Seven Components for a School of the Future … Part One

I often use the quote, “None of us is as smart as all of us.” Various people are attributed to the quote. The latest I ran across is that it is an old Japanese proverb. It means what it sounds like, that when everyone contributes and collaborates about something the group is trying to solve, the solution they multi-generate will be better than a solution that was unilaterally developed by one or two people.

As I’ve pointed out in other posts, there should be a corollary to the quote and that is, “except when we are not so smart together.” That translates to the notion that a group may not necessarily be so smart together if they don’t know how to be smart together.

That is why I particularly enjoyed Dr. Scott McLeod’s blog post a few weeks back,, where he poses some really intriguing ideas about what educational movements are driving what a school of the future, whether it be built from the ground up, or restructured will look like, and invites others to continue to contribute to the very important conversation he has begun!

And with his permission I am doing that within this blog. Certainly you are invited to respond to what I will pose here and / or to Dr. McLeod’s  very excellent blog.


I taught a Planning and Change course to brand new doctoral students at St. John’s University this past weekend. Their capstone assignment is to design a school of the near future ( I said 2020 but who’s counting). After much exchange, a simulation, reviewing trend data, and reading case studies they began their preliminary group work.

They have done a good job thus far and will do a better job after having factored McLeod’s ideas below:

  1. Competency-based education and standards-based grading efforts that shift the focus from seat time to learning mastery.
  2. Project- and inquiry-based learning environments that emphasize greater student agency and active application of more cognitively-complex thinking,communication, and collaboration skills.
  3. 1:1 computing initiatives (and concurrent Internet bandwidth upgrades) that give students powerful digital learning devices and access to the world’s information, individuals, and organizations.
  4. The expansion of digital and online (and often open access) information resources that increase the availability of higher and deeper learning opportunities.
  5.  Online communities of interest that supplement and augment more-traditional learning communities that are limited by geography and time.
  6. Adaptive software and data systems (and accompanying organizational models) that can facilitate greater individualization of learning content and pace.
  7. Alternative credentialing mechanisms that enable individuals to quickly reskill for and adapt to rapidly-evolving workforce needs and economic demands.
  8.  ADDED: Simulations and problem-based learning experiences that foster students’ ability to engage in authentic, real-world work. (hat tip: Trent Grundmeyer)

McLeod finishes his post by asking “What did I miss here? What would you revise or add to this list? Most importantly, how well is your school organization doing at paying attention to these 7 key components of future learning environments?”

Well here are my thoughts:

– Re competency based education:

Many of these suggestions accent the need to think P-21. That is, while P-12 school systems may certainly have the systemic obligation to continuously upgrade the skills of their teachers and administrators particularly with respect to the ever evolving necessary competencies for excellent instruction, it is also true that Higher Education bears a specific set of responsibilities to graduate teacher candidates who have both practiced and mastered the requisite competencies Mc Cleod speaks to, and also have the intellectual and dispositional capacities to learn new skills as the need for these present themselves.

That is a long sentence I know but it is rife with real issues, issues that have been spoken to from both the K-12 and Higher Education ends before.

School systems we often hold up as exemplars, like Singapore and Finland typically hire teachers who are in the top ten percent of their classes. In the United States our teacher candidates come from the the top two thirds of their classes.

One could argue that perhaps the yardsticks for top ten percent and top two thirds are not the same. But few would disagree that we aspire to create teacher candidates who have shown the abilities to be excellent, effective instructors.. To that end accrediting agencies of schools of education, most notably NCATE and TEAC, have worked hard to establish high standards and rigorous processes to evaluate the quality of schools of education. We can be hopeful that their leadership will contribute to graduating excellent teacher candidates. We have to hope they will have the skills and capacity to carry out many of the components Dr. Mc Cleod notes.

Perhaps the next question would then be whether and to what extent K-12 systems and schools of education have evolved system of continuous collaboration and improvement. Are the structures for ongoing alignment in place?

The most important part of Mc Cleod’s first suggestion is about shifting the emphasis from seat time to individual mastery for students. Of itself this is a massive mind shift both for our present instructional systems and for the parents of students in our present systems, parents who are not accustomed at all to this kind of thinking since they endured, failed at, or succeeded in the “old” seat time system.

Who takes the leadership, what kind of leadership, what kind of communication skills, what sorts of leadership competencies to generate true shared vision and commitment among all stakeholders, are in place so that everyone understands and buys into the richness of the premise that our future students are best served by concentrating on their individual mastery of real, literacies instead of adding up the amount of time their bottoms warmed a seat.?

You know what? I’ve decided that Dr. Mc Cleod’s ideas are too strong and too provocative to take in one blog post. So this blog post will have drawn from his first premise and succeeding ones will follow.