No matter the region, schools across the United States are recognizing the importance of adopting the right technology solutions today in preparation for the learning demands of tomorrow and beyond. In other words, they are becoming “future ready.” Earlier this year, the Department of Education released its 2016 National Technology Plan and celebrated the first anniversary of its Future Ready Schools initiative. For school districts to truly be future ready, it must go beyond one-to-one device initiatives and teaching apps. Schools, administrators and IT managers with a future-looking view on education already are thinking about the larger ecosystem, forecasting the emergence and impact of new technologies, and quickly adapting to the rapid changes taking place in the learning environment.
Here are nine steps for schools and administrators to consider in order to bring future-ready momentum to the classroom:
1. Embrace a powerful vision of student-led learning.
The first step to approaching a future-ready education initiative is to identify and envision your organization’s end goal. In today’s learning environment, it should be students at the center, not the educators. For many learning instructors, this paradigm shift from a traditional teacher-led classroom to a student-centered one can be a challenging transition. While teachers and administrators play a critical role making a classroom future ready, students should be more involved in technology decision-making and deployment. Some schools have elected “technology ambassadors,” students who are trained on new tech and thus empowered to teach their fellow students.
2. Align leadership, management, and resources with goals.
Behind every successful initiative is a series of benchmarks for realizing your vision, and that’s no different than when deploying education technology. Those goals are nothing without key stakeholder buy-in, funding and the right talent to drive the momentum. J. Sterling Morton High School in Chicago — an underserved community — was challenged with providing their more than 2,100 freshman students with personal computers. By meeting a goal of expanding technology access, the school was able to equip their students with the devices needed to make their classrooms more technologically accessible.
3. Assess where your schools are now.
Measurement is a great way for school districts and administrators to understand their realities and ground their vision in something tangible and measureable. Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia developed a rubric to measure against specific benchmarks across all key areas, including research and information fluency, communication and collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, and creativity and innovation. The Teaching Innovation Progression Chart was designed to encourage conversation around 21st century learning and assess progress in meeting the goal of full integration of today’s classrooms.
4. Identify the future-ready skills to focus on.
Education needs to evolve, so as to teach and prepare students for the needs of our future workforce, and the skills needed to drive this continue to change. It’s important that schools forecast and prioritize learning for those needs. In an effort to equip the next generation workforce with the skills needed to succeed, the Urban Technology Project in Philadelphia (UTP) trains and certifies students in computer support with its “Geek Squad.” UTP places them in Philadelphia public schools as technicians, so students are directly immersed in the field in advance of, or as an alternative to, a four-year college.
5. Create a professional development plan for future-ready skills.
Once you’ve identified skills and focus areas, get the leadership infrastructure in place to support your initiative while equipping your team with the right training and tools. As you craft your professional development plan, it’s important to remember that teaching and learning outcomes should map the end goal of student-led learning. Ideally, your professional development program should mirror what you desire from your new learning model. For example, if you are building a project-based learning rubric, your professional development model should also be project-based. This will help instill confidence in teachers shifting into new models — and will go a long way to building success.
6. Grant students equitable access to technology and information.
Providing students with equal access to information can help shrink the digital divide. Oakland (Calif.) Unified School District equipped its students with more than 8,000 personal notebooks to better support personalized learning and meet online testing requirements set by California’s state standards. This gave more students the opportunity to access online resources and cultivate the skills necessary to make them successful in today’s digital workforce.
7. Develop assessments to measure student progress in future-ready skills.
Assessing students’ progress in mastering future-ready skills is a key component of building a successful future-ready initiative. However, you need to make sure you have the right metric. Education that is future ready should be aimed at developing productive citizens around creativity, critical thinking and working collaboratively regardless of the career path. Additionally, demonstrating the importance of ‘learning how to learn’ is as important as specific subject matter material.
The Texas High Performance Schools Consortium (TASA) is a great example. Made up of 23 school districts, part of TASA’s mission is to improve student learning with a focus on digital learning environments and assessing students in more authentic ways. TASA accomplishes this in part by measuring students against high priority learning standards that “focus on development of the whole person, tapping curiosity and imagination, and providing opportunities for all talents to be cultivated, nurtured, and valued.” Effective assessment will measure student progress for future-ready skills that utilize alternative ways of demonstrating mastery of knowledge.
8. Collaborate with outside partners and community.
As the adage goes, it takes a village to raise a child. It takes the support of an entire community to build a successful future-ready initiative. SHAWCO, a nonprofit organization supporting the developing communities in South Africa, lacked the computing facilities and technology needed to meet the growing demand. The organization rolled out a number of fully connected solar-powered learning labs equipped with the latest servers and switches, offering a secure and power-efficient way to access the internet. By working with the local community, the organization was able to help students prepare for continued education course exams, while providing dependable internet access in an area with an unpredictable power supply.
9. Plan collectively and strategically for the future.
You can develop an entire plan based around future-ready learning, implement it to a T, and still fall short on expectations if you don’t remain mindful of its core. Ultimately, future-ready education is about making content relevant to students’ lives and creating opportunities for students to interact with each other, with teachers and with other knowledgeable adults in authentic learning experiences. Aligning your team around a number of strategic priorities that personify your vision will ensure the success of your future ready initiative.
Overcoming the misconception that future-ready initiatives are all about the technology can be challenging. It’s important to start seeing students and teachers as partners in their education and recognize that student voice and choice are at the helm of successful future-ready education initiatives. Technology and the devices used are only secondary to that mission.