Schools Of The Future

What should future schools look like? What will be most valued and important? What should we study? What is the purpose of education? Every school, district, community should be asking themselves these and more questions. From my perspective, we can’t possibly answer these questions in the same way we have for the past 20, 50, 100 years. There will be different opinions and strategies but we must all dream, debate, and then do school different. Here are my essential components to successful schools of the future.

Equity (gender, racial, ethnic, economic, education, geo/political) will be a major driver of change, despite resistance from the status quo. These issues are deeply intertwined in local, regional, and global contexts. The Black Lives Matter movement and the global refugee crisis are latest examples of the disenfranchised demanding equity. As one example of change in education, Harvard and other highly ranked universities have initiated Turning The Tide to provide more equity in the college admissions process. We may never completely solve equity issues but we should never stop trying. Why? Humankind is not going to wait for a slow evolutionary process to unfold controlled by status quo groups.

Deep Relationships
For starters, students must have biological needs met and feel safe and supported in order to learn. Strong, positive relationships with adults and peers in school creates a solid foundation for a successful school environment. But deep relationships also includes the learning itself. Students that interact deeply with content while practicing multiple skill sets gain confidence in their understanding of the world around them but, more importantly, themselves.

No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.    –Teddy Roosevelt

Ubiquitous broadband access and low priced tech platforms will enable all to reap the benefits of being connected. Virtual Reality field trips, global collaborative problem solving via Skype, learning with and from artificial intelligence and robotics, and teachers benefiting from real time data feedback are happening now or in near future. How can we imagine education without technology in a complex and connected society? However, tech in school isn’t game changer until we shift instructional and assessment practices to leverage its value. That is the bigger issue with tech use in schools. We still use analog thinking in a digital world that is experiencing exponential change.  Children and families seeking equity in Africa, Asia, and South America won’t rely on traditional learning venues once they gain control of learning through technology. Schools of the future will have technology embedded in all facets of learning.

The “one size fits all” maxim seems ridiculous at this time in education. Every one of us develops at different paces, driven by different interests. Historically, educators designed learning strategies for the masses. Today, there are new learning strategies and tools. But, it appears that “scaling up” is always part of the process. If it can’t be scaled up, it loses commercial value. And when scaling up is successful, standardization usually follows.  Micro-schools may be a partial solution to the factory model mentality. Regardless of school size or context, children will maximize their learning potential through an individualized learning plan in schools of the future.

Authentic Curriculum
What 20th century curriculum is enduring and what needs replacing or simply eliminating? Clearly, we overwhelm learning with too much content. The future will see individual schools and districts collaborate around a community view of the skills and knowledge necessary for graduates to be successful, create a local graduate profile, then build the curriculum around these understandings. Attention to health and wellness will gain traction as part of daily school life. Why do kids from Whynot, North Carolina (zip code 27341) need to learn essentially the same curriculum as kids from Minot, North Dakota (zip code 58701)? Outside of essential literacy and numeracy skills, schools need much more flexibility on the curriculum and pathways to credentials. Not everyone learns the same thing in same way at the same time. Bottom line: more skills learning, less content coverage, more interaction with the real world. Click –> What To Learn and then scroll down for resource list on what and how to improve curriculum.

4 Cs++
First explained as collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication, it now expands to include innovation, leadership, and other skills like Tony Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills and Hanover Research crosswalk on 21C Skills. Schools of the future will be incorporating more conscious practice and learning of skills, less content.

What matters most in our increasingly innovation-driven economy is not what you know, but what you can do with what you know.                  –Tony Wagner

Life isn’t lived in separated silos. Neither should curriculum. This is a relatively easy fix when teachers across subject areas collaborate about essential multi-disciplinary themes. Students have opportunity to experience how the world is inter-related and make connections in their learning, just like real-life.

Voice & Choice
Lack of motivation is a common complaint when discussing students disinterest in curriculum and classroom work. Throughout my junior high/senior high/undergraduate life, I was an unmotivated student but a passionate, excited learner for things I cared about. Providing students opportunities to self-direct their learning creates interest, heightens motivation. No one who has control over their learning is bored and usually not a discipline problem in the classroom.

Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.               –Daniel Pink

Real World Learning
Internships, working on local or global problems, volunteering, supporting family or community, making presentations to authentic audiences, exploring outdoor environments, practicing skills/values like responsibility and ethical behavior are tremendous learning opportunities but underutilized in today’s schools. We have created the illusion for students that the academic world is the real world. No better way to erase this false belief than by immersing student learning outside the traditional four walls of classrooms with lots of room for messy mistakes. Every space is a learning space.

Project-Based Learning
Properly designed and implemented, project-based learning leads to higher engagement, deeper understanding of content, collaboration, and interaction with the real world. This approach combines many of the components already mentioned in this post. As the Buck Institute states, “PBL should be the main course, not the dessert.” Note that PBL isn’t used to the exclusion of other learning strategies.

Assessment For Learning
Growing body of evidence that ongoing assessment with frequent formative feedback shared by teachers, self, and peers leads to learning that sticks. Traditional grading is great for sorting, ranking, and testing but falls short when improving learning. Standardized testing may be around for a long time but the high-stakes nature of accountability and extreme value assigned to results will diminish. Ridding students and schools of politically driven accountability and eliminating penalties for making mistakes is a start to focusing on assessment for learning. Ken O’Connor’s A Repair Kit For Grading is a must read in making the grading shift to support learning.

Digital Portfolios
The death of the traditional report card can’t come too soon. Many schools have already digitized the teacher’s grade book and report card. But few have moved to a digital portfolio to tell the story of individual learning journeys (what I know and can do). Although 24/7 access to online assessment platforms by students and parents can be a double-edged sword, timely updates and feedback on a more frequent basis lessens impact and need for report cards.

Every student should have a collection of personal bests–a cloud-based story of their development and artifacts of accomplishment that’s easily shareable in full or in part and organized for presentation.  –Tom Vander Ark

Multiple Pathways To Credentials
Even the Carnegie Foundation calls ongoing use of the Carnegie unit a “crude proxy of student learning.” Yet it remains a central tenet to measuring student learning from kindergarten to graduate school. Schools around the USA are trialing alternative credentialing systems such as competency-based learning, badges, and micro-credentials. Schools of the future will value and verify learning in very different formats.

So go ahead. Ask your questions. Dream, debate, and create your school of the future.