Empowerment And Digital Normalisation


A critical and often overlooked facet of moving the school to the Digital Normalisation stage and beyond (www.schoolevolutionarystages.net) is the need for the school to empower all the members of its community (i.e. teachers, professional support staff, students, parents and community members) and to enable all to have a greater and more effective say in the ongoing operation and enhancement of the school.

So critical is the empowerment, and the accompanying trust, that the evidence suggests that without it schools will be unable to normalise the use of the digital technology on a sustained basis across the school.

In seeking to normalise the use of the children’s digital technology in the school, one is talking about introducing a social practise that requires an apposite culture, and teaching and learning environment for it to flourish. Schools where the children are mistrusted, tightly controlled, with ICT experts unilaterally deciding on how the technology will be used, and where the school’s community has little or no voice in the deployment of the technology, has little chance of normalising the use of the digital.

While the technology is important, far more significant is the creation of a culture that actively inspires all to take risks, to seize the ever emerging opportunities and to constantly explore how best to use the digitally based ecology to enhance the teaching and learning.

An important part of that empowerment is the school’s genuine willingness to distribute the control of the teaching and learning, and to collaborate with all the teachers in and outside the school walls (Lee and Ward, 2013). However, it entails far more is done, particularly with the salaried officers of the school.

The desire should be to create a networked organisation that actively encourages and supports all within the organisation to better understand its workings and contribute to its workings and ongoing enhancement. Lipnack and Stamps (1994), in commenting on the opportunities opened in networked organisations, speak of the importance of encouraging leaders at multiple levels and staff having the autonomy, the independence and the encouragement to take risks in enhancing the organisation’s agenda.

That was apparent in all the pathfinder schools studied in my forthcoming book on Digital Normalisation and School Transformation. It applies not simply with the staff but also with the parents and students. While the business literature speaks only of the staff, the schools looked wider to all in the school’s community.

That quest was in marked contrast to what was found in traditional highly hierarchically organised schools at the Paper Based evolutionary stage. In those schools, not only are the students and parents disempowered but so too are a very sizeable proportion of the teaching and professional support staff. The following typifies the traditional pyramid like structure, still sadly evidenced in many schools today.

That strongly hierarchical, ‘Taylor like’ organisational structure ensures only the few managers at the apex understand the macro workings of the school. The rest of the teachers just concentrate on their part of the assembly line. Theirs is invariably a highly convergent and micro focus that leads to them to view school enhancement through their particular micro perspective, be it as a maths, physics, drama, special needs or early childhood teacher. The consequence is that unwittingly those ‘assembly line’ teachers have been professionally disempowered.

It is interesting to note the long established practise of the teachers being told from on high by the ICT experts what digital tools they would be given, particularly at a time when the same time decisions were being made to let the children choose their own kit. The teachers are neither trusted nor empowered to decide on their own tools.

All of the schools studied commented on the imperative of ensuring the school’s greatest resource, its people, was used to best advantage. One thus sees in the evolutionary stage attributes (Lee and Broadie, 2014) the graduated empowerment and greater professionalism of all the teachers, the development of their macro understanding of ever-evolving networked and integrated schools and the opportunity for all to contribute to the school’s enhancement both holistically and in their specialist area/s. In essence, all teachers from day one of their appointment were regarded as lead teachers.

The same kind of empowerment was evident with the professional support staff, readying all to play a fuller part in the more integrated school. In the traditional school structures, the support staff invariably sit at the bottom of the pecking order, to do the bidding of the teachers, focussing only on their specified duties. Very often the professional support staff, even when actively supporting teaching, were not included in ‘staff meetings’ or provided any digital tools.

Jump forward to the Digital Normalisation stage and into the tightly integrated school ecologies where the traditional walls and boundaries have disappeared, the school operations have moved to a higher order, are closely interlinked and every member of the staff needs have at least a macro understanding of the purpose of the school, the desired educational benefits and its workings. In this situation, you will find the professional support staff strongly empowered, assisting in all the school’s work and actively participating in all pertinent staff meetings.

The children, their homes and the school community have had little or no real voice in the shaping, implementation or enhancement of the traditional paper based school (McKenzie, 2009) (Lee and Ward, 2013). While a few might have a voice on a representative council or school board, their views were often not representative or acted upon.

As the 2011 Project Tomorrow study revealed, one is talking about digitally empowered parents and students wanting to collaborate with their schools, wanting to acquire the technology their children will use in those schools but invariably being denied that opportunity by school principals unwilling to cede their unilateral control.

In moving to the digital operational base, that situation begins to change rapidly. As the schools reach out beyond their walls, begin to genuinely collaborate with their homes and community, recognise the many potential educational benefits of a more socially networked mode of teaching and learning, and vitally become ever more tightly integrated they recognise the desirability of all in the school’s community better understanding the macro workings of the school and being able to contribute to its ongoing enhancement. One sees the creation of a culture that not only encourages change and risk taking, but also expects all the staff to better understand the macro workings of ever evolving schools and take a lead role in its enhancement. The school leadership actively promotes the professionalism of all the staff.

By the Digital Normalisation stage, most within the school’s community have not only been empowered but members from all levels are playing a lead role in contributing to and helping enhance the school’s work.

The normalised, all pervasive use of the technology, and in particular hand held technology, makes it that ever much simpler, faster and inexpensive for the school to collaborate with all within its community, to keep them informed, to provide the desired support, to quickly secure and analyse its views and generally further their sense of empowerment and willingness to contribute to the school’s growth.

One cannot help but be struck by the openness of the pathfinder schools’ activities and the all pervasive sense that not only are all within the school community empowered but that this is ‘their’ school and as such most will go out of their way to ensure it continues to thrive. They not only wholeheartedly support the digital normalisation, but also are both willing and able to contribute to its astute application in the 24/7/365 teaching and learning.

It is a culture largely antithetical to what is known in most schools.

Its creation requires astute leadership and the genuine empowerment of all its members.



  • Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: transcending the classroom walls. Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lipnack, J & Stamps, J (1994), The age of the network: Organizing principles for the 21st century, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York.
  • Mackenzie, J (2009), Family learning: Engaging with parents, Dunedin Academic Press, Edinburgh.
  • Project Tomorrow (2011), The new three E’s of education: Enabled, engaged and empowered,
  • Speak Up 2010, National Findings Project Tomorrow. www.tomorrow.org.


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Mal Lee
Mal Lee is a former director of schools, secondary college principal, technology company director and now, author and educational consultant. He has written extensively on the impact of technology and the evolution of schooling.

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