Schools and Change – Do We Adapt or Do We React?

A recent post by Clay Shirky – Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis – got me thinking about schools as institutions, and how they handle change. Here’s a quote form the post:

“The ability of institutions to adapt slowly while preserving continuity of mission and process is exactly what lets them last longer than a single leader or lifespan. When change in the outside world outstrips an institution’s adaptive capabilities, though, the ability to defend the internal organization from outside pressures can become a liability. Stability can tun into rigidity and even institutional blindness.”

Now, Shirky is talking about the news industry here, but the idea applies to all industries. So for schools too, institutional history and momentum are important. But change is inevitable and necessary, and it is how the organization changes that determines how well momentum and continuity of mission are carried through. A key notion here in how change is met – and it is a notion that needs to be made clear – is that  being adaptive is different than being reactive. In other words, all change is not healthy. An organization is adaptive that changes its long term goals based on a changing world, and acts accordingly to meet those goals. A reactive organization changes according to immediate environmental pressures and, if it survives, becomes a product of those pressures instead of a product of its own intention and mission.

These questions come to me:

  1. What are the changes that schools are currently undertaking (private and public), and are they being reactive or adaptive?
  2. Shirky speaks of institutions as needing continuity of mission and process. How much of what we do is up for discussion while still retaining continuity of mission, and is continuity of process a requirement for stability, or is process potentially one of the things that might need to change in adaptation?
  3. Is it perhaps the preserving of schools as institutions in their current form that keeps us from making the changes needed to actually fulfill our mission in education?

Your thoughts appreciated.

Also look for more on these questions in future posts…

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