When talking about change in education, we often begin by looking inward to the strategies and approaches that are already a part of the way we do things. Not surprisingly, using present-oriented practice as a starting point for our change conversations doesn’t get us very far. Oh, there may be some tweaking and tinkering that happens, but nothing close to the level of change that so many believe is necessary if we are going to move beyond the status quo.
So when the EdCan Network proposed a series of Regional Exchanges across the country, in order to listen carefully to what educators, students, parents and community members saw as the top education-related priorities for the next decade, we knew that we needed to activate our thinking in a substantially different way.
The five EdCan Network Regional Exchanges were formed in the Autumn of 2016 as a way to recognize the challenges and opportunities in different parts of the country, but also to identify the priorities that need to be set now if we want to be able to respond to what the future holds for us – five, ten, and even 20 years down the road. The teachers, administrators, parents, students and government representatives that formed each of our five Regional Exchanges helped us put our ear to the ground, but they also helped us fix our eyes on the horizon.
Inspired by the work of futurists, we challenged Regional Exchange participants to look for at least three signals of change that they observed when they looked around their world. According to the California-based Institute for the Future, a signal is a small local innovation that has the potential to disrupt the status quo and/or scale in size or geography. On their own, these signals may appear as weak or distant possibilities. When combined with other signals, however, they can become powerful ways of imagining new possibilities for organizations preparing to lean more intentionally into the future.
Instead of looking inward with an eye to improving what we were already doing, we asked Regional Exchange participants (educators representing the entire spectrum of K-12 education) to look to other contexts not always directly associated with education. What was happening in the world of business, manufacturing, and technology that might have an impact on the work we do in schools? What signals were developing at the levels of politics and economics? What did they see when they cast their eyes to the world of social enterprise, science and medicine?
Participants were then asked to apply three lenses to the signals they were finding:
- What title or name would they give to the signal?
- Why could this signal be important for the education context? What assumptions about our current way of doing things does this signal challenge?
- What might we need to do now in order to prepare for the amplification of this signal?
The signals that Regional Exchange participants brought forward were rich, varied, and quite often a little “out-there.” We heard about advances in artificial intelligence and virtual reality. We heard about innovations in environmental sustainability. We worked with signals related to wearable technology, food sciences and brain research. We heard about new initiatives related to community engagement and cooperation. We explored the impact of automation, a move towards a “gig economy” and the increasing presence of fake news.
We considered how the amplification of these signals might impact the work we do in education, and what might happen if we were to combine some of these seemingly unrelated ideas. The resulting conversations were lively, informative and often sobering.
In the pages that follow, you will read about some of the specific signals of change identified by our Regional Exchange participants. You’ll encounter insights into what those signals could mean for the way we think about education change. And you’ll read stories of people, both inside and outside of education, who are working on powerful prototypes that show where these ideas could take us.
To learn more about what we heard from our pan-Canadian network during this unique consultation, please download Identifying the Signals of Change for the Future of our Public Education Systems at: www.edcan.ca/RegExReport.
But in dedicating an entire issue to Signals of Change, we are also presenting you with a call to action. What signals do you see emerging? What importance could they hold for the way we think about education? Consider this an invitation to continue the conversation, both in your local contexts and on the EdCan Network.
Photos: Max Cooke and Yolande Nantel
First published in Education Canada, March 2018