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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

Changing the Operating System of School

Aaron Dignan’s Brave New Work opens with a question: What’s stopping you from doing the best work of your life?

Throughout this book, Dignan answers his own query by suggesting that, quite simply, work might not be working for us any more - at least the way it is currently organised. “We are being asked to invent the future,” he says, “but to do so inside a culture of work that is deeply broken.”

Much of what he goes on to say rings true and connects with what we’ve probably heard elsewhere: Traditional org charts and their associated systems more often than not inhibit rather than inspire great work; the organisational agility that is required of us today cannot be achieved within hierarchical top-down structures founded on bureaucracy and control; most of us have sabotaged our true potential by unwittingly adopting an inherited, but outdated, set of assumptions about what our work-a-day world should be like.

What makes this book stand out for me, however, is the way it calls for a complete change in the operating system - the underlying assumptions running in the background - of the schools, companies and organisations of which we are a part.

A photograph of a roundabout from above

Dignan illustrates the importance of the operating system by describing the contrasting set of assumptions that underpin two ways of managing the safe flow of traffic: the signal-controlled (traffic light) intersection and the roundabout.

There is too much in Dignan’s work to even begin to do it justice in these few lines. This is a book to read and regularly return to. What is sticking with me right now, however, is the question of how far our underlying - often tacit - assumptions are informing both our understanding of how schools work and how students learn.

Do we start from a position of trust and offer those around us the space to use their own judgement, believing that they will do the right thing, or do we rush to control with rules and complicated systems of compliance?

Somewhere in the answer to this question, I believe we discover the kind of schools we really need and, more importantly, what’s stopping many of the students in our schools from doing the best work of their lives.


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