By: David M. Richards and Sarah Pazur
The future of education is now.
The Future of Learning Council (FLC), a cohort of 40 unique school districts and learning organizations, has banded together around a single mission: to shape the future of learning in Michigan. The FLC is committed to leveraging the power of networked cohorts, research, and recent lessons from the pandemic to institute a long-term, systemic shift in teaching and learning.
The FLC launched its inaugural cohort on September 23, 2021, at the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators conference in Traverse City. The FLC, in partnership with Michigan Virtual, is composed of superintendents and educational leaders from across the state.
“The Council members are thought leaders who represent a powerful ‘coalition of the willing’ who embrace change and recognize the value of flexible, personalized, and competency-based learning systems that are high-touch and high-tech. We are excited to provide the administrative backbone and meeting facilities to support the Council’s functions,” said Jamey Fitzpatrick, President of Michigan Virtual, whose support for the FLC has been paramount to its early success.
The FLC hosted several professional learning opportunities during the course of the 2021-2022 school year; these ranged from informal discussions on educators’ most urgent needs post-pandemic; to deep dives into innovative learning models with national thought leaders Tom VanderArk, Rebecca Midles, and Theresa Ewald; to site visits at Berrien Springs Public Schools to see flexible learning in action; to attending the ASU+GSV Summit in sunny San Diego. Members raved about their first year in the council, grateful for the chance to network, build relationships, access new tools and materials, and learn from the country’s best education minds right now.
When asked about the most valuable aspect of their membership, educators almost unanimously replied that it was the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded thinkers. Superintendent Daniel O’Connor from Alcona Community Schools responded how important the timing of this initiative has been for him, “I value the ability to regroup after a difficult few years to regain energy around authentic learning for students with a like-minded group of educators.”
Deanna Holman, the Regional Assistant Grant coordinator for Muskegon ISD, cherished the chance to expand her own personal learning community, “The FLC is allowing me to learn from colleagues across the state. We are identifying folks doing similar things to learn from and with.” Grosse Ille Superintendent, Valerie Orr, shared her enthusiasm for the community, feeling relief that she can now show her teammates “that I am not a crazy person; and that other leaders exist who believe in this work.”
The council has clearly generated a sense of community and camaraderie, connecting districts with new partners who hold a similar desire to reimagine education for all students in the state. Brian Keim, Superintendent of Laker Schools, reflected how the FLC has given him the courage to try new things, the chance to learn from others who possess different strengths, and the opportunity to be a source of inspiration for others. “I’ve been able to visit other districts who are ahead of us in certain areas, and host districts who wish to learn from us,” shared Keim. “The reciprocity has been awesome.”
In addition to fostering meaningful collaboration, members expressed that their participation in the FLC has propelled improvements in their own organizations. Muskegon ISD’s Superintendent Randy Lindquist shared, “[The FLC] has helped us to think differently about school and generate some conversations with our staff. We have created our own localized version of FLC to try and engage our local districts in a similar conversation about the future of education.”
Council participants have also used several of the workshop materials to guide change initiatives in their respective schools. Dr. Carrie Wozniak, Superintendent of Fraser Public Schools, was happy with the FLC’s focus this year: “This has been a very rewarding professional learning experience for our district. The big picture thinking around instructional design is incredibly important and often overlooked.” Other members appreciated the support with developing or refining Portraits of a Graduate, creating professional development plans, and designing instructional frameworks to name a few.
Access to National Thought Leaders
The Board of Directors, which includes Dr. Chris Timmis (Dexter); Dr. Kelly Coffin (Farmington Hills); Dr. John Van Wagoner (Traverse City) and Dr. Dave Richards (Michigan Virtual), has done a tremendous job connecting the FLC with leading innovators in the education field. In addition to bringing leaders from organizations like Getting Smart to the FLC, they arranged for several members to attend the ASU+GVS Summit, “Ed on the Edge,” in April. President Dr. Chris Timmis expressed his gratitude to Michigan Virtual for their leadership, “ MVLRI made it possible for K-12 educators to discuss the future of learning at an international level with those who are leading the work. This was only possible because of the support of MVLRI.”
The purpose of the conference was “to convene the best and brightest minds in global learning and workforce skills to catalyze action and transformation.” FLC member and Superintendent of Chelsea School District, Dr. Julie Helber, reflected on her takeaways from the conference, “The sessions that I went to on gaming really have me thinking. The fact that students can maintain engagement on these games for hours should be a gateway into how we can leverage this medium to engage learners and provide real-world experiences at a different level.” In addition to gamification, FLC conference attendees cited AI technology and online learning shifts as being the most engaging discussions at the conference. The group is eager to attend the conference next year and hopefully lead panel discussions on innovations happening in their districts.
The Future of Learning Council, in partnership with Michigan Virtual, is excited to kick off year two at a special Superintendent’s Summit on August 1, 2022, with author
and educational futurist Michael Horn. Michael is the co-founder and a distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, a non-profit think tank. He has authored multiple books including, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, Amazon best-seller Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools, and the soon-to-be-released From Reopen to Reinvent: (Re)Creating School for Every Child.
He will be spending the day with Summit attendees sharing insights from his book and discussing how the future of learning is quickly becoming personalized. Attendees will also have in-depth conversations regarding challenges in setting the vision for learning and leading this transformation process at the local district level.
“The Summit promises to be a great day of unpacking Michael’s insights on the future of learning, how to navigate the transformation process as a leader, and discussion of strategic steps leaders should be considering as we plan for the coming years,” said Michigan Virtual’s Executive Learning Strategist and board member, Dr. Dave Richards.
The FLC has a lot to celebrate and even more to look forward to next year, as the work to reimagine learning in our state is just beginning. In the words of Muskegon ISD’s Randy Lindquist, “School can and should be different than it is now!”
Dr. David M. Richards is the Executive Learning Strategist at Michigan Virtual.
Dr. Sarah Pazur, Director of School Leadership at CS Partners, Member of the Future of Learning Council.