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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

Ten Ways of Re-imagining School: My Personal Learning Manifesto

Nearly twenty years ago, I published a journal for a group of international schools on the theme of Imagining the School of the Future. Looking back, I remember thinking that imagination, in this respect, was a bit like yeast in a cake. Too much of it and we enter a pedagogical Narnia that is unrecognisable from the schools in which we work. Too little of it and everything just falls a bit flat because the schools of the future appear to be nothing more than a minor modification of what we already know.

Two decades later, I'm still stuck on the question of how we imagine the school of the future. And maybe the only tangible difference is that I have got to the point of articulating my version of what this means in practice.

A photograph of a man standing in a corn field at sunset
When it comes to re-imagining school, there's a fundamental question about how much imagination we are going to stir into the mix?

So, in the lead up to Learning by Design 2019, which is a call to re-imagine school, here's my take on what this means. If you like, it's my personal learning manifesto.

  1. Imagining the school of the future is to boldly assert a vision, in a language that everybody - students, parents, faculty and staff - understands. It's a call to action that stands upon an audacious, articulated ambition for our students. It drives us forward, even if we sometimes feel like we are getting lost.

  2. Imagining the school of the future is about having the courage to go where no one else has gone before. It's about risking failure, criticism, and putting our reputation on the line every day for the sake of our students. As Mike Crowley recently put it, it's about daring to imagine “what schools should be, what learning could be, and what learners might be.

  3. Imagining the school of the future is about questioning everything, even those things that are going well. After all, sometimes what is "good enough" is the very thing that is holding us back.

  4. Imagining the school of the future is about committing time and energy to the cause. We are fooling ourselves if we think that the future will miraculously fall into our lap.

  5. Imagining the school of the future is about actively looking for the people who will get us there. We cannot go into the future on our own. We need people who will join the cause. We need people who agree and disagree with our point of view.

  6. Imagining the school of the future is to think more about the students that will come later than the students that we currently teach. This is a tough one, but the fact is that the plans we make today are primarily going to benefit the next generation.

  7. Imagining the school of the future is about understanding that radical change is both necessary and inevitable. Human progress happens in leaps, bounds and paradigmatic shifts. It does not, as our Enlightenment forefathers once believed, evolve incrementally.

  8. Imagining the school of the future demands that we develop the capacity to look beyond the next five or even ten years, to the deep future of education where our usual points of reference no longer apply.

  9. Imagining the school of the future is rooted in design thinking, even if we used not to use that phrase. It's all about having a go, gathering feedback, iterating and making adjustments along the way.

  10. Imagining the school of the future is about taking an institutional risk. It's about saying to ourselves that it is better to try and fail than never to try at all.

This week my fourteen year-old daughter challenged me again with a question, What is school for? How will you, Dad, re-imagine school?

I saw in her eyes that this was no homework assignment, nor an attempt to be clever. She was holding me accountable and was laying down a challenge to me, to herself, to her teachers, and to her school as a whole.

Not for her, but for those after her.

And it's the look in her eyes that keeps me going.

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