National Principals Leadership Institute- Designing Schools for the Future

This past summer, I was invited as a member of C21 Canada to attend the National Principals Leadership Institute in New York. The invitation provided for a presentation on the work of C21 Canada as well as an opportunity to serve as a leadership consultant to school and system leaders from across North America. The theme of the institute was designing schools for the future with a target date of 2040. One of the advantages I had as a Canadian Superintendent was my intimate knowledge of the work done in my home province of Alberta with Inspiring Education. The document that accompanies this path forward, focuses on preparing students for the year 2030  to be engaged thinkers, ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit. This information assisted me in my work with participants as well as reaffirmed the work we are currently doing in my own school division.

The structure of the Institute was its greatest strength. Each morning a keynote presentation set the stage for the sub theme of the day. The keynote presenters were not directly connected to the K-12 education system and therefore, gave a unique perspective on designing schools for the future. Two panels followed, with the first addressing the keynote presentation while the second provided implications to schools.  The addition of the panel that addressed the implications in education drove home the importance of thinking beyond our own paradigm to truly design schools that will meet the needs of future generations.

There were a variety of futuristic topics, from urban planning to innovation, which laid a strong foundation for the team planning sessions in the afternoon. Participants were divided up into teams with the end result being the design and presentation of their school for the year 2040. Given our understanding that communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration are essential for student success in today’s ever changing world, the team format allowed administrators to live the experience we want in our classrooms.

The resulting projects were outstanding and more importantly doable. Although technology was leveraged in the future schools, it was not the dominate design. Common sense prevailed and a keen sense of current research on child development, teaching and learning. Innovation wasn’t simply categorized by technology but often it was by doing something different, perhaps more efficiently, more effectively or more deliberately. Multi-age classrooms, project based learning, common assessments and a mentality of learning for all where evident in all futuristic schools.

For some, including those (should be) common staples of education into future schools may be disappointing. But it seems that putting our vision of education into the Star Trek world of  teleportation is just too far-fetched. The challenge is letting technology serve us better in what we know about child development, teaching and learning. The frustration is in the knowing-doing gap; already knowing what we need to do but not doing it beyond the pockets of excellence that exist around the world. The presence of members from the C21 Canada Leadership Academy at the Institute provided some direction on moving from pockets of excellence to scaling out and scaling up. The latest publication, Shifting Minds 3.0 Redefining the Learning Landscape in Canada pursues a dual strategy of both improvement and innovation that is required to both maintain stability and enable forward momentum.

Designing schools for the future is about improvement and innovation. It is about challenging assumptions and beliefs and confronting the brutal facts. It will be messy and on a road less travelled. But it is what students deserve and what committed educators desire and that was evident throughout the Institute.

Many thanks to Lew Smith and Jann Coles from NPLI for the invitation and to all the leaders who I had the pleasure to work with during my time in New York! Best of luck in beginning your 2040 design today!




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