Our most significant work in education is to focus on the future—not only the future of learning itself but the US and world context of that future.

What’s challenging about this task from a leadership perspective is that it is a moving target. In K-12 education, we have learners that span a wide range – those who will graduate this year and those, our Kindergartners, who will graduate in 2029. How do we lead our systems in agile ways, responding to future changes close and so far out (and everything between) that are fuzzy at best?

A quote that fuels my thinking and action around this work of significance comes from Illuminate, an inspiring book that proposes a framework for thinking about leadership in a changing world.

“Leaders anticipate the future. They stand at the edge of the known world, patrolling the border between “now” and “next” to spot trends. They help others see the future, too, guiding people through the unexpected and inspiring them to long for a better reality.”—Illuminate

If this all seems to be overwhelming work in our current reality of limited resources, political uncertainty, increased expectations for results and shifting accountability systems; don’t despair. In this article, I’d like to share several resources that have helped me stay focused on the work while working with others to create the future of learning in my district, rather than being distracted by compliance.

Creating a Compelling Vision for Learning as the Purpose for School: Education Reimagined

Start your journey in the now—start with learning. Engage all of your stakeholder groups (students, teachers, administrators, board members, community members) in a conversation around learning. Here are some questions you might ask:

  • How do you best learn in school?
  • How do you best learn outside of school?
  • What is your most memorable learning experience?
  • What made it memorable?
  • What knowledge, skills and dispositions will our learners need to be successful whether they graduate in 2017 or 2029?
  • What kind of learning environments will best support the development of competencies to ensure success?

I have found one of the best places to start is Education Reimagined. Be sure to read A Transformational Vision for Education in the US and The Practitioner’s Lexicon. Both documents push thinking to pivot toward the learner—away from a school-centered paradigm to a learner-centered paradigm characterized by five elements:

  1. Competency-based learning
  2. Personalized, relevant and contextualized learning
  3. Learner agency
  4. Socially embedded learning
  5. Open-walled learning

In Salisbury Township School District, we spent a year meeting with representatives of all stakeholder groups to discuss the questions listed above in the context of a learner-centered paradigm of education. The result of our work was the development of our Profile Of A Graduate. We also adopted the five pillars from Education Reimagined and defined our own learning belief statements around each pillar. Together, the Profile and Learning Beliefs statements have become our vision for learning.


Once you’ve established a vision and the beliefs behind it, you’ll want to engage your school leaders to develop appropriate action plans that will bring that vision to reality. Moving an organization to the defined vision will be a long, slow process in the context of a rapidly changing world. Leaders need to constantly be standing at the edge and patrolling the border between “now” and “next.” How do we stay informed about the “next”?

The most valuable resource I’ve found to inform my thinking about the future context of learning comes from KnowledgeWorks. KnowledgeWorks has published two documents of significance to inform your thinking about the future: The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code and Shaping the Future of Learning: A Strategy Guide. The Education in the Era of Partner’s in Code document is KnowledgeWorks’ fourth forecast. The forecast presents complex factors that will interact to create new learning landscapes in the future: drivers and areas of impact. The forecast also describes possibilities for how the drivers might affect learning and points us to early examples to explore and inform work in our own contexts. The Strategy Guide will be particularly helpful to leaders as it proposes five foundational issues tied to leading the future of learning.

  • 360 Degree Learners: How can we educate the whole person and enable lifelong learning that supports academic and social-emotional growth?
  • The Whole and the Sum of Its Parts: How can we personalize learning in community, reorienting education around learners while strengthening society?
  • Elastic Structures: How can we create flexible approaches to learning and coordination that respond to learners’ needs?
  • Innovation with Intent: How can we ground systems change in equity, including and supporting underserved learners?
  • The New A+: How can we renegotiate definitions of success, examining what education systems aim to achieve and who gets to say?

In Salisbury Township School District, we are only just beginning to explore the work of KnowledgeWorks and figure out how it informs our work around the Profile of a Graduate and Learning Beliefs. What we do know is that we need to constantly keep one eye on the future if we are going to be able to transform our system and ensure relevant learning opportunities for everyone within the system.


The heavy lifting of creating a compelling vision and looking into the future must be fed daily. There is no better resource than the GettingSmart.com blog. Subscribing to this resource will provide you with a steady stream of real-world inspiration—examples of progressive learning and leadership in action. Be sure to check out these series:Place-Based Education

  • Place-Based Education
  • It’s A Project-Based World
  • Getting Smart On Assessing Social And Emotional Learning
  • Getting Smart Podcast

Visit the site and subscribe to receive updates when new content is posted. You can also follow Getting Smart on socialmedia@GettingSmart.

Visioning is challenging because it is work of significance—work that will have an impact beyond today and well into the future. As ed leaders we must make time for the significant while we also do the important and urgent work that comes at us everyday. If you’re starting your visioning journey with your organization, I think you’ll find the resources shared here to be valuable in informing your journey.