Is financial sustainability still the number one challenge facing independent schools?

Every three years, we ask our CAIS Heads and Chairs to identify their top three challenges, and we use this data to inform our research and professional development programs. So in 2013, when the top challenge was financial sustainability, we made that our focus (Think 2051 Project!). When you are in the business of whole school continuous improvement, you better know what is top of mind for members.

So this is the year to ask again, and I predict the following – the number one challenge will not be financial sustainability.

Merriam-Webster defines sustainability as “able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed.” Good news! I have read every accreditation report over the past ten years, and more significantly, I have read every Response Report that demonstrates a school’s commitment to implementing the recommendations. This qualifies me to tell you that CAIS schools are not anywhere near “being used up;” in fact, they are working hard to ensure the opposite.

But for anyone thinking that this is a feel-good blog about the future of CAIS schools … “Not so fast Lopez!” There are significant questions in the current educational landscape:

  • Assessment for learning – How do we ensure it is dynamic, embedded and formative, based on real time data and enabled by technology?
  • Blended learning – How do we lead in terms of real-time, data-driven instruction and open up multiple pathways for students to learn and parents, students and teachers to communicate?
  • Competency-base learning – How can we develop a broader conceptualization of evidence of student mastery? And can we figure out a way to get universities to honour this in the application process?
  • Personalized learning – How do we move toward personalization for each student’s unique needs, interests, passions and competency-based pathways, while honouring the provincial curriculum requirements?
  • Project-Based Learning (PBL) – How can we do more student exhibitions that are authentic demonstrations of learning and connected to our communities, without simply making them an add-on for students?
  • Work-based learning – How can our university preparatory schools include co-op opportunities? Can they also be global, and entrepreneurial? Can we develop a badge system that is meaningful and rigorous?
  • Adult-development learning – This is new; in fact, I just made it up. But I am reading How to Raise and Adult and I believe that the author has hit on one of the key challenges facing our schools in particular: how do we raise happy students who know and like themselves? How do we encourage parents to back off and do the same?

Given these challenges, no school can rest on its laurels and not worry about its future strength. So for CAIS schools, I propose two new years’ resolutions:

  1. Change our terminology from “sustainability” to “permanence and strength” and focus on ongoing research to answer the above questions.
  1. Collaborate in terms of research but also in terms of PD. Never before has it been more important to figure out these challenges, and I am a firm believer in the power of together. (If you are a CAIS leader, you should meet your colleagues in Vancouver in April to have some catalytic conversations about the future of education. Read more and register here.)

p.s. I like this list of post-secondary trends.

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