Special Editorial Executive Member, David Gurr
Education Change and the Pandemic
Professor David Gurr - The University of Melbourne.
Many are saying that our experiences of the last two years will lead to transformational change in education. We often hear the re-emergence of the catchcry about never wasting a crisis. In Victoria, we have witnessed the extraordinary endeavours of educators in all sectors, responding to multiple lockdowns (six in Melbourne) and border closures limiting interstate and overseas student movement. In the school sector, over the last two years, remote schooling has been provided for more than 40 per cent of the available school days. Whilst lockdowns now seem to have ended, the effects of the pandemic are continuing - the next ACEL Q&A Forum (May 18, 5-6pm, online) is focussed on how because of forced retirements, illness and so forth, schools are currently struggling to recruit teachers for casual and on-going roles, and to fill leadership vacancies.
Reflecting on the pandemic impact on schools, across the world in many countries that don’t have Australia’s wealth advantage, lockdowns have been more devasting with schooling stopped and no alternative provided. Even where some type of remote learning was provided, the closure of physical schools compromised the health, welfare and safety of many students. Whilst the pandemic has highlighted the adaptability, creativity and professionalism of educators, it has also highlighted that importance of a physical school and how schools provide so much more than education. It seems that schools having a physical school presence in communities is likely to become more important, not less.
Education is changing - it always has and always will. Some see the pandemic as an opportunity for rapid revolution and transformation in education. However, the renewed importance of a physical school presence is likely to negate any rapid reconfiguration of schools; it is somewhat less clear for the post-school sector. More likely, and so as not to waste our experience of the pandemic crisis, there is an opportunity for recontextualising education – a process that encourages a critical consideration of beliefs and practices to build upon and, hopefully, improve what we currently do. What will this look like for you and the educational organisation you work in, and what will be your role in leading this change? The next ideas provide a partial answer.
Leaders of any organisation need to be thinking about the future. In school education this often means having a 20-year vision to account for the time that families will likely have their children in schools. Using the ideas of best and next practice can be helpful. Figure 1 provides a framework and some guiding questions for educational leaders to consider as they lead organisational improvement over the near and distant future
Figure 1: Next Practice Framework
What is included in the four categories is somewhat self-evident. Past practice is focused on the things that were once done and no longer exist (or not commonly). In considering past practice there can be a deliberate engagement with what has been, and if this is neither a romanticised or overly critical reflection, it is likely to result in a genuine attempt to understand why things were done, what impact they had, and, perhaps, why these practices no longer exist. Current practice is what currently occurs, this can range from very poor to very good practice, and there should be a reflection on why these practices exist and their impact (with this leading to change perhaps). Often in seeking improvement, there is a search for what is working elsewhere, and often this is framed in terms of uncovering what works best. Best practices are those practices that seem to be, or have evidence, that they are better than current practices. They are not yet widely evident, but they are emerging and might, in time, become so ubiquitous they become current practice. Then there are practices that are a clear break from what is currently known or practiced – next practices. They might be something that is genuinely new (e.g. school-based management in the 80s and 90s), or they might be an innovative reconfiguring of existing ideas and practices to create something new (e.g the current use of blended face-to-face and online learning). There are several ways to configure this diagram to suit your context. For example, a conservative organisation may have the past and current shapes enlarged to indicate that it is less inclined to change, only allowing for moderate innovation through best practices, and with little interest in next practices.
As an educational leader, how will best and next practice considerations guide your leadership of organisational improvement?
Angelico, T. (2020), Educational Inequality and the Pandemic in Australia: Time to Shift the Educational Paradigm, International Studies in Educational Administration, 48(1), 46-53.
Caldwell, B.J. (2020). Leadership of Special Schools on the Other Side, International Studies in Educational Administration, 48(1), 11-16.
Drysdale, L. & Gurr, D. (2017) Leadership in Uncertain Times, International Studies in Educational Administration, 45(2), 131-159.
Dunn, R. (2020). Adaptive Leadership: Leading Through Complexity, International Studies in Educational Administration, 48(1), 31-38.
Gurr, D. (2022) Leadership of Schools in the Future. In A, Nir (Ed.) School Leadership in the 21st century: Challenges and strategies (NY, NY: Nova Publishers), p. 227-309.
Longmuir, F (2019). Leading Best Practice or Next Practice? Leadership in Action, 2, 2p. (Sydney, Aus.: Australian Council for Educational Leaders).
Zhao, Y. (2020a). Speak a Different Language: Reimagine the Grammar of Schooling, International Studies in Educational Administration, 48(1), 4-10.
Zhao, Y., & Watterston, J. (2021). The Changes We Need: Education post COVID-19, Journal of Educational Change, 22, 1-12.