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Is your school sufficiently preparing your students for the future? Providing students with all they need to navigate an increasingly complex world requires more than individual educators – it calls for the close collaboration of teachers, staff, administrators and stakeholders, as well as organizational structures to support them. Too often, still, schools hesitate to take a step back and view their organization as a whole. But this is exactly what would enable an important, more holistic and efficient way to face the challenges of tomorrow.


Future-proofing schools starts with the organizational view

Change is the only constant we're facing. Still: “change” so often feels like a burden to educators. The pandemic has turned the world of education upside down and left the majority of educators drained. Workload increased and resources were scarce. To succeed as an educational organization in the increasingly dynamic future, it is crucial to take the pressure off individuals and focus on building a more resilient network and structure around them.

This means considering the organizational perspective on your school. Business jargon and comparisons are not so popular in the world of education. However, this allows us to view how we collaborate and coordinate tasks in a more holistic way. Have you ever felt like endless discussions without a clear outcome keep coming up, parts of decision-making seem inefficient, there are information mismatches or individuals are overwhelmed with responsibilities outside of their capacity? Then you should begin to consider: “How does this play out collectively throughout the school?”


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Looking beyond education: Schools are special but not unique 

One might think schools are special and work in unique ways. Yes, schools are special – but they are not unique regarding their organizational challenges. They are special in the sense that they are

  1. driven by purpose more than in most other organizations,
  2. have to deal with the complexity of determining and optimizing learning outcomes,
  3. are driven by people, making social processes and close personal relationships a number one priority.

But there are a three more important aspects to consider from an organizational perspective:

  1. School organizations, as their communities, are highly diverse. International schools should be considered world leaders on inclusion, diversity, equity, and awareness. Diversity is a blessing and a strength – but if you don’t approach this with great sensitivity and awareness, it can really become a burden.
  2. Schools are also characterized by a lot of transitions and turnover in their communities. That applies to staff and leaders, as well as to students and their families. We speak so much about shaping school culture – but that's not enough. A high rate of transition needs structures to stabilize it.
  3. Lastly, school organizations are dominated by educators. Educators work for the “love of learning”. As leaders, they grow through the ranks of schools. They change schools, but rarely gain experience in other industries. That makes schools true “expert organizations” – experts in their fields, but very few bring different expertise, backgrounds, or training.

Nevertheless, even though schools operate in a special context, if we start treating every single decision or challenge a school faces as unique, we can’t benefit from past experiences, best practices and foster effective processes.

However, if there is a coherent system and well-set up structures preventing the individual treatment of every issue, you will be much faster and have more energy and to take care of the special cases that are actually relevant (which in reality only happens about 20% of the time). Once 80% of daily communication, collaboration and coordination follows a structured system, relevant information is communicated more transparently, working together becomes more effective and individuals will ultimately be less overwhelmed.

This is easier written than it is done, of course. Still, the first step to changing to this direction involves considering outside expertise from other sectors; looking beyond education and even into some corporate best practices.


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How to create positive change with organizational structure

Based on the observations above, here are some key points for how schools can affect positive change in their organizations:

  • Start by taking on an organizational perspective of the school. This means reviewing current collaboration mechanisms, decision-making efficiency and team performance, as well as daily communication routines like handling conflict or giving feedback. 
  • Improving in the areas mentioned above requires a solid foundation. Building structures that elevate collaboration and improve decision-making effectiveness, e.g., could be re-designing current team structures and communication platforms, ensuring psychologically safe environments or creating more opportunities for people to connect. 
  • Lastly, seek out expertise from other fields: While educators are the experts in education, there is much to be gained from seeking out expertise from other fields. This might involve hiring staff with diverse backgrounds and experiences, or partnering with experts in fields like technology, business, or psychology to bring new ideas and perspectives into the school.

By focusing on the organizational view of the school, we can create positive change that will help to future-proof schools and ensure that they continue to thrive in the face of ongoing change and uncertainty. This requires building coherent structures and systems for effective communication, collaboration and decision-making.


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