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What is future-focused schooling?

10/01/18

Maurie Abraham.

Maurie Abraham is the principal of Hobsonville Point Secondary School in Auckland. In this blog, the first of a two part series, Maurie shares some of the highlights of his recent sabbatical where he explored future focused schooling.

My understanding of future-focused schooling

I am often challenged as to why there is a need for a major transformation of secondary schooling. Many still believe the current model is the best and that with some tweaking it can continue to serve our young people well. I have the view that the world is vastly different from when the current model was designed and rapid change fuelled by the technological and knowledge revolutions will continue. The problems and issues that the world is facing now, and will face in the future, are complex and require new ways of thinking and working.

I believe schools have a vital role to play in helping young people explore the new ways of thinking and working. All of the schools I visited spoke of the need for transformation in education. Leaders in these schools all believed the traditional model was beset with stressed students, over-worked staff, university dropouts, conflicted parents, subject siloization, and conveyor belt schooling. Julie Abraham, from DesignTech School, used the analogy of students as cyclists biking faster and faster, competing with the rest of the field, but getting no nearer the finishing line.

My own inquiries and experiences over the last five years in leading the establishment of Hobsonville Point Secondary School have led me to a set of principles that need to be evident in learning and learning design so that learning is both engaging and relevant.

Principle one: Learning needs to be connected

Connections icon.

Learning is about making connections between what is known and what is being learned. When we teach subjects in silos we reduce the likelihood of forming links with other subjects; links which can deepen our understanding and increase relevance for the learner. When students can draw on a range of disciplines, including the related knowledge and skills that each learning area possesses, they are more likely to deepen their understanding of a concept.

This principle is clearly present in the OECD’s publication, The Nature of Learning, in which it synthesized research to create a set of principles to guide the development of future-focused learning environments. One principle, Building Horizontal Connections, calls upon learning environments to build connections “across areas of knowledge and subjects as well as to the community and the wider world.” (OECD, The Nature of Learning: Practitioners’ Guide, 2012, p.7)

Principle two: Learning needs to be co-constructed

Two people making a jigsaw.

For students to be engaged in learning they have to feel a connection. The last thing they need is to feel they are part of a mass production line, learning the same material at the same time and pace as everyone else and having the learning context determined, usually by a teacher, without any input from them. For learning to be relevant and engaging for our diverse learners we must invite them into the conversation that determines the learning contexts. This does not mean we as teachers abdicate responsibility for ensuring coverage of important concepts, skills, and knowledge.

The recently published Core Education: 2017 Ten Trends identifies this principle as Learner Agency which “is about [learners] having the power, combined with choices, to take meaningful action and see the results of your decisions.”

Principle three: Learning needs to be collaborative

Holding hands.

Having the ability to work in teams of diverse people and to have well-developed interpersonal skills are vital. These are the key skills students require now to be effective in the workforce. It must be the norm in schools to have students learning in teams and growing their interpersonal skills.

Core Education: 2017 Ten Trends calls upon schools to create the notion of collaboration, whether it be student-student, teacher-teacher, school-school or school- wider community in order to prepare students for a more complex world, to ensure sustainability in the face of the demands of teaching and to build collective teacher efficacy.

At Hobsonville Point Secondary School we have embedded these ideas of connectedness, co-construction, and collaboration in our three principles of personalised learning, powerful partnerships, and deep challenge and inquiry.

The purpose of my school visits was to find out if the principles that drove the design of learning in other innovative, future-focused schools were similar:

  • What is your understanding of future-focused schooling?
  • Is there a need for transformation?
  • What principles drive learning design in your organisation?

Coming soon ...

In our next blog post, Maurie shares his observations of learning design principles and the implications for existing schools.

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