In November, 2014 I was one of a hundred superintendents invited to kick off the Future Ready initiative at the White House. I remember it well, a cold day standing on the White House steps wondering what would happen next. Listening to the President speak, a high point came when all the superintendents were invited to raise our devices and “sign” a pledge to lead our districts to being Future Ready.
I’m not sure any of us understood on that day that we weren’t just part of a publicity event for the U.S. Office of Education Technology but actually signing on to a movement that would continue to grow and thrive as the nation’s educators – not just superintendents- began to build a vision for what it means for a teacher, librarian, administrator, school, or school district to become Future Ready.
I wish I could say that educators have always been focused on helping young people develop the competencies they need to be ready for their future. After all, traditions of K-12 education we hold dear today were largely developed to help young people in the early 20th century be ready for their future in a compliance-driven, standardized industrial workforce and life in urbanized settings. But, as the world began to change rapidly in the latter part of the 20th century, we seemed to become a profession more focused on sustaining the status quo of those early assembly line, cookie cutter schools than considering how to evolve practices in response to changes in demographics, technology, the workforce, and community needs.
The political push that emerged from A Nation at Risk led to rigorous accountability metrics grounded mostly in four-choice, one right answer tests. When the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 became law, it affirmed mass standardization of school norms; lessons taught from a dominant-teaching wall, rote learning, and tech tools, when available, as mostly devices that substituted screen sheets for worksheets.
Then, around the time of the Great Recession (circa 2007- ), the business community, parents, and educators began to unify against NCLB. Parents rejected the drudge work that disengaged their children from learning. The biz community was desperate for employees who could problem-solve, collaborate, and exercise self-directedness. Teachers were frustrated with test-prep curriculum and constant testing. When the Great Recession winter finally turned to spring, some educators woke to find technologies changing the world in ways we never dreamed possible.
I believe the first wave of the Future Ready movement actually began in the grassroots connectivity of educators in social media around 2009. The explorers and risk-takers of our profession took to blogging and twitter like ducks to water. They chatted topics of interest, discovered the hashtag, and figured out how to lobby those in power who also were finding their way into social media as well. One of the first national education social media movements in which I participated resulted in a push back against the USDOE’s cuts to the National Writing Project.The nation’s edu-bloggers came out in force to #blog4nwp. Hundreds of educators including me joined together with others in a social media writing campaign to force discussion about the importance of the National Writing Project and by the end of a day of blogging, Secretary Arne Duncan did just that on the department’s website.The global communication network suddenly felt real, powerful, connected. And, even though the funding cut remained in place, educators had united a digital world.
In 2012, I received an invitation from the President of the Alliance for Excellent Education, Bob Wise, to become a member of the Project 24 Team of Experts. After the second Digital Learning Day in 2013, the 24 Project iterated into the Future Ready Initiative. Education leaders from across the country began to network in social media and face-to-face activities offering insights into the challenges and opportunities associated with making a transition from educating students for an industrial past to educating them for a future in this century.
As I approached retirement at the end of this past school year and spent a lot of hours co-authoring Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-based Thinking Change Schools, I’ve been reminded time and again that the best of who we are as educators is rooted in how humans have always learned. The learning paths that bring us together are our stories, kinetic movement, arts, tool invention and use, mentor- and apprenticeships, and exploration of big ideas that come from our curiosity, questions, interests, and, eventually, our lifewide passion for learning.
Once I thought by 2020, students would have left our schools in droves for online courses. I don’t think that anymore. Every time I sit down to talk with Gen Z teens, I hear very clearly that they see school as a social space, both face-to-face and digital, where they connect relationally with peers, friends, and educators. They possess a deep value for learning together, for hands-on project work, for community-embedded learning, and for adults who care about them. One late evening in my superintendent’s office, I concluded if we lose teens to virtual learning outside of school it will happen because we’ve not listened to what matters to them as learners. That’s when I first realized that Future Ready wasn’t a technology initiative but rather a learning initiative and that …
Future Ready isn’t simply a state of mind.
It’s a state of continuous action that propels forward learning accessibility and equity for all learners in our schools today.
It’s our acts to sustain social learning communities embedded in the greater community, schools, and in connected virtual environments.
It’s making available to all young people all the state-of- art and traditional tools they need to accomplish contemporary learning projects.
It’s a commitment to infrastructure connectivity that doesn’t end when students walk out of their schools or public libraries but is available wherever they are located including their homes.
Lastly, Future Ready is what we do right here, right now, every day so that our world is a better place for humans today, tomorrow, in 2050, 2100, and forever more.
Pam Moran @pammoran retired on July 1 after 13 years as superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools. She currently is Executive Director of the Virginia School Consortium for Learning.