Eight Keys for Transformative School Design via ASCD Express

Gearing Up for ChangeJuly 27, 2017 | Volume 12 | Issue 22 

Eight Keys for Transformative School Design

Reblogged by @splozza

Eric Sheninger and Thomas C. Murray

Change is not just coming to education; it is already on our doorstep. With advances in technology and a radically evolving society, it is incumbent upon schools to take a critical lens to their culture and determine whether students will be prepared to succeed in the new world of work. Our students need to be able to create new industries, find new cures, and solve tomorrow’s global problems. We have identified eight keys to design tomorrow’s schools so that today’s learners are prepared for success far beyond earning a high school diploma. Each of these eight keys serves as a puzzle piece for redesigning the education system.

Leadership and school culture lay the foundation for improvement. School improvement efforts rely heavily on collaborative leadership. Education leaders are tasked with establishing a collective vision for school improvement and with initiating change to spur innovation, ensure student learning, and increase achievement. In a world where the acceleration of change continues to grow exponentially, school cultures need to evolve at a faster rate to keep pace. A new foundation must be established through relationship-oriented, innovative leadership practices to create a culture of learning that will prepare students for their future, not our past.

The learning experience must be redesigned and made personal. Studies in neuroscience have indicated that students typically forget most of the fact-based information that they memorize while in school. Shoving this information into students’ brains wastes time and resources, while engagement plummets. Learners crave the opportunity to follow their passions, explore their interests, and engage in relevant opportunities. Student agency in classrooms (voice, choice, and advocacy) must become the norm, not the exception. Instructional pedagogy must focus on higher-order skills and problem solving, while anytime, anywhere learning must become a realistic possibility for today’s learners.

Decisions must be grounded in evidence and driven by a “return on instruction” (ROI). The evolution of educational structures has created a generation of students focused on grades, not learning. Students need to be afforded authentic opportunities to use real-world tools to do real-world work that matters. Improving assessment is a step in the right direction, but a more concerted effort to provide evidence that technology affects learning and achievement is needed. There must be an ROI that gives evidence of improved student learning outcomes supported by data (qualitative and quantitative), artifacts, improved observation/evaluation procedures, and portfolios.

Learning spaces must become learner-centered. A shift in pedagogy mandates a shift in learning space design. Such changes are not merely isolated ideas drawn from the latest Pinterest board, but rather wholesale reorientations born of necessity. Schools and classrooms must be transformed from a teacher-centered, industrial-era model to personal, learner-centered spaces that correlate with research on how design influences learning. Learning spaces need to be flexible, provide areas for movement, and promote collaboration and inquiry.

Professional learning must be relevant, engaging, ongoing, and personal. Various studies indicate that the top-down, one-size-fits-all, hours-based, sit-and-get approach to professional learning has little to no effect on student achievement. Nevertheless, many schools continue down this path. A more personalized approach to professional learning, where growth is valued more than hours obtained, is needed to shift instructional pedagogy.

Technology must be used to accelerate student learning. Many of today’s classrooms use amazing 21st-century tools in 20th century learning environments. Research indicates that one of the most common forms of integration—using tablets or other devices as platforms for digital drill-and-kill—has no effect on achievement. School districts continue to buy more educational technology than ever before, often with little to show for it. However, when it is effectively used, technology can amplify great instruction, adapt to the individual needs of the learner, and make learning more personal. Transformative school design promotes responsible use of and equitable access to technology.

Community collaboration and engagement must be woven into the fabric of a school’s culture. Parents are instrumental in their children’s academic success. Yet while some schools work to create a welcoming environment, many others create cultures in which parents hardly feel welcome at all. The majority of businesses and universities have little to no relationship with their local schools. From daily collaboration to consistent, relevant communications, today’s schools need to be collaborative partners and the hub of the local community.

Schools that successfully transform learning long-term are financially, politically, and pedagogically sustainable. A budget impasse. A political attack. A shift in instructional pedagogy. How will your school district’s success stand the test of time? With the average district superintendent tenure lasting only a handful of years and the pending retirement of a generation of experienced school leaders, long-term sustainability is needed to avoid turmoil that will negatively affect future generations. Is your school built to last?

It’s time to fundamentally redesign schools to overcome obstacles, help families break the chains of poverty, and provide dynamic learning opportunities for all students. We must create and lead schools that are relevant for the world our students live in—not the world we grew up in— starting now. The solution begins with you!
Eric Sheninger is a senior fellow and thought leader on digital leadership and learning with the International Center for Leadership in Education. Thomas C. Murray serves as the director of innovation for Future Ready Schools, a project of the Alliance for Excellent Education, located in Washington, D.C. Preview their new book, Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today.


ASCD Express, Vol. 12, No. 22. Copyright 2017 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit http://www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.

Is the Tide Turning? Hope for Struggling Schools

Justine Greening’s speech at the Sutton Trust’s Mobiity Summit must have given a glimmer of hope to every leader currently serving in schools with challenging contexts.
It’s been a long time coming, but as James Bowen, Director of NAHT Edge, wrote recently in the TES ‘Greening’s signals for a less ‘punitive’ approach towards struggling schools’ could be the ‘light we’ve been waiting to see.’

It has been well documented that disadvantaged contexts impact hugely on both educational attainment and school quality, which are typically lower than that of other schools. This is primarily due to the difficulties with the recruitment of high-quality teaching staff, limited ‘short-life’ funding, high levels of pupil mobility and the increasingly low starting points of children, who are ‘quite frankly’ just not ‘school ready’ upon entry. Yet, despite these facts being widely cited, schools continue to be battered by high-level, punitive accountability measures. Is the tide about to turn?

Greening acknowledges that: “We do need to move away from a perception of a reliance on a pure punitive intervention approach. We need to, moreover, move towards a culture of having the right support in the right places at the right time, and I think for too long our strategy hasn’t had that breadth to it, and perhaps that clarity around it.”

Yes, Ms Greening, we do indeed need to move towards a culture of support, rather than this prescriptive, short-sighted approach that sees some leaders reduced to ‘playing the numbers game’ rather than incentivising them to play for the long-term gains that can only be achieved when ‘time’ and ‘money’ are factored into the equation.
As someone who has the privilege of working across schools with some of the ‘highest levels’ of deprivation in the country. I see first-hand just what our ‘amazing leaders’ are doing for the life chances of the children in their care. Actions, that simply cannot be measured under our current, narrow ‘data driven’ system. For the 3.7 million children living in poverty in the UK, their most basic needs must be met first – before the learning process can start.

I don’t know of any leader who would argue against the need to improve. We just need to be really clear about what we mean by ‘improve’.

Leaders, in particularly challenging contexts are generally ‘pretty special people’ who go above and beyond the call of duty to ‘improve’ the quality of life for the children in their care. They know, that success for our poorest children cannot really be measured ‘fully’ until they reach adulthood. When it is hoped, that despite the challenges they faced as children, of low aspirations, low income and unemployment, poor housing, poor health, tiredness and hunger, they emerge fully prepared from our education system, with the knowledge, skills and understanding to take their place in society. This can only be achieved, when leaders of our schools in challenging contexts, across all phases,  ensure that our poorest children are fed during term time and through the holidays; make provision if they need a place to sleep during the school day; enrich their lives through engaging learning experiences and above all, keep them safe, loved and nurtured – because that is what our poorest children need.

It is with this relentless focus on ‘improving’ the life chances for our poorest children that will give them the fighting chances as adults, to compete against their more privileged counterparts in securing a sustainable income through long-term employment and a longer life expectancy. Surely, that is the real measure of success?

Most leaders are guided by a strong moral compass who genuinely want to make a difference for children. Yet when you hear of dedicated leaders exiting the profession due to the stress caused when a set of results does not meet the ‘required standard’ and the context of the ‘why’ is pretty much ignored. You know that we haven’t got it right YET!

We all need to work together to secure school improvement in our most struggling schools. This improvement must be contextualised because there is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution to the challenges they are facing. Schools serving depriving communities need ‘time’ to improve outcomes for children.

Fund them well – and let them lead the way!