Tom Kiely, President, Notre Dame Academy

For the high school administrator, the summer months allow for a refocusing of attention.  The fast-paced schedule dictated by needs of students and families, compounded by activities and athletics, gives way to a time for reflecting upon results and horizons for future planning. And so I have been reflecting on the “futuring” process I learned as part of Envision Greater Green Bay and its intersection with education, particularly Catholic education.

The signals teams at Envision Greater Green Bay reflect deeply on 5 major categories that frame the group’s outlook on our area’s growth and development through a futurist’s lens: Economic Transformation; Health & Well-being; Upward Mobility; Housing & Safety; and Arts, Culture & Entertainment.  From a high school educational vantage point, particularly a Catholic high school perspective, all of these categories connect with some key areas of educational growth that are becoming more and more pronounced on local as well as national levels.  Education, finally, is about envisioning the future of both individual students and the communities in which they will live and thrive.

In Catholic schools the way forward is always related to our heritage.  In the language of faith, God has acted in the past, and these acts drive our actions in the present, thus shaping the future.  What we believe about the world will drive activities and will be in dialogue with the possibilities that the future opens before us.

Reflecting on the five categories we use to scan for signals, I find alignment of my work with each one of them:

Economic Transformation attaches educational opportunities to careers that exist or might come to exist.  When imagining with students what God has in store for them as a vocation or a career, knowledge of a world beyond school is essential.  Partnerships between educators and the constellation of career opportunities is vital, so these signals are important to me.

Flowing from the school/career connection, Health & Well-being connects with a concept I call “Learning in Context.”  New tools associated with technology and tools not connected with technology allow students to move from classrooms to the contexts where the fruits of their learning will reside.  Opportunities for connecting with issues ranging from the environment to manufacturing, from law enforcement to legal studies, abound in our metro area as new communications technology makes such encounters more and more possible. The signals of such change are exciting to high school students and staff alike. 

The promise of education has often been associated with Upward Mobility from a social as well as an economic sense.  In a Catholic high school context, students come from many different communities to study, learn, practice their faith, compete in many contests, and serve others.  This collection of “transferrable skills” characterizes an educational experience that looks towards future horizons.  Whereas encountered facts can reside outside of the student, acquired skills that may be applied in new contexts empower students in their social and economic endeavors – keys to their future upward mobility.

Housing & Safety aligns with an educator’s passion for “learning in depth.”  Because this area entails both private enterprise and public policy issues, it bears the unique quality of being tied to both mastery of individual subject areas and a knowledge of advocacy.  At a time when students encounter curriculum that gestures toward a great many topics, the power of “learning in depth” through research, applied experiences, and human encounter bodes well for future envisioning. We work to help young people develop questioning minds that relish learning more deeply, listening more intently, and an appreciation and compassion for all types of experiences.

Arts, Culture & Entertainment serve as indicators of the values and principles that energize a good deal of our interactions as people.  Within the context of educating whole persons, these areas bring to life portions of the human soul that exist beyond the economic and social models of education. Horizons of student expression and thought can be coupled with emerging technologies, modes of communication, and the creation of artifacts that symbolize and energize our experiences as people who live together with our eyes on the future tethered to our identity as a community.

There are always challenges in trying to integrate a future orientation into a comprehensive enterprise such as education.  People relish their roles in repetitive ways.  Strategic Foresight continually challenges this tendency.  Being able to modulate repetition with innovation is a practice that takes time, skills, and conversation space.

In education a good deal of the “future talk” is about students’ futures, not the future of schooling, educational institutions, and communities.  By continually scanning the horizon of futurists’ thinking and keeping student possible futures as a key driver in school planning, “futuring” becomes a key component to planning.

Creating a balance between group education and individual education is a key component of faith-based education.  A key document of Catholic schools is To Teach as Jesus Did, written more than 50 years ago.  The three-fold nature of this document focuses on the message of Jesus as proclaimed in the Gospels, the community that Catholic schools work to educate and form, and the world of service that encounters the ever-expanding horizon of human need in a changing world.  We believe that education has a communal dimension just as it has an individual dimension.  Gathering people into community challenges extremely individualistic strains in our culture.  The balance between growing as individuals and developing as a community drives a good deal of discussion, with our gaze fixed on the future.