Redefining Readiness: Insights for Schools and Districts

Topics: Future of Learning

As smart technologies and shifting employment structures reshape the future of work, educators and advocates are going to need to rethink the skills and knowledge students will need to be ready for the future. This past weekend, I had a change to engage school board members, educators and other participants in the National School Boards Association conference in considering what opportunities will engage students and serve them well into the future.

Recognizing that we are facing a shortening shelf-life of skills, along with a strong grounding in foundational skills that will enable us to learn new skills for new contexts as the employment landscape changes, participants built off the new foundation for readiness from KnowledgeWorks’ The Future of Learning: Redefining Readiness from the Inside Out.

They highlighted the need to educate learners for citizenship, to teach life skills and to prepare learners for the strong possibility that they could be entrepreneurs instead of employees. They also underscored the need for communications and interpersonal skills. Coding and foreign language came up as important literacies that can help learners prepare for a more data-driven and more global world. Participants also named the ability to advocate collectively for new support structures as being an important means of balancing the atomization and individualization that will likely characterize much of the coming employment landscape.

In writing about the future of readiness in our paper, colleagues and I called for the need to redefine readiness to focus on the uniquely human attributes that enable us to connect with one another, to adapt, to solve problems and so forth. In our view, redefining readiness could mean:

  • Integrating social-emotional competency development alongside academic content
  • Enabling flexible learning pathways that group learners in new ways according to their needs, interest and goals
  • Making classrooms more fluid and open, enabling new ways of structuring learning
  • Redefining educator roles to focus more on foundational skills and practices and less on content or grade specialization
  • Working with community partners to help students stretch beyond their comfort zones and expand their aspirations
  • Exploring where and when it might be more appropriate for K-12 schools to serve as brokers, rather than direct providers, of learning experiences.

As school board members, educators and other participants in the conference session explored these and other opportunities and challenges that the changing nature of readiness might present, they identified the needs listed below.

  • Broaden narratives of high school success beyond college admissions tests and GPAs to convey a broader view of human and academic development.
  • Stop calling for college for all or otherwise conveying that other postsecondary pursuits are less valuable.
  • Teach career-applicable skills in high school so that all learners have real near-term options upon graduation.
  • Involve students on school boards and other decision-making bodies to change the dynamics and the decisions taken about their futures.
  • Move from future graduate profiles to individual learner profiles; these could be enabled by using artificial intelligence to form broad profiles of young learners that would later help guide their pathways.
  • Identify systemic solutions related to factors such as funding and accountability that will support schools and districts in migrating learning toward the future while supporting all learners well.
  • Explore partnerships with businesses and other employers when mutual benefit is clear.

The conversation highlighted lots of creative approaches that are already taking place in schools and districts around the country. I heard enthusiasm for redefining readiness as we move further into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We need to tackle some of education’s bigger narratives, mechanisms and assumptions to enable more schools and districts – as well as partners from within and beyond education – to make bolder moves toward supporting all learners in being well prepared to thrive in an uncertain and quickly evolving future.

The Future of Learning: Redefining Readiness from the Inside Out can offer a framework through which you can start exploring opportunities and challenges that the changing nature of readiness might present in your community.