New Designs for School
New Designs for School

We’ve all had the experience of truly purposeful, authentic learning and know how valuable it is. Educators are taking the best of what we know about learning, student support, effective instruction, and interpersonal skill-building to completely reimagine schools so that students experience that kind of purposeful learning all day, every day.

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A set of distilled wisdom for anyone endeavoring to plan or open a next gen school, including those in existing schools trying a new design, are presented in seven takeaways.

In the spirit of 7 Things You Should Know About, an EDUCAUSE series for sharing essential information that masterfully distills a variety of ED Tech topics into bite size morsels, I’m going to share my own seven takeaways from “Designing Breakthrough School Models,” the summer institute in San Francisco where NGLC convened the 30 Wave IV Planning grantees. My takeaways are drawn largely but not entirely from the opening speakers. I believe this is a useful set of distilled wisdom for anyone endeavoring to plan or open a next gen school including those in existing schools that are trying to pivot into a new design.

  1. Expect change. In fact, plan for it. Decide even before you get started how you will manage change. Choose a process or tool your team can use to navigate change. Off-roading is a lot more fun when you know it involves bumps and you’re driving a vehicle built for them.
  2. A key factor to succeeding in college (uh, and life) is persistence or what some call grit. Plan to teach and model it. Self-directed learning requires skills, knowledge and a supporting culture that is radically different from the model of traditional schooling.
  3. If you are working with traditionally under-served student populations and small-group work is one of your key instructional strategies, you’ll need to figure out how to ensure students can still feel safe and supported by at least one adult. It takes time and thoughtful preparation to engage high-needs kids in new learning models. Hint: Setting them out on their own in the name of self-directed learning doesn’t work.
  4. Resist the temptation to determine the school’s schedule too soon. The schedule should be one of the last things you determine and something that could change weekly or even daily. If you go there too soon, you will not reinvent education, you will recreate it.
  5. Let technology help your students master the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Focus your team and their high-touch value on real world, context-rich opportunities for inquiry and application where there is no “right answer.” These learning environments motivate students to use technology to back fill their gaps in knowledge and/or acquire new content and skills in order to fully engage in the higher order challenge or exploration. 
  6. Dear next gen school leader, please be advised that you are running a start-up. That means you and your team are all 1st year teachers (even if you aren’t). You will not have the system you want and need. You will not get 100% of what you intend; you may only get 30%. And even that will take three times longer than you think. Accept this. Keep going.
  7. Iteration—the major and minor adjustments we make to the plane while flying it—is fun and stressful…for everyone—teachers, parents and students. Be transparent in your communications; be kind and empathetic with each other (we’re only human); be patient—your team just needs a win 51% of the time to tip the scales.

To learn more about the 30 grantees who are planning new breakthrough school models, view their info pages on our website.

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Sarah Luchs

Program Officer, NGLC

Sarah Luchs coordinates NGLC's K-12 grant making strategies, investing in promising educators and the next gen learning designs that define Breakthrough Schools.