This is the first in a series of posts that examine how schools and districts are planning for and implementing digital learning efforts. We are also hosting monthly webinars to dig deeper. The first two webinars are archived and available here.
In November of 2014, President Obama challenged district superintendents to sign the Future Ready Pledge. By signing, school leaders committed to working with teachers, families, and community members to transition their districts to "personalized, digital learning."
Since then, close to 2000 superintendents representing roughly three out of every 10 students in the United States have signed the pledge. A coalition, led by the Alliance for Excellent Education, the U.S. Department of Education, and the LEAD Commission is hosting Future Ready Regional Summits across the nation to provide support for those districts and to build a network of leaders.
What does it mean to be a Future Ready School? Technology clearly plays a role, but it's not the driver. Learning is always the goal, with pedagogy and curricula as the driver. Technology, in this context, is the accelerator. Which technology is right for your school or district? There isn't one right answer to this question; but how you answer the question is key.
It's important to recognize that the transformation from a traditional school to a Future Ready School is a process. When engaging in this process, first and foremost, you'll need to take a long look at your leadership as well as review the policies and procedures you have in place.
A Future Ready School embraces a culture of change and improvement. This is a culture that looks for solutions and isn't afraid to confront sacred cows. How do you build such a culture? Find a school with great school culture, and you will find a school with great leadership. Likewise, find a school with poor school culture, and likely you will find a school that needs to reassess its leadership strategy. In a tight or diminishing budget, a Future Ready School leader doesn't ask, "What should we cut first?," but instead asks, "Where can we find the resources we need?" There are certainly many other environmental factors that contribute to culture. You can't control everything, but you can control your leadership strategy.
A Future Ready School implements procedures that streamline the paths to your goals. Look at your school's bureaucracy because it is bureaucracy that creates inertia in any organization. Inertia is tough to alter, but that's a good thing when it propels you in the direction you wanted to go anyway. Good bureaucracy is rarely viewed or thought of as bureaucracy because the processes, checks and balances, and procedures of the bureaucracy don't unnecessarily impede outcomes, and the accountability it provides is both universally understood and produces data used for improvement. Bad bureaucracy causes people to question why they're required to follow the prescribed procedure. With bad bureaucracy, you hear complaints like "This is a waste of time," "Why do I have to do this?," or worse, "What?! Don't they trust me?"
An examination of your procedures and processes can streamline your staff's work and may reveal staff perception of messages you may or may not intend to communicate. If you asked your staff their opinions on your procedures and processes, do you think they would be open and honest with you? If not, that alone speaks volumes.
A Future Ready School establishes processes that anticipate a changing landscape. Look at how you use time. Time is a precious commodity for any organization, and losing time to unnecessary processes can be detrimental to your core mission. When you examine your procedures and processes, ask yourself, "Is this process Future Ready?" You can answer "yes" if you believe the process won't require substantive alteration in order to be useful as new technologies and trends enter the workspace. By establishing a Future Ready process, you not only help establish a culture that can change with the times, but you save yourself time later since you will not have to rewrite the policy.
For example, the state of Maine passed a law to make it illegal to text while driving. However, lawmakers recognized that a "No texting while driving law" would not withstand the constantly changing landscape of technology. Instead, the law was written as a "distracted driver" law. Whether you are texting, tweeting, or using an app, you may be pulled over by law enforcement for not paying attention to the road.
Your leadership and how it manifests itself in your district and school policies are only the tip of the iceberg. A quick look at the Future Ready Schools framework reveals seven major areas of concern that are framed by leadership: 1) Budget and Resources, 2) Use of Time, 3) Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, 4) Technology and Hardware, 5) Data and Privacy, 6) Community Partnerships, and 7) Professional Learning. Ignore one, and like the proverbial three-legged stool, the entire effort will fall.
Join a growing network of schools supporting each other to be #FutureReady. And dig deeper into these important topics by joining our Essential Elements for Digital Learning edWeb community and webinar series.
It's About the Learning, Not the Technology … Until It Breaks
July 23, 2 p.m. Eastern
A look at tools and resources to help your technology department stay in the background, and be home on time for dinner. Employing successful device management solutions and technical support strategies including student tech teams can be the key to success.
Telling Your Story Effectively: Building Community Engagement and Positive School Culture
August 20, 3 p.m. Eastern
Learn to define your own success in a meaningful way through data, digital citizenship, and the national PTA standards. Utilize these tools to reach out to your parents, students, teachers, businesses, and taxpayers.
Laptops, Tablets, and Chromebooks? BYOD? Practical Advice to Help You Find Your School's Solution
September 24, 3 p.m. Eastern
Explore the increasingly diverse device landscape to help you make good decisions about devices, software, and digital content. Learn how Common Sense Education can help you find the next great learning app.
Curriculum and Instruction: Building a Better Mousetrap
October 22, 2015, 3 p.m. Eastern
Blended learning, hybrid learning, digital learning, flipped classrooms, and project-based learning -- jargon overload! Examine models that provide a meaningful common language to promote better understanding of your school programs. Learn to use these models to guide effective professional learning in your school for teachers, administrators, and technology staff.