5 Issues Every ‘Future Ready’ School Leader Must Address

5 Issues Every ‘Future Ready’ School Leader Must Address

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On December 10, 2015, phase two of the Future Ready Initiative, led by the Alliance for Excellent Education and the US Department of Education, was kicked off at the White House. To date, over 2,000 superintendents have signed the Future Ready District Pledge. Supported by a coalition of over 45 national partner organizations and many regional partners, the mission of Future Ready is to maximize digital learning opportunities and help school districts better prepare students, particularly those who are traditionally underserved, for success in college, career and citizenship.

Alongside the goals outlined in the new National Education Technology Plan, we believe that the focus of Future Ready—and the future of education—must address the following issues. Here are some resources that can help district leaders and teachers kickstart conversations around these themes.

1. Equity and Inclusivity

Educators must embrace equity as a fundamental value for students, teachers, parents and other members of the community. A commitment and a dedication to equity is a necessary step in creating a safe culture and learning environment for teachers and all students.

Racism, homophobia, gender-based violence, religious intolerance and cyberbullying unfortunately still exist in communities and schools, creating an unsafe, unhealthy and negative learning environment. Our commitment as educators must address these biases and acts of prejudices through policies, training and most importantly, parent and community engagement. As schools move to a more digital environment, ensuring digital equity—where all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, have the necessary tools, support and resources to compete in a global economy—is of paramount importance.

Equity and Inclusivity Resources:

2. Connectivity and Access

Equity in access is one of the major themes of the Future Ready Schools initiative. “In America,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan often says, “your zip code or your socioeconomic status should never determine the quality of your education.”

It’s no secret that there have been tremendous achievement and opportunity gaps for many of our nation’s children—particularly those who are traditionally underserved. This group is disproportionately represented by our nation’s children of color.

According to the Pew Research Center, five million of the 29 million households with school-aged children lack access to high quality broadband while at home. Almost one-third of households whose incomes fall below $50,000 and with children ages 6 to 17 do not have a high-speed internet connection. The data also makes it clear that low-income households—especially our black and Hispanic families—make up a disproportionate percentage of the 5 million families without access. Coined “The Homework Gap”, (although truly about connectivity and not homework), this disparity means that many of the children sitting in our classrooms lose connectivity the moment they step out of our doors.

Connectivity and Access Resources:

3. Personalized Professional Learning

For far too long, educators have viewed professional development as something done to them, instead of something that they are a vital part of. Future Ready leaders should model high-quality professional learning and create a myriad of opportunities for educators to be empowered to own their learning.

Edcamps: The Edcamp “unconference” model works for many educators as personalized professional development, as they are charge of creating discussion topics and choosing which sessions to attend. To ensure Edcamps that happen in your districts are equitable and include the voices of all learners, there needs to be a direct outreach to many departments and individuals. Parents and students’ voices should also be part of the conversation. (The Edcamp Foundation is a Future Ready National Partner.)

Twitter Chats: Connected education and leadership is one of the vital aspects of 21st century learning. Being connected provides opportunities to engage in live discussions across the world, opening up possibilities of collaborations, cultural awareness, and innovative leadership. There are several hundred chats on Twitter and a comprehensive listing of chats can be found here. A couple to check out:

#EduColor: Held every last Thursday of the month (unless it’s a holiday) from 7:30-8:30 pm EST. Founded by middle school math teacher Jose Vilson, EduColor is a social justice movement that focuses on race, culture and ethnicity in education. It’s okay to read at first without actually participating, but it is a very safe space to join in and grow as an educator and a leader. Chats are also storified and archived on the hashtag. Check out the website periodically as resources are shared there by educators. Also, follow @EduColorMVMT for updates and great reads from members and community.

#EdTechChat: Founded by five educators passionate about the use of technology to accelerate learning, this chat focuses on teaching and learning and how technology can be used as a tool to support both teachers and kids. #Edtechchat happens every Monday night from 8:00-9:00 pm EST, with guest moderators multiple times per month.

4. Collaborative Leadership

Schools that work for kids are led by dynamic leaders who empower those around them to create cultures of innovation. Collaborative leaders leverage a diverse staff by utilizing the collective strengths of all involved to create authentic learning opportunities for all kids. These leaders understand that leadership can sometimes mean getting out of the way and abdicating some control so that educators can help lead and students are empowered to make decisions and do the same.

Resources for Collaborative Leaders:

5. School Culture

As educators and leaders, we must aspire towards building a safe school culture for all students. This means fostering an environment of culturally responsive teaching and learning, and allowing students and teachers to work around biases and prejudices to meet the diverse cultural and learning needs of all students. Cultural competence is vital in building a safe, anti-biased, anti-prejudice, anti-bullying school culture. School leaders who encourage and model risk-taking create cultures of innovation, and empower both teachers and students to create dynamic cultures of opportunity and growth for all.

Resources for Developing Cultural Competence in Schools:

As schools transform into ones that better prepare students for their future, Future Ready leaders must tackle issues of equity, personalization, leadership and culture head-on so that all kids have high-quality learning experiences and opportunities to succeed in whatever it is that they choose to pursue.

All for the kids we serve,
Rusul and Tom

Rusul Alrubail is a writer on education, teaching and learning, and a community facilitator and blogger at Edutopia. Thomas Murray is the State and District Digital Learning Director for the Alliance for Excellent Education in Washington, DC. This post represents their opinions and is not a product of the Future Ready Initiative.

EdSurge is a partner of the Future Ready Initiative.

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