As we come to the culmination of a school year unlike any other, learning communities are advancing toward the recognition of significant changes in education. Future ready school leaders are less focused on heading back — instead, they’re facing forward and recognizing a new normal: the future of education, accelerated in its arrival by the pandemic, and shaped by seismic shifts in the world beyond our schools’ walls.
For independent schools, the future of education is inextricably linked to rapidly evolving market demands, and a range of new challenges and opportunities. The time to act is now — and with that in mind, here are five key priorities on the minds of school leaders who are leaning in to the new normal and reimagining their schools accordingly.
1. Reassess your unique value proposition
Shifting demographics and new approaches to learning are wreaking havoc on many hallmarks of an independent school education. The rise in online learning options has started to change the demand for in-person education. And as the ability to work remotely increases, families are making different choices about where they live — even if that means being too far away from a preferred school’s outstanding campus and facilities.
In light of this, independent schools must find new ways to demonstrate value to current and prospective students and their families. Schools positioned for success provide authentic learning opportunities for all students, at all levels; take a nimble, even experimental approach to emerging tools and methodologies; prioritize wellness and inclusion for students, teachers, and staff; and empower parents with immersive communications platforms that help them gain a deeper understanding of their child — as a learner and as a person.
2. Address the need for flexibility
Throughout the pandemic, schools have had to demonstrate an enormous amount of resilience and adaptability. They built and deployed learning platforms, reconstructed schedules and timetables, and rapidly constructed new support systems. However, this is not the time to put those scenario planning tools back in the toolbox; on the contrary, now is the moment to reinforce and iterate upon the new things that are working, and prepare for more changes to come.
It is clear that the need for hybrid and hyflex learning will not recede in line with COVID case counts; it’s here to stay, and in fact is likely to grow. What’s more, families’ propensities to pay the high tuition fees of many independent schools is also primed for a shift, in line with new economic and labor market realities. For independent schools, this means thinking deeply about how to provide a learning experience that captures the fundamental things you do well, but with flexibility in where and how it’s provided, and at a lower cost.
3. Level up your virtual learning
An online class portal and a recurring daily videoconference is not a virtual learning strategy. Expectations are far greater, and for very good reasons: the potential is sky-high; the possibilities are endless, and ripe for the picking; and, most importantly, students need an engaging and vibrant learning experience.
Independent schools must lead the way! Leveraging exceptional learning practices, amplified by best-in-class virtual tools that truly support student centered learning through individualized progression, engagement monitoring, and meaningful assessment practices, is key. And in all virtual learning experiences, teachers need to be deliberately cultivating opportunities for active participation, personal connections, and ongoing collaboration to ensure student success.
As parent expectations continue to amplify, staying on top means raising the bar and iterating to meet student needs.
4. Expand your students’ exposure to nontraditional pathways
Parents choose an independent school education for their children for many reasons, but one prominent deciding factor for many families is that it is seen as the clearest path to admission in the most prestigious and competitive postsecondary institutions. However, the future of work is signalling the need to drastically improve awareness of, and engagement in, nontraditional pathways to work.
This is a courageous path to tread for many independent schools, and will doubtless require an enormous amount of change leadership to help usher students, families, and staff toward an evolved understanding of what it means, and why it matters. The good news, however, is that age-old principles of Universal Design for Learning apply beautifully here: opportunities like work integrated learning, for example, are equally beneficial to all students, regardless of pathway — but expanding their reach is vital for students seeking pathways aside from the pursuit of multi-year, all-encompassing postsecondary degrees.
5. Understand the shifting focus of higher education
Concurrent with the emergence of nontraditional pathways, higher education itself is evolving its approach to how it delivers content across programs, as well as the criteria used by admissions offices to choose from pools of prospective students. Grades and test scores are being deemphasized, in favour of qualitative assessments that prioritizer applicants who demonstrate authentic passion, exhibit a diverse range of interests, and provide evidence that they are developing key attributes that will carry them through and beyond their postsecondary careers.
Meanwhile, college and university courses themselves are changing. More and more programs — and, in some cases, entire institutions — are adopting flipped instructional models, taking a problem-based approach to building understanding, providing industry-immersive experience, and infusing the deep development of those same attributes so prized by admissions teams. The goal: to provide graduates with the future ready skills they need to succeed in the working world. But these values begin in primary and secondary education, and here again, independent schools are poised — and, perhaps, compelled — to lead the way.
The Future Design School team works with school leaders like you to solve complex challenges and identify exciting new opportunities. We work with independent schools across North America and beyond, as well as public school districts and some of the world’s largest and most innovative companies.
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