When KnowledgeWorks engages with stakeholders, creating a vision with the learning community is a common first step in taking action toward providing meaningful personalized learning for all students. Our strategic foresight workshops and engagements focus on the longer-term future, engaging stakeholders in considering drivers of change shaping the future of learning and helping them identify their strategies amid rapid change. Our work in schools with learning communities and their stakeholders helps them facilitate the vision and design for personalized, competency-based learning and a unique, community specific roadmap to help guide their journey. While the strategies and processes might change depending on who we are partnering with and what local strengths can be built from, a strong vision is essential.
Visioning Toolkit: Laying the Groundwork for a Community-Wide Vision for Personalized Learning shares resources to help you begin and sustain the work of implementing personalized learning.
To get a better understanding of the different ways visioning work occurs with our KnowledgeWorks partners, I sat down with Chief Learning Officer Virgel Hammonds.
Different ways of approaching visioning with stakeholders and schools
Hammonds: Visioning is paramount to aligning a school system to achieve positive outcomes for all kids. Without a vision, our plans are just a piece of paper or a binder. It’s absolutely critical that a learning community, which includes schools, students, community members, local leadership, partner organizations and many others, are all in agreement about the portrait of their community’s graduates. We commonly see a school system have a vision, but it’s less common to see that vision living and being amplified across a learning community.
King: A vision is a preferred future, which is just one of many possible futures that could come about given the forces of change at play in the world. By inviting groups to consider possibilities for the future, some of which are less desirable than others, they can identify their aspirations. I think that seeing a vision as one of many possible futures helps us all realize that we have to act on the vision if we hope to bring it about. Many other futures are possible, and our decisions and actions will influence whether that vision becomes reality.
“Seeing a vision as one of many possible futures helps us all realize that we have to act on the vision if we hope to bring it about.”
Hammonds: We often say that, in addition to a vision, a learning community needs guiding principles so that it can hold itself accountable for working toward the vision. What do we believe about teaching and learning? What kind of culture do we want? How do we aspire to work and serve as codesigners of the desired vision? How are we aligning fiscal decisions? The learning community can then make decisions using those guiding principles as a check that it is aligned with the vision.
How creating visions can support learning communities and stakeholders in leading change
Hammonds: Some of our Teaching and Learning Directors facilitated a conversation with a community in Maine that was meant to be a one-time session. The group created its vision of a graduate and even created a profile of a teacher or mentor that could help support that learner. After the session, I received a call saying that everyone who had been at the session was requesting a profile of a school leader. Once they started thinking about where they wanted their students to be, it opened up new conversations about how to get there.
King: The most interesting workshops and engagements we conduct are the ones that end with more questions. We always want people to walk away with action plans or an understanding of strategic direction, but the most energized groups I’ve seen are the ones who leave with new avenues of inquiry to pursue and new things to learn about how they might reach their desired end state.
Reflections on the challenges of visioning
Hammonds: I think it is important to understand that it’s hard to intentionally engage a variety of stakeholders. That is important because a vision is not just for a school system; it’s for a whole community. We learned in an activity from our colleagues in Marysville, Ohio, that illustrated the importance of having transparent and inclusive processes. We each had a different puzzle that we had to solve, and they didn’t tell us what it was. My natural inclination was to be competitive and to want to complete my puzzle first. What we didn’t know was that they had mixed up some of the pieces, so I couldn’t complete my puzzle without working with other people, and they couldn’t complete theirs without me. We were all trying to end up with a complete image, but we needed help from each other to do that. The visioning process works much in the same way; it won’t be a full picture of what’s possible unless everyone works together.
“A vision is not just for a school system; it’s for a whole community.”
King: It’s also scary to let go of today’s constraints and articulate a bold future vision. Schools and communities already face so many pressures, and looking beyond them can be difficult. I think sometimes people don’t want to say what they want out loud because they don’t know yet how to get there or because it feels so far away from the present. Through KnowledgeWorks’ strategic foresight work, we try to remind them that that’s okay, that the path toward the vision is often not obvious or immediately knowable, but that being committed to where you want to end up is an essential first step.
Considerations on making the transition from vision to action
Hammonds: There’s something about coming together and having those aspirational conversations. You’re in a public setting, and you’re putting your name to it and making a commitment to being a part of the solution. And once you’ve identified that desired state, you want to remove the pieces that don’t align right away.
King: We all want breakthroughs and to know that we are on our way toward achieving our visions. But the work of transformation is long.
Hammonds: Oftentimes those initiatives or programs that don’t fit with the vision are like load-bearing walls. They have been there for so long, and if you remove them, something’s going to crumble. Before you can take them out, you have to think of what you are going to put in their place.
For more strategies on leading change, download Shaping the Future of Learning: A Strategy Guide©, and the accompanying Shaping the Future of Learning: K-12 School-Based Education Strategy Workbook©.