7 building blocks for the future of schools


If I had the chance to build a new school organization (or redesign an existing one), I would start by attending to the educational movements listed below. Every year we see these initiatives gain further ground in traditional educational systems. I see these as basic building blocks for the future of schooling and think that leaders and policymakers should be working toward greater implementation of all of these, both individually and in concert…

  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)

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?

[I’m five days late with this, my own Leadership Day post. I figure that’s okay; we’ve always accepted stragglers! Thank you, everyone, for your fabulous posts to celebrate this annual event!]

13 Responses to “7 building blocks for the future of schools”

  1. Your list is fantastic! I’d add respect, collaboration & creativity.

  2. I would add a component that requires students and teachers to partner with and engage the community in which the school exists. Understanding the relationship between the school and community can sharpen both and lead both to thrive.

  3. Thanks for the great post, Scott! In addition to these, I would love to see a priority re-placed on the early identification of special abilities and disabilities in our students. In Florida, many schools wait until after students fail high-stakes testing in third grade to consider screening students for exceptionalities, which is far too late in the game. In order to provide appropriate accommodations and assistive technologies so that all students have an equitable, best chance to succeed, we need to focus on helping students to understand their unique capabilities and how to maximize them at the youngest age possible.

  4. Scott-
    I was very pleased to see A on your list. From my experience and observations, B & C can be present in a school, however it can still become a “point-chasing” game for students.

    G really intrigued me. This is the one from your list I’ve given the least amount of thought. Can you point me in the direction of any schools or institutions of higher learning you know of that are heading in this direction?

    Thanks for a great list.

  5. I don’t see most schools or universities going in the direction of alternative credentialing, Matt (other than MOOCs). Most of them are fending off such efforts from other, typically private entities (see, e.g., the badging movement).

    But maybe this will be helpful to you?


  6. Dr. McLeod,

    I think the list is excellent. Being an elementary principal I would see a component for early literacy/math in K-2. If we focus our efforts on supporting that group in early reading and math skills it should help the other components later in schooling career.

  7. I would offer that all of this occurs in some type of space, either physical or digital, or a combination of both. The future of schools depend on the re-imagination of space, and having thoughtful and inspiring spaces in which to learn in.

  8. Excellent thoughts!

    I’d echo them all and stress H!

    Lets talk re the implications for leadership in getting these to happen on a systemic basis.

  9. Very comprehensive and far sighted! One idea: Grades and ranks only on the basis of self competition- how much one had improved against one’s previous score.

  10. Any thoughtful design or re-design must begin with purpose. To what purpose do you build with these blocks?

    • Isn’t that a thoughtful question?! Thanks, Cal.

      For me, the ultimate purpose is autonomous, empowered, self-directed learners who – by the time they leave us – are able to do meaningful (to both them and society) work that contributes to their success and that of others. In short, interest-/passion-driven student agency.

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