Future-Focused Schools

“65 percent of children in our elementary schools will work in jobs that do not exist today.”

This statistic was one of many staggering truths declared by Dr. Bill Daggett, Ed.D., Founder and Chairman of International Center for Leadership in Education, Inc. (ICLE), at a presentation in Houlton, Maine earlier this Spring. Titled “Preparing Students for Their Future,” the talk drew in a crowd of teachers and administrative staff, as well as some architects from SMMA’s K-12 Studio.

One of Dr. Daggett’s major points was that our education systems should evolve as technology and the job market have. This involves prioritizing the teaching of “non-cognitive skills,” or values like responsibility, initiative, perseverance, and adaptability. According to Dr. Daggett, these skills can lead to successes in academics and in the workplace, and also encourage social and emotional development. Most importantly, these skills go beyond our current model of standards and tests, and have the potential to prepare students for a job market that does not yet exist.


The Rigor/Relevance Framework®

Dr. Daggett introduced one of the most well-known diagrams from the ICLE, the organization he founded and chairs. Called the Rigor/Relevance Framework®, this matrix asserts the following:

  • That low rigor/low relevance education allows for knowledge acquisition, or recall and basic understanding.
    Best suited for: Standardized testing

  • That low rigor/high relevance education allows for knowledge application, or basic understanding and solving real-world problems.
    Best suited for: Career and Technical education

  • That high rigor/low relevance education allows for knowledge assimilation, or higher levels of knowledge and analysis.
    Best suited for: College prep and advanced placement courses

  • Lastly, that our education model should strive for high rigor/high relevance, which allows for knowledge adaptation, or high levels of knowledge, and creative, complex analysis to solve real-world problems.
    Best suited for: Career readiness in an internet age

In fact, an adaptive education model is a hallmark of what Dr. Daggett calls “Future-Focused Schools,” or schools that are moving away from test scores and focusing more on the delivery of a curriculum that is applicable to a job market five or more years away.

The K-12 Studio

So, what does this mean for SMMA’s K-12 studio? How can we, as designers, aid in the creation of Future-Focused Schools? One tactic is to build in as much flexibility and technology as possible. Loose furniture and operable partitions are just two examples of ways architecture can support a variety of learning and teaching styles. More and more schools are incorporating project-based learning concepts and crossing lessons across multiple subjects. 

Having this special flexibility for a broad range of class sizes allows teachers to merge classes if desired. As the mode of teaching continues to change, our designs should be able to adapt with it. We also incorporate technology whenever we can, which will continue to be a large factor in the job market of the future. We recognize that our design needs to accommodate devices and fold them into the delivery of curriculum as printed textbooks decline and digital textbooks surge.

Keeping Technology in Check

Former SMMA employee Samantha Farrell (Landscape Architect) adds that while technology is a great tool, it should be used in moderation and in tandem with other methods.

“This is the first generation to grow up with technology at their fingertips. Increased use of handheld technology can lead to physical and mental changes, such as myopia (near-sightedness), correlations with ADHD, depression, and anxiety. Plus, more tech means less time outdoors and in nature. This disconnect from nature also has consequences, vitamin D deficiencies, poor air quality, access to sunlight to regulate circadian rhythms—all of which have a direct impact on a student’s education, health and well-being.”

Farrell noted that some of the non-cognitive skills that were mentioned, like negotiation, relationship/communication, and emotional intelligence, seem like highly useful assets in a Future-Focused education.

“Children growing up in this world have less in-person, social interaction than generations before them. As designers we need to be aware of these cause/effect relationships when we design tech driven spaces. We also need to design spaces that foster collaboration, creativity, and time to un-plug."
- Samantha Farrell, Landscape Architect.

A Unique Balance

At its core, forward thinking requires a balance between preparing for technological evolution and fostering human interaction. While technology plays a rapidly increasing role in both our education and our jobs, it is also vital to take a step back from such innovations and to interact/collaborate with actual people. A truly successful design is one that allows both of these concepts to coexist. SMMA has witnessed these successes through the incorporation of outdoor classrooms in several schools that encourage students of all ages to learn both with and without the assistance of classroom technology. We at SMMA are fortunate to provide a unique integrated design approach towards every school, thus ensuring that Future-Focused education is always a priority.