Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

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  • David Willows

Advancement and the Life Cycle of Schools

If Advancement for schools is concerned with navigating a path into the future, then there is plenty of evidence to suggest that most of us are travelling along the same route.

The idea isn't new. Since the late 1950s, organisational life cycle theory has suggested that all organisations evolve in a manner that is akin to human development, from birth to maturity and, ultimately, death. There are plenty of models out there, but in the end even a brief literature review will reveal that there is only one fundamental disagreement between those who have written on this subject: whether this growth is linear and predictable or, ultimately, more akin to walking through a multi-level maze. And, if the latter, which level we are on is always dependent upon decisions taken at any particular moment in time.

So what does this mean for our schools? Let's consider for a moment the impact of both ideas.

The Linear Model

We can discuss all day how many stages there might be, but let's assume for the sake of argument that there are four: Start-up, Growth, Maturity, and Decline. Whether we focus on an individual school, a particular market, or indeed the idea of international education globally, it would appear to suggest three things:

  1. The idea that we are all travelling along the same route.

  2. The idea that there is always someone ahead of us, and always someone behind.

  3. The idea that, as many international schools take comfort in their legacy and current reputation as mature organisations, there is an inevitable decline to follow.


Is there an alternative to the linear model of organisational development?

The Multi-Level Maze Model


It's harder to say precisely what "levels" there may be, but let's imagine a building in which an elevator can freely move us between four floors: Building up, Tearing down, Stabilizing, and Stagnating.


Unlike the predictable path towards an inevitable decline, this model offers a different vision of a school's future; a vision in which we can choose to move between different modus operandi.


There may be other stages, of course, but the point here is merely to suggest that the role of the school's leadership in this model is critical and determinative. There is no inevitable decline as in the previous model. Rather, there is the autonomous choice to tear down - inspiring words such as disruption, innovation, and revolution - and, by the same token, the choice to stagnate, which for many organisations leads, if not to financial bankruptcy, at the very least a moral one.


In the end, I'm not convinced that these two models are an either/or. What I am persuaded by, however, is idea that we cannot truly think about our future without taking the time to consider what they teach us about every school in which we work.


Photo by Wim Arys on Unsplash



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