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.

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