the ready facility to grow as the school evolves.

Twould be interesting to hear what others also working on their school sites have to say.

As I flagged at the outset thanks for the question for ultimately it is one very practical issue every school will have to address.

Posted in Collaborative Schooling, Collaborative Teaching, Digital Schooling, educational megatrends, Evolution of Schooling, Home-school collaboration, key performance indicator (KPI), Networked School Communities, Normalised use of the digital in schools, School Executive Information service, Uncategorized, Use of Instructional Technology in Schools | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Normalised Use of the Digital & School Websites