The NAIS 2025 and Beyond Initiative: An Invitation to Participate in Co-Creating Our Future

The submission deadline has been extended to May 15.

The past few weeks have been unimaginable. Leaders have been faced with impossible decisions, and many have experienced illness and loss of life in their communities. The toll on everyone can be seen in the levels of stress and exhaustion. Yet, the independent school community is resilient. Our schools have been first responders for children and parents, helping to build community and continuity. I am in awe of your dedication.

We must continue to lead our communities and manage through this uncertain territory, but at the same time think about how our schools will survive in the midterm and thrive beyond this crisis. This is no easy feat, and we can’t do it alone. In the spirit of co-creation, let’s carve out some time to use this crisis to spur thinking about long-term transformation for our schools.

George Couros, author of The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, wrote in a recent blog post: “Change will come our way. We can ‘go’ through it or ‘grow’ through it. We grow when we seek out solutions rather than letting obstacles hinder us.”

With the aim of growing through this crisis, I invite you to participate in a “wisdom of the crowd” exercise to think about what is possible. But first, some background.

The Stanford 2025 Project

In 2014, the Stanford conducted a challenge to reimagine what the university could be in the context of a changing world. The resulting Stanford 2025 report and website outlined four provocations, named thus because each “disrupted some of the key assumptions on which an institution is built.” The provocations, although designed for higher education transformation, also offer some prototypes for independent schools to consider:

The first of these provocations, the Open Loop University, addressed a changing dynamic that has evolved rapidly since 2014—that is, a world of lifelong learning in which people need to be retrained as jobs are eliminated and new ones emerge. The reason for the name “open loop” is that this provocation suggested a model whereby students would “loop in and out of the college experience at their own pace and on their own time” having six years of education over their lifetime instead of four or more sequential years.

The second provocation, Paced Education, also looked at disrupting the notion of time in a college experience. Specifically, this model “called for the abolition of the traditional class year in favor of personalized phases, which students would move through at their own pace. It also endeavored to tailor the spaces and environments to the mode of learning at hand. Instead of freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years, students would learn in three phases: Calibrate, Elevate, and Activate.”

The third provocation, Axis Flip, focused on flipping knowledge and skill so that the foundation of education was no longer discipline-level knowledge, but rather skill development. This provocation also examined developing transferable skills and competencies throughout the higher ed experience and organizing around interdisciplinary competency hubs. This provocation has already taken root in both K–12 and higher education.

Finally, the fourth provocation, Purpose Learning, is just what the name suggests: centering learning on a purpose or mission “inviting students to think about the ‘why’ behind their area of study” and then tailoring a course of study around it.

Much has changed since 2014, and rather than provocations, these four models are now more descriptive of emerging directions in education. To chart that progress, Stanford published in November 2019 an update to the study, “Uncharted Territory: A Guide to Reimagining Higher Education.” I urge you to download the report and read it in its entirety. It provides case studies and action steps for how colleges and alternative schools are rethinking who they could be in the context of a changing world.

The NAIS Challenge

Taking a page from the’s playbook, NAIS would like to engage the independent school community in developing some provocations of its own. In its 2019 report, the authors developed a framework for thinking about areas ripe for provocation. I have adapted it slightly for the independent school context:

Foundation & Finance: 
  • Hidden Levers: Reconfigure the infrastructure and building blocks of K–12 institutions. What no longer makes sense? What could be accomplished more effectively? How could collaboration or networking help us to think about infrastructure differently?
  • Radical Affordability: Reimagine the way that independent schools are financed, business models are configured, and families could afford to pay for independent schools. How can we open up access to a greater diversity of students?
 Work & World:
  • Career Crafting: Rethink what happens after high school. With a new generation of students who may want options other than college, how could we prepare students to go directly into the workforce or pursue alternatives?
  • Citizen Shaping: Reengineer how we prepare students to be global citizens with a mission for solving some of the world’s biggest problems. Can we help students to shape an education guided by mission?
 Pace & Place:
  • Changing Paces: Think differently about the time it takes to move through a K–12 education. Consider how we could introduce flexibility in the time of day, semester, or school year.
  • Changing Spaces: Rethink where and how learning happens to support different types of student learning. Can we use what we are learning from our current virtual learning environments to think about what could be possible?
Acumen & Agency:
  • Competency-Centered: Reorient the student experience around the whole student and the competencies they will need in this changing landscape. How might we rethink education in a world where human and machines partner?
  • Agency-Oriented: Extend student agency through personal learning agendas and purposeful learning experiences. How can we even more intentionally put the learner at the center?

Share Your Ideas

 What could independent schools be in the context of our changing world? We invite you to share your ideas.
  1. Peruse the provocations, and choose the one you think is the ripest for transformation. (If you—or anyone in your community, including students—have your own area of provocation that is not described above, please feel free to suggest it.)
  2. Briefly define what you think the problem is and how we could begin to think about approaching it differently.
  3. Send your submission to NAIS’s Erica Zematis at [email protected] by May 15, 2020.
In the spirit of co-creation, we will use your submissions to:
  1. inform our May issue of Looking Ahead, which will focus on transformation;
  2. inform scenario-planning work that NAIS is engaging in to help schools shape a sustainable future;
  3. help identify areas to incubate transformation through the work of the NAIS Strategy Lab;
  4. link schools that would like to collaborate on bringing a provocation to prototype status; and
  5. inspire others to imagine transformational change.
I know leaders are dealing with so much today, and I don’t want to minimize the extent of those challenges. However, a crisis also offers unique opportunities. Working together, we can rethink what an independent school could look like in 2025. Let’s get started.
Donna Orem
Donna Orem

Donna Orem is NAIS President.


Deborah Richman
4/29/2020 12:35:30 PM
Brilliant move and direction, and so very critical to the sustainability of our independent schools, Donna.

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