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What is future-focused education?


Dr Wendy Kofoed.

Dr Wendy Kofoed is the principal of Newmarket School in Auckland. In this blog, the first of a two part series, Wendy shares some of the highlights of her recent sabbatical where she explores what a future-focused curriculum might look like.

Innovation transforms teaching practice

We know that school leaders play a pivotal role in fostering innovation that transforms teaching practice. Innovation is at the heart of transforming teaching practice, and it flourishes in collaborative cultures where leadership supports the great ideas that improve learning outcomes for students, and where ideas are shared and refined (Schleicher, 2017). However, the pragmatic actions of leaders, how they utilise small and innovative inquiry or "hacks", as part of future-focused curriculum design, are less apparent. As many school leaders are grappling with the "how" of implementing a future-focused curriculum the purpose of my sabbatical was to make the actions of others visible so that implementation of future-focused curriculum might be better supported.  

"How we turn the exciting talk, ideas, and connections into practice can be challenging.
Small nudges in particular directions allow leaders to watch for the emergence of new patterns so that they can encourage them (if they are going in a good direction) or discourage them (if they are going the wrong way)."  

Berger and Fitzgerald (2015)

Data collection

While I utilised some traditional means of data collection, such as visits to schools and early childhood centres, other less formal means included the utilisation of tools such as leaders’ blogs, leaders’ Facebook networks, Global Educator networks, Twitter and Edchat networks. This latter form of data collection was important as leaders and education futurists utilise these tools to collaborate and share ideas and thinking. A growing group of principals are utilising online tools to connect with a broader range of leaders both in New Zealand and globally, the challenges we face in New Zealand are similar to those of our peers globally.

Some thinking about future-focused curriculum

Future focus curriculum can be a complex notion to clarify. At a basic level, school leaders can utilise the future focused principle described in the New Zealand Curriculum (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) describes the future focus principle as encouraging students to look to the future by exploring such significant future-focused issues as sustainability, citizenship, enterprise, and globalisation. Similarly, the New Zealand Education Review Office Report (July 2012) indicated that future focus was about supporting learners to recognise that they have a stake in the future, and a role and responsibility as citizens to take action to help shape that future. While both descriptions are relevant, given the complexity and changes occurring in our world, a deeper perspective may be timely.

More relevant to the current times, Rachel Bolstad (2011) described a future focus curriculum as encompassing all that we do in our schools. Bolstad argued that "education" itself is about the future of our students. Bolstad draws our attention to the particular capabilities, skills, and understandings needed to take action to shape that future, with schools as places where people want to be. She described schools that are utilising the future focus principle as collaborative, agentic for all, providing space for innovation, and the capability and capacity for all members to grow and thrive.

Descriptions of a future-focused curriculum invariably include the mention of technology or digital platforms to support learning. Though while likely that technology is being utilised to support a future-focused curriculum, this is not all of the picture. Yes, future-focused schools likely sit on a strong digital foundation, as this is how we live, and reflects today’s workplaces. A future-focused curriculum looks at what it means to be human and how we as humans interact and are supported by technology.

The role of the teacher and the curriculum

In order for the future focus principle (or way of being) to thrive in our schools, educators appear to need to be collaborative, agentic, and be provided with opportunities for innovation. The OECD Innovative Learning Environments Handbook (2017) supports this view and describes some of the actions required by schools to support educators to develop and support a future focus.  

Firstly the OECD describe a future-focused and innovative school as demanding new definitions of educators’ roles in which their own learning is fundamental to the success of the learning environment. They see teachers as knowledgeable about the nature of children’s and young persons’ learning, and growing more knowledgeable as they gain experience. This experience is likely to include an emphasis on student engagement, as if learners are not engaged how can they meaningfully learn? Also, it might include a change in the locus of control in schools. For example, understanding how far we think learners are actually at the centre of our school, and why. Knowledgeable future-focused teachers will have a better understanding of how things are at present – not how they wish them to be in the future.

In addition, in order for students to take action to shape the future, we in schools may need to be clear about the role of our curriculum and discuss how we think learning is carried forward from schooling into other aspects of life. The broadness of the NZC and the importance of all strands would be given prominence in such discussions.   

Discussion on future-focused curriculum might include discussion about the kind of people we hope our students will be, how education today helps them in their future lives, and how it helps them to engage in and manage future challenges. What we want our students to be capable of being and becoming is a powerful idea and at the heart of future-focused curriculum design.

What attributes do you think a knowledgeable future-focused teacher should have?

How can you support students to engage in and manage future challenges?

Coming soon:

In our next blog, Wendy identifies some rich examples of innovative inquiries to transform design and teaching practice.

Have you seen?

Future focus spotlight 
Our future focus spotlight looks at the future focus principle, helping you design a curriculum around significant future-focused issues such as sustainability, citizenship, enterprise, and globalisation. Find short videos, group activities, and opportunities for personal reflection.

future focus