Many researchers and authors within the education industry and beyond have formed a case against the need for educational change in order to prepare today’s students for the challenges and opportunities that they will inevitability encounter in the future. It can be agreed upon that education most definitely needs to undertake major reform in order to ultimately meet the needs of our future students, our country and the world in general. In our upcoming book, Leading Modern Learning: A Blueprint for Vision-Driven Schools (Solution Tree, 2015), we explore a major question: How do we determine and enact needed education change in a complete and lasting manner? Our book offers a “blueprint” of practical and proven approaches to help redesign your educational environment.

We go onto examine seven key topics framed as questions:

  1. How do we develop a bold and compelling vision for education in the 21st century?
  2. How do we epitomise our vision for 21st century education into a legitimate undertaking?
  3. How do we collaboratively plan “backwards” from results to focused actions?
  4. What are the building blocks for a modern syllabus and how do we develop upon them?
  5. How do we effectively assess disciplinary achievements?
  6. How do we align instruction practices, resources and tools with our goals for a more modern approach to learning?
  7. How do we communicate student growth and achievements for today’s learning?

While the blueprint covers a lot of ground, we would like to explore the first question briefly in this blog. In our experience, the challenges faced in regards to enacting substantial and needed change in schools starts with a stable and strong foundation- a vision for the future of education in our system.

Traditional strategic planning practices often start with audits and gap analysis of our system within the present context. Too frequently, school strategic plans rarely reflect a compelling image for the future. Instead, they are more concerned about fixing the present, as opposed to actually creating a plan and vision for compelling future to help guide educational reform movements.

We believe that a convincing vision for the future starts with the end game in the mind: a concrete, achievable, progressive vision for the future of your organisation. Following the backwards design approach, we encourage schools and their communities to invest time in developing a future focused approach to driving their planning for improvement.

A “futures visioning process” for attaining a vision for the future is discussed in some detail in our blueprint.

The process is usually used in business contexts, which we have experienced success in adapting to the use with schools. Ideally, this process should be commenced over an extended period of time (six months to a year) with representative groups of stakeholders. Students, parents, teachers and administrators should all participate equally.

We propose a practical and provide three-stage process:

1.       Develop a Knowledgebase

It is important to note that a futures visioning process is not about predicting the future; it is instead about exploring the potential futures that may emerge in this complex century. It is vital that the future visioning team develops a knowledgebase about future trends and drivers of change. Without this knowledgebase, participants may revert to uninformed assumption, past experience and personal preference. There are many excellent published resources such as those provided through Knowledge Works, which can be read and discussed. You may enlist a speaker for a professional development day and or organise an info-evening meeting for parents. Observing a series of thought- provoking, future-oriented TED Talks is a stimulating way to enlist staff and parents in the process. Students can also actively engage and generally are keen to talk about their futures.

2.       Generate Scenarios and a Preferred Future

We suggest using various methods to help communicate a preferred future within the complex variables that will dictate how the real future arises. Applying a “scenario-based” visioning process allows a team to explore the potential implications associated with multiple drivers of change (such as technology, employment trends, globalisation etc.) on the future and identify a preferred position between the separations these drivers could represent. One practical tool we present is a foursquare matric through which possible futures can be discovered. For example, consider one axis displaying one continuum (e.g., Standardised and Personalised) and the other axis displaying a different continuum (e.g., In-Class Learning and Out-of-Class, 24/7 Learning).  The group can go onto exploring various points within the matrix and discuss better futures for their system. Whilst this technique may sound somewhat abstract, it has ultimately proven to be a highly effective way to move from insight developed in the first step to more tangible desired end goals.

3.       Create Future Artefacts

The definition of a better future may also be tangible, accessible and convincing for the entire community. We describe a “future artefacts” process as one, which helps to bring a desired future down to earth and make the vision a concrete one. This is a highly collaborative and creative team process. Participant’s select from a menu of artefacts to construct, that represent the core of their desired future. Artefacts such as student schedules from 10 years in the future, school design, future report cards, magazine covers and custom T-shirts and bumper stickers allow to “show not tell” the vision through engaging stories from student, community and school perspective. This process alone and its final product can help drive the vision and gain buy in across the oragnisation and the community.

This post has overall touched one of the introductory pieces of our blueprint. Our book also offers a template for building a modern syllabus and assessment system and discusses key instructional changes needed to prepare students for future orientated learning. We furthermore recommend that modern school demand a transformation of the traditional school reports into a more vigorous, transparent and personalised communication system that highlights the student’s growth and achievement of our vision and mission for modern learning.

This book’s title is suggestive. A blueprint sets out the parameters and elements that are required to bring a complex architectural design to life. Our blueprints, which are made up of a sequence of strategies and frameworks help support, focused and synchronised efforts aimed at change. We hope and believe that you and your co-workers will find this boom a compelling and educational read.

Guest Author Jay McTighe January 9 2015