Monday, 25 September 2017

The canonical principle

Schools are complicated, dynamic institutions. Those who lead them must cope with multiple competing demands on their time, all the while trying to shield those who work for them from the worst ravages of bureaucracy. The aim must be, surely, to liberate teachers to get on and do what they are paid for - to teach. Nonetheless, keeping up with the ever-changing landscape of legislation and accountability measures can be a tedious and time-consuming business. A policy document written today often needs revision no sooner than it's spewed out of the printer and so, battered by constant updates, the chaos begins. The confusion is made far worse, though, in schools wedded to static documents - be they paper, .pdfs or documents stored on someone's pen drive. 

The holy-grail, I've found - greatly facilitated by cloud computing packages like Office365 or Google - is to embrace what I like to call the 'canonical principle'. Adopting this principle involves ensuring that all the documents staff regularly refer to - be they policy documents, strategic plans, handbooks, or whatever, are cloud-based and dynamic. The sending of static documents under such a system is frowned upon - there is no need for them. Static documents are not future-proof, nor do they work well in organizations that increasingly expect their staff to find material quickly and easily online. Anything leaders can do to reduce the time wasted by their staff searching for stuff, the better. 

Once you have adopted the canonical principle setting up and maintaining your intranet becomes a cinch - links work, and don't need updating. Also, staff know that the document they've found reflects the current truth about an issue. It also becomes possible for documents to link to each other and a coherent, joined-up whole starts to develop. The principle works particularly well in respect of policy documentation, but it doesn't end there. In my experience there are vanishingly few exceptions to the rule that all school documents should be cloud-based and canonical. It's probably only documents that must actually be printed that fall into the exception category (prospectuses perhaps?), though even here there's a strong case to be made for the source files themselves to be canonical. It's far safer to link to a dynamic cloud-based prospectus than to a static one: you know the link won't break, nor will you run the risk of advertising out-of-date information.

I encourage you to join me in adopting the canonical principle :-)