Change is happening in America’s classrooms. And it seems like every school leader has a different answer for how to effectively usher in that change.
But the most important change that needs to happen in today’s schools is in the mindset of school leadership itself.
That’s according to former Clarke County Schools (Ga.) Superintendent and 2015 AASA National Superintendent of the Year Dr. Philip Lanoue.
In a recent webinar, Light a spark: How to be a catalyst for change in your schools, Lanoue challenges school leaders to evolve their thinking when it comes to preparing students for their future.
Prepare students for their world, not ours
Lanoue says school leaders should start with a single question: “Are we preparing students to be successful for their world or ours?”
While the traditional, knowledge-based, hierarchical structure of classrooms worked in the industrial age, the information revolution has changed the game. The problem: many schools are still playing catch up.
“We cannot do our work in the same way,” Lanoue says, “because our children won’t live in our world.”
By 2020, there will be 55 million new job openings, Lanoue says. Nearly a quarter of the jobs students will take in the future don’t exist today. The new economy requires students to have new types of skills in leadership, communication, and analysis. To stay relevant, K-12 schools must focus on how to equip students with those skills.
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Lanoue recalled a conversation he had nearly 30 years ago with a school leader who predicted the very struggle public schools now face:
“He said ‘Soon the world will be changing so quickly, that we will no longer be able to predict the future based on the results of the past.’ And that’s what I think we are doing right now. When we start talking about designing our schools it can’t be predicated on what we did yesterday. It has to be predicated on what we’re going to do tomorrow.”
Don’t force students into lanes
The default choice given to high school graduates—college or career—is outdated, Lanoue says.
“We’re not preparing kids to go on to college or not. We’re preparing kids to have choices,” he says. While many school districts reference preparing students for lifelong learning in their mission statements, Lanoue says most schools fail in this pursuit.
The key, says Lanoue, is to stop forcing students into preconceived lanes based on circumstance.
He recalled his own experience as superintendent at Clarke County, Ga., one of the most impoverished school systems in the country. To encourage more students to enroll in a challenging physical science course, Lanoue and his staff decided to eliminate prerequisites. The result? Nearly all of the students who chose to take the course passed—and 68 percent of those students came from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
“If we want kids to stretch themselves and take advantage of their own learning, we can’t hold them back,” he says.
Create a learner-centric culture
Top-down school leadership is a myth, Lanoue says. There’s no such thing.
“Nowadays, it’s not about top-down leadership. It’s not about top-down teaching. It’s not about stand-and-deliver teaching. It’s about activating learning for children.”
The world is changing, and students need to learn how to continuously adapt. Rather than teaching facts and figures, which anyone can find at the touch of a button, Lanoue says schools need to emphasize collaboration, teamwork, and problem-solving.
And they need to use technology and other innovations to change what they teach—and not simply to teach the same concepts in different or more efficient ways.
“My prediction: If we do this correctly, we will close the achievement gap, we will close the opportunity gap. Digital tools and access to the internet has made what was scarce for some, available.”
What steps are you taking to create a learner-centric culture in your school or district? What challenges do you face? Tell us in the comments.