Over the past few weeks, we have been discussing ideas around one of the most significant issues school leaders face today: “What is the future bringing to schools?” We have addressed the role of artificial intelligence, given an example of a student in the future using enhanced learning management and diagnostic systems, and discussed societal drivers of change.
With so many coming at school leader from the VUCA environment, how can you be more proactive than reactive about the future? This blog discusses a straightforward five-step routine school leaders can use to be more future focused.
Step 1: Know the problem you want/need to solve
Part of keeping on an eye on the future is to know the current issues in your school you wish to address. While these may not be as interesting as using AI, there are always achievement, culture, and management issues that need improvement. By knowing what these problems are upfront, you can have a more deliberate process for scanning the environment for solutions.
As an example imagine you wanted to broaden the outcomes for your students by adding more social-emotional learning. By naming the problem you want to address, you can find specific resources, ideas, and methods for this problem. It can help focus your professional reading and guide your selection of professional learning in which you participate.
Step 2: Continually scan the environment
The only way a school leader knows what is coming is to see what is happening in the world outside of your school. To do this as a school leader, I suggest that you either have a standing study group whose job is to scan or to set up an uninterrupted study time monthly for yourself. Putting an hour or two on your calendar monthly seems like a lot, but without a dedicated time, you will continue to stay reactive to the external environment.
To scan the environment, I suggest that first, you have a standard set of resources (blogs, web sites, journals) that you look at monthly. I always try to look at 1) educational sites 2) future oriented resources, and 3) general resources that cover society in general.
You probably have professional sites you go to, but here are some that focus more on new trends:
For future-oriented sites I use
For general sources, I like to look at
Step 3: Look for patterns
As you read through these resources and sites, you will need to keep track of the patterns you begin to see. The human mind is amazing in how it starts to seek patterns in the information it reads or sees.
To help with this, I would create a matrix with the resource title as the row and dates as the columns. As you read, jot down the topic being discussed that you think may relate to education and schools. Even if you think it doesn’t directly connect, think about the implication of the idea. For instance, think about the idea of driverless cars and what this could mean for schools in the not so distant future.
Over time as you fill in this grid, you will start to see patterns and come up with your drivers. These can be compared against professional futurists and their predictions.
Step 4: Think of the implications and share your findings
Once you see patterns for the future, you can start thinking of the implications of these patterns as drivers for your school and education in general. For instance, from the driverless car example, this phenomenon could imply no more need for driver’s education or it could mean that your automotive program will have to add new modules around sensor and network repair in cars. Alternatively, the advent of autonomous flying vehicles could mean a new drone flying club at your school.
As you think about the implications for these particular patterns you found, you also need to think about other organizational implications like resources, training, and time. In the driverless car example, you could probably think about adding this to your current program if you have one. For other things like the SEL example, you may need to think about creating new and different routines during the day. Do you add an advisory time? Do you embed it within other classes? Also, begin thinking if something should be removed if you add a new program or course.
Once you or your team has considered these implications, you can begin to share them with your staff. I always suggest that one time a quarter you take some time to lay out the future to your team in a pre-strategic planning process. Not that you want them to get overwhelmed, but to share with them that our society is in constant flux and schools will need to take some of these issues on eventually.
Step 5: Take time to prepare
Over time as you scan, determine implications, and share with staff, you have started to create a much more future-oriented school. Unfortunately, most people cannot take these ideas and run with them or take all of them on at once. Be thoughtful in choosing innovations, and making sure you are spending a lot of upfront time helping your staff get ready for these changes. Some may be particular to an individual (your auto teacher), and some may include your whole school (SEL ).
Fullan(2016) discusses this last step as embracing a new type of change leadership by first, using a more fluid change process where a school has endless conversations about their directional vision, choosing focused innovations with a lean startup mentality, diffusing learning and risk-taking, and using sustained cycles of innovation. Second, new change leadership needs to focus on using push (being more assertive) and pull (drawing people in) and balancing the two. Moreover, leaders build capacity by identifying the reason for the innovation and developing horizontal (across all grades, departments) accountability.
No matter the innovation, find the best training and resources, and as a leader become highly involved. Your job toward the future is to help interpret it and lead it at your school. You have the power to shape these innovations so stay involved and handover leadership when somebody emerges.
There is little doubt that schools over the next decade and beyond will face a significant amount of pressure to meet the demands of our VUCA world. Schools have always been the place where society believes change can and should happen. For instance, Home Economics was added as part of the curriculum after WW II since so many females had been involved in the war, and policymakers were afraid young females would not be prepared to be homemakers.
Beyond this sexist conclusion by policymakers at the time, many other examples have been added to schools to help improve society. Being future oriented is a new critical function of leaders in K-12 education today, and this simple five-step process can help you stay ahead of the rapid change curve.
Fullan, M. & Quinn, J. (2016). Coherence: The right drivers in action for schools, districts, and systems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.