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Schools of the Future: What Will They Look Like?

EducationWorld is pleased to present this article contributed by C.M. Rubin. The piece is part of Rubin's online interview series Global Search for Education, in which she joins thought leaders as they explore big-picture education questions. For this series and her other online series “How Will We Read?” she received a 2011 Upton Sinclair award. Rubin is also the author of three best-selling books, including The Real Alice in Wonderland.

Passionate leadership, great teachers, engaged parents, advancing technology, and a profound focus on preparing each and every student for life in a globalized world. These are surely some of the things dedicated educators contemplate when they think about creating the template for the great schools of tomorrow. 

Clockwise from top left: Denise Gallucci,
C.M. Rubin, Geoff Jones, Geoffrey Canada,
Stephanie Pace Marshall, Deborah Quazzo

The GEMS World Academy in Chicago recently invited a group of talented educators and innovative leaders to share in a think tank about what the school of the future will be like.  Below are interviews with the event’s participants.

It is my pleasure to welcome the President and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, Geoffrey Canada, the Founding President of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, Stephanie Pace Marshall, and the Founder of GSV Advisors, Deborah Quazzo. Additionally, I am delighted to share the perspectives of the President of GEMS Education Solutions - America, Denise Gallucci, and Geoff Jones, Head of School, GEMS World Academy - Chicago.

Stephanie, what skills will the principal of tomorrow's school require, and in what ways are these skills different from what he/she has today?

Stephanie Pace Marshall: Your question focuses on the leadership skills required for tomorrow’s school leaders, but I want to add the elements of knowledge and habits of mind also required, and alter the context of leadership from leading an educational enterprise that takes place in structures called schools to leading an educational enterprise that is more distributed and networked. Tomorrow's educational leaders will be cartographers (map makers) and designers of multi-generational learning communities—environments that are not exclusively place-bound, but are bound by shared meaning, purpose and values.

Providing leadership for dynamic learning networks is far more complex and requires the following attributes—an integration of knowledge, habits of mind and skills for amplifying capacities within individuals, communities and larger systems.

Some of the leadership qualities I believe are critical for future educational leaders are:

  • Knowledge and deep understanding of system dynamics and complexity.
  • Knowledge, skills, experiences and strategies in multiple disciplines: digital information technology and social networking; brain science; how to ignite and nurture creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship.
  • An integrated thinker and doer, able to blur boundaries and see things as connected; a risk taker who is not afraid to fail, understanding that if you can’t fail, you can’t be creative.
  • A learning experience designer who knows how to create immersive learning experiences for children to “fail safely.”
  • Open, transparent, accessible, inclusive, collaborative and empowering; views leadership as stewardship.
  • Agile at multiple “altitudes”: gets things done at 10,000 feet, executes strategy at 30,000 feet and sees possibilities at 50,000 feet

  • The new “school leaders” must first see themselves as designers of amplified individual and system capacity, as catalysts and agents of transformative change that identifies and develops individual and collective potential. They are possibility thinkers, harbingers of hope and wise navigators.


Geoffrey, how will teaching change in the classroom of tomorrow versus the classroom we know today?

I think that the schools of the future will spend an inordinate amount of time and a significant amount of resources recruiting great teachers. Today, we are not attracting the best and the brightest teachers, particularly in difficult communities. In the future, schools will compete fiercely for the best and most qualified.

The schools of the future will value technology, but not in replacement of teachers; technology will be an adjunct to teaching. For example, the best schools will ensure their weakest academic areas are strengthened by the use of technology.

They will bring remote learning into schools, so that a teacher in Boston could be teaching a calculus class in Little Rock in real time. The expertise is just not there in some communities because they are rural or impoverished.

Technology is also going to allow us to teach children when they are the most alert and most focused. The science is clear that adolescents have a different circadian rhythm—they go to bed late and they wake up late. We will be able to have young people design their personal learning in a way that takes advantage of their peak performance time. Schools of the future will recognize this and allow children to self-regulate.

Schools of the future will recognize the importance of having students work in teams. They will allow young people to develop a set of skills that bring in different subject areas and different areas of expertise to create new ideas. Currently there are no rewards for working in teams and being a good team member.

Schools of the future will teach children how to learn on their own. The school of the future will allow students to learn new things by themselves online, where competence is demonstrated by the end product, not by simply regurgitating a set of facts or equations. We are still teaching kids as if they don’t have the answers right at their fingertips. The school of the future will understand that students can go into areas where they have never been taught and become experts simply by consuming the information online.

Great schools will use tests as sources of data and mine that data carefully for one reason and one reason only—not to determine if the child is an A, a B, or an F, but to see where this child is struggling and what we can do as an educational facility to help. This interactive process between student and teacher will have teachers focused on mastery for all students.


All photos are courtesy of GEMS Education.

What will the role of parents be in tomorrow’s school community?  How do you see it being different from what parents do now?

Geoffrey Canada: It is going to be essential that parents be educated alongside their children. So much of schoolwork will be a result of both technology and knowledge that didn’t exist when parents were in school. The school of the future will embrace the idea that parents need to be re-educated, starting in elementary school, about the tools, methodologies, curriculum and pedagogy that teachers are using to educate their kids. If you alienate the parents so that they don’t know how to help their children, instead of empowering them, you are losing valuable educational allies.

In the future, teachers will allow parents to know beforehand what their kids will be learning. Typically, the way schools function is that teachers teach something and parents find out via homework or a test what the kid is supposed to know. More and more schools will be providing parents with online advice and strategies for preparing their children. So if a child is going to be studying world history in December, schools will be prepping parents in October or November about things they can be doing with their child to prepare them. This keeps parents engaged; it keeps them ahead of their children and allows them to be true partners with the school.


Denise, can you describe what student-centric learning will mean in the classroom of tomorrow? How will this have changed?

The classroom of tomorrow must focus on the learner. Each child is unique in his or her development, and GEMS Education approaches the role of the teacher as one who facilitates student discovery, one who bolsters differentiating experiences to promote personalized learning and one who creates “schools of one.” The teacher scaffolds information to reach children in a context that’s appropriate to their level. 

What changes will the school of tomorrow have made to better prepare every child for the rapidly changing 21st-century world?

Denise Gallucci: With the advancement of technology, we are on the verge of the second industrial revolution, where the jobs of today will no longer be here tomorrow. At the same time, the wealth of information available to students at their fingertips will be astounding, but figuring out how to harness this information and turning it into teachable moments will be critical.

So we have to help students “crack the code”—understand how to harness information and think critically. We have to spark their intellectual curiosity and prepare them to be inquirers. We have to help them become problem-solvers and individuals who can work productively as a team. And we have to provide children with an appreciation and a fluency in all the new technology that surrounds them to prepare them for what their future holds.

Deborah Quazzo: I think the school of the future needs to prepare students to have an appreciation for computer coding as just another language and as an extension of logic. In addition, critical thinking/Socratic learning and project-based/peer learning are key elements that help develop independent thinking and presentation skills. Core writing capabilities need to complement all of this. It’s about fluency in new languages of technology, being able to articulate verbally and in writing, and working well in collaborative teams. 

Geoff, can you describe the role you see for online learning in the classroom of tomorrow. How will it differ from what we see now?

Technology has become an increasingly larger part not only of our daily lives, but also of our classroom experiences. GEMS Education uses online learning in the classroom by linking its network of schools in 16 countries across the globe. Our use of state-of-the-art technology enables students to connect not only with the rich cultural institutions of Chicago, but also with their classmates across the globe in Etoy, Dubai, London, Singapore and elsewhere. This provides students an international perspective that is unmatched and cultivates greater appreciation of different cultures and the world around them. This exchange of ideas also prepares students for an increasingly interconnected world.


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