Relic or Really Important: Rethinking school routines, beliefs & practices

When I speak about culture I ask two questions:

What do we think about school?

What do we do about it?

For example, if we view teaching as more monologue than dialogue we will arrange the learning environment to support the didactic teaching mode over discussion and group-based learning. Or, if we think that education is about individual advantage, we will create a culture of competition rather than collaboration.

An independent school has been a focus in the Australian this week for all the wrong reasons, an opinion piece about it in The Australian earlier this week commented that there are schools which

“steadfastly adhere to conventions, structures and systems appropriate to the late 19th century. Even more alarming is the absence of dialogue designed to prepare the schools for the present or the future”.

The Australian, Wednesday 21 March 2018


This leads to two questions:

  1. What are the conventions, structures and systems to which schools adhere, that are inappropriate to this century? This is the question that is at the essence of idea of the ‘relic or really important’ idea, evident in school culture.
  2. How do we engage in a dialogue designed to prepare the schools for the present or the future? Take a ‘relic or really important’ audit of what is happening every day at school.

Last century important social norms shifted. For a long time it was acceptable for the employment classifieds in the newspapers to separate the ‘positions vacant’ into two main categories, ‘men and boys’ and ‘women and girls’. This practice was in place in Australia until changes to employment law in 1984. It was the convention that there were separate employment opportunities based on gender and this was supported by the recruitment system. Society once considered that gender mattered to career opportunities (think), and this was evident in recruitment processes (do). When the legislation changed to become non-discriminatory it was a result to changes in societal norms and as a result restructuring of the prevailing conditions occurred.



Engage in the Think-Do Progression.

Just like the changes to employment legislation, there are areas in which we have made significant gains in education, such as abolishing corporal punishment in school, due to society pressure. However, there are probably many things we do at school, that I suspect have been carried over in each generation, and in the busyness of school-life we may not have had the time to think about and reflect on their relevance to today – these may be big or small.

The Think-Do Progression is a structure that enables us to pause, and then observe and gain understanding of how thinking aligns with what is observable.

Here are some examples of the Think-Do Progression

Teaching and learning

Think Do
I need to get through
the curriculum.
Plough-on with content
and students need to keep-up.
I need to teach
my students well.
Adjust the delivery and the approaches in a way that considers
the differences within my class.


Flat or lean leadership structure
facilitates growth and potential.
People to take initiative and be innovative.
Hierarchical organisational
structure ensures order.
decision-making, slowing down
Collaboration and interdependence
facilitates better decisions.
Arrange for teams, including
leadership teams to be co-located in a shared space.

Student success

Student success is a
competitive sport.
Students don’t study together
for fear of giving their
peers an advantage.
Student success includes academic achievement but is also related to
acquiring skills they will need in the future.
Students are able to pursue
interests and passions and
collaborate with their peers.

The Think-Do Progression provides a means by which we decide how to bring change in practices, human behaviour or policy. It may start with addressing changes to community expectations (think), or by observing practices that seem to be inconsistent with our values (do).

I have prepared a-Do Progression Template for you to work on this idea in your setting.  Complete the form to request a copy:


Senge, P. M. (2012). Schools that learn: a fifth discipline fieldbook for educators, parents and everyone who cares about education: New York : Crown Business, c2012.

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