Building Resilience and
Adaptive Capacity in
Stephen Murgatroyd, PhD and Jean Stiles, MEd
Before we can understand
resilience and adaptive capacity, we
need to understand the school as a
Five Key Elements of School as an Eco- System
Every child comes from a complex family, cultural and social
Every teacher comes from a different complex, family,
cultural and social system coupled with assumptions about
their role, professionalism and tasks
Every school is placed in a community and communities
have complex histories, biographies and dynamics
Every school is part of a school system and no two schools
within that system are the same and no two school systems
are the same
Every school has rhythms, disruptions and dynamics which
change daily - superficially the same, always different
Making sense of a school as an ecosystem requires
us to understand:
Small data and nuances of the school – insights which
shift understanding and perceptions and provide “ha-
Big data – patterns over time
The compassion, empathy and emotional climate of the
The learning outcomes within the school – not just those
tested for, but those cared about
The social complexity of the school as an ecosystem
Understanding the different motivations and needs of
Few of Us See the School as a System
We can see the surface – the “tip of the iceberg”
But beneath this tip of the “iceberg” ecosystem
Change and opportunity dynamics
Expectations and performance dynamics
The drama of the lives of students, teachers and
The failings of the school in terms of equity,
performance and compassion
Deviation dynamics – the exceptions, the “falling
through the cracks” challenges
The Importance of the Student Voice
What they say:
Richness of Experience
What they want
Compassion and respect for them as persons - e.g. as
part of the design of learning
Feedback which enables not disables
RISK: THINK MOST ABOUT
THIS IS OK THIS IS SCARY
LEVEL OF RISK
Our ability to
cope is a
which is a
function of life
being rich not
Focus and alignment around a challenging key purpose and challenge
Optimism about being able to change and make a difference
Decisiveness – “no one else is coming” so “let’s get it done”
Integrity and a focus on quality experience and outcomes
Open Communication and a high degree of self-organization / internal trust
Collaboration up, down, sideways and outwards
Empathy, Warmth and Genuineness shown through compassion for all in the
school – students, teachers, colleagues, parents
They do this work through these actions..
Build and empower teacher teams..
Build and empower supports for learners and learning
Enable the student voice to be heard
Connect to others around the world: collaborate, engage, adopt/adapt
Focus, re-focus, and focus again on equity as an ambition in terms of
outcomes for all learners
Never let a good crisis go to waste..
Use “small data” to capture the nuances of their work
Which requires them to..
Build a commitment to a common purpose and agreed outcomes. Using evidence, dialogue and
sharing of successes to show that the agreed outcomes are not only possible, but have been
achieved by colleagues within the school.
Value similarities and differences. Rather than seeking an enmeshed and rigid sense of how to work
on the schools, the schools seeks to build it adaptive capacity by celebrating and valuing
differences and diversity.
Listen and talk to build understanding. Some talk. Some listen. Sometimes they do both. However,
the key to the resilient school is the search for understanding and meaning.
Strive to achieve authentic, valued and meaningful outcomes for each student of the school and
each staff member. This is more than a commitment to try to work towards common outcomes;
this is about finding the authentic voice for each teacher and student so that their work and
investment of energy is truly valued. The key word here is “authentic” – the genuine pursuit of the
inner professional voice of the teacher to deliver support for the students learning and personal /
social development intentions
Adaptive Schools are not the Same as
Highly Organized Schools
Highly Organized Schools
Machine like administration focused on
predictability and reliability.
Strong centralized control.
Substantial policy and procedures formally
Highly organized and regimented
Resilient / Adaptive School
Living organism that adapts to conditions daily, weekly,
Teamwork dominates the methods of working.
Patterns are recognized and responded to.
Leadership is distributed, engaged and situational.
Risk taking occurs within a context of care for others.
Passionate focus on success for all - sprints for performance
and ”Catch-Nets” for those who struggle
How Small Data Gives Insight – More
Small Observation Opportunities
Student voices and engagement
Teacher-share and engagement
Systematic small scale, in school research
(researcher in residence)
Adopt a “Student with Promise” (one who the
school needs to attend to…)
Map Your Teaching Year (Highs, Lows) and the
Walk the Hall and Listen and Chat…make notes
Drop in Classrooms and Look
Community focus groups
Innovation Through Hands on Learning and Drop
In to Another Teachers Class
Equity and a Change of Language
How changing language can change
behaviour. A school used to use the
language of “students at risk” and sought to
encourage faculty identify students who
were at risk. Few faculty did so. But when
they changed this ask to “identify students
with promise whose promise is unfilled” not
only did they get a much larger response,
they also received a great many suggestions
from faculty about what an appropriate
response to the students need might be.
How changing context can change outcomes. When
a teacher gives a context to some task or challenge
then students see the task or challenge in that
context. Changing the context – for example, rather
than being a health care context it becomes the
context for a new video game – can change how the
learner approaches this task.
A colleague did this – asked his class to create the
rules for a new battle game between conflicting
parties and then showed them how their rules for the
battle were similar to the rules for a particular legal
process. “One class I wont forget in a hurry…”
Observing and Change..
How observing peer groups can produce
better group activities. A teacher set three
groups different versions of the same task –
each group had a different component of the
same problem and the “solution” required all
three groups to realize that they needed to
share information between the groups if any
one of them was to be successful in solving the
problem. Though she had not intended to
formally teach problem solving skills, she used
the experience of the group work to do so with
the result that the next time she undertook
group activities all of her groups performed
better, faster, smarter.
Pupil Pursuit and Patterns..
How watching an individual student try to
master a complex problem can help identify
problem solving skills which can be shared. The
teacher sat with a student who was struggling
with some basic chemistry. Rather than explain
the chemistry, the faculty member explored
how the student was thinking about the work
and what kind of processes they were using to
“solve” the problem. This generated several
insights not why this and other students were
struggling with thinking like a chemist and led
to significant changes in the design and
delivery of these courses.
Innovation from Observation
How close observation leads to innovation. In
designing a new approach to the design of a
new program of studies, a small team spent
time discussing the hopes and ambitions or
potential students and realized two things: (a)
the students were looking for far greater
flexibility and choice than existed in any other
program available to them – they were looking
to “mix and match” their own program; and (b)
they wanted the opportunity to be flexible in
how they studied (some in-class, some online,
some through intense but short courses, some
A Global Café - Safe Place to Risk
Staffed by social workers, counsellors and
A hub for student led projects and
A place for some down time
A friendship centre
A counselling and support hub
All profits invested in student led learning
Big Data versus Small Data
Big data is hard: Doing it at scale and waiting for trickle down benefits can take time. Many in
the college or university do not understand the analytic models and the complexities of the data
and they are also suspicious of correlational data being used to suggest causation – a common
mistake. Small data, in contrast, is a story or understanding which can be shared quickly and
effectively and is easily related to.
Small data is all around us: Social channels are rich with small data that is ready to be collected
to inform learning design and educational decisions. At a personal level, we are
constantly creating this small data each time we teach a class, mark assignments, log in, browse,
post etc. Understanding patterns from these observations can trigger change.
Small data is at the center of the new understanding of student behaviour. Small data is the key
to building rich profiles of our students. Not just who they are, but how they think, work, share,
engage and work with others. Understanding these behaviours and ways of thinking should led
to significant improvements in pedagogy and the design of learning, especially online learning.
Big Data versus Small Data (…)
Data-driven learning is the next wave: Big and small data-driven learning design has the potential to
revolutionize the way faculty interact with students and knowledge, transforming how students interact with
each other and how students utilize knowledge resources for learning. This work will also transform assessment.
Platform and Tool vendors are starting to pay attention: New tools are emerging which enable faculty, students
and others to capture and share small data so that we can identify patterns quickly. Collaborative software with
pre-designed capture tools are growing in use and a number of small data supports (Kanban systems, quick
video capture) are growing in use for this purpose.
Small data in education is about the learner. Small data is about the learner: what they need, and how they can
take action, what supports work best for them, how they use learning resources, what they know and don’t
know about the technology they use. Focus on the the learner first, and a lot of our decisions about teaching,
learning design, technology supports will soon become clearer.
Simple: Small data is the right data, some small data will start life as two or three faculty members making the
same observations about how their students approach a leanring challenge. Soon big data can be used to look
at the behaviour on a larger scale, but you shouldn't need to be a data scientist to understand or apply small
data for everyday tasks. Less is more and simple and small is good.
3 Keys to for Small Data
Collaboration is the DNA of the Adaptive School - Collaborative sharing of
insights, observations and practices – sharing small data – can lead to major
changes in what we teach and how we do so.
Not Just a Story - move beyond anecdotes and look for patterns.
Anthropologists do this well – they study the behaviour of groups and then
discern the patterns in this behaviour – rituals and routines - and then pay
attention to deviance.
Think Like a Kindergarten Group - work collaboratively, problem solving as you
go, do lots of prototyping until you find a workable solution and then go for that
solution with gusto.
Resilient and Adaptive Schools
Because they have…
Moved beyond coping and surviving
Moved to understand their internal
strengths and capacities
Flaws and understand what they are –
they are working to leverage them,
change them or live with them
Diversity and leverage this diversity to
gain strength and create opportunities
Energy for being better all the time
They also have..
Engaged staff and students and
Constant innovation and change
A collaborative professional learning
Energy for the next thing..
Resilient and Adaptive School are
Resilient and Adaptive Schools Learn..
Create an proactive, creative and innovative
approach to the unknown and the about to
Engage and involve stakeholders, especially
students and staff
Build trust so that risks can be taken, failures
learned from and change is constant
Move beyond coping to adaptation and
Inspire and motivate towards a common