ust over a year ago, WT’s strategic vision was unveiled, highlighting four strategic priorities (Reimagine Learning, Rethink Time and Space, Strengthen Community, and Support Employees) rooted in a commitment to develop individuals of strong character and prepare them for the demands of a changing world. Now, the Board of Trustees builds on that commitment with the Future Forum Committee, a visionary approach for supporting and inspiring the school’s strategic work.
“Future Forum is about taking the pulse of the changing discourse in fields across a wide spectrum—not just education—and understanding how the intersectional and multi-disciplinary nature of today’s world informs our mindset,” shares Trustee Illah Nourbakhsh, Future Forum Committee Chair. “It is a way for the Board to interrogate knowledge that is outside its own envelope of experience and wisdom.”
Sipping from many wells of expertise
Future Forum emphasizes breadth rather than depth, a structure allowing participants to “sip from the wells of many disciplinary experts,” says Nourbakhsh. Every few months, a rotating group of six Board members and employees convenes for reflection and conversation with thought leaders from multiple fields. “We hope to formulate a grammar for leading-edge practices and beliefs that are likely to influence WT into future years, on topics as diverse as physical plant, curriculum, parent engagement, and athletics.” The size of the group creates an intimacy intended to catalyze outstanding conversations, and the process invites a consistent flow of fresh ideas and forward thinking.
The idea for Future Forum came from Board President Paul Rosenblatt’s desire to build on the work of the Board’s recently dissolved Generative Thinking Task Force. Rosenblatt characterizes generative thinking—a cognitive process utilized by boards to produce creative decision-making—as “important for identifying and exploring new ideas in the context of current and anticipated issues, and deciding whether and how to act upon them.” The Board had integrated this thinking so thoroughly into its meetings and operations that a standalone task force was no longer necessary, but Rosenblatt wanted to maintain the overarching focus on the future, and proposed taking the spirit of generative thinking to another level.
“One of my goals in establishing the Future Forum is to make sure that we as a Board are regularly being introduced to new ideas and practices, not just in education, but in other fields as well.
“The Future Forum is a place for us to share ideas and cross-sector concepts—to cross-pollinate our thinking with ideas outside of our own realms of experience,” Rosenblatt continues. “What do the world’s leading thinkers believe is in our future? Some of these folks are actually in our own community here at WT or in our own city. What should we anticipate and prepare for? What exciting new ideas are out there for us to discuss and debate and incorporate into our long-range planning?”
Adds Nourbakhsh, “These thought leaders are futurists in some way, whether in their remarkable ability to predict how cultural boundaries change, or in their ability to take trends now underway and create ontologies that make sense of those changes so we can see the bigger picture.”
Incorporating all voices
The Future Forum Committee has already identified a meaty list of topics and themes to be explored, including cultural competency, diversity and anti-racism in education, climate change and environmentalism, anxiety in children, new kinds of evaluations, and counter-narratives.
“Illah’s idea to rotate the Board members is the first of many steps to assimilate all voices into these seemingly disparate conversations,” says Trustee Savita Mullapudi Narasimhan. “The collective knowledge will introduce speakers who will elevate our school through diverse insights and ideas. What will be equally interesting is, how do we build on these and calibrate our work to incorporate them? The road will be long, arduous, and extremely challenging, but WT’s response to COVID-19—which included many voices in the process of input, discussion, analysis, iteration, and implementation – has taught us that this is the only way.”
Digging into disruption
“It’s hard not to think about this in the context of COVID-19, because we’ve been forced to be so flexible and break open our thinking constantly—even more than we could have imagined,” acknowledges Head of School Dr. Scott D. Fech. “We’d already been in the mindset that we can’t keep doing things the way we’ve done them in the past. This sampling of how all sorts of industries are disrupting their fields will be invaluable to our work. We can model the thinking of what it means to be disruptive, and it can inform us in new ways of thinking which are not necessarily about school, but about mindsets. It’s really wide open.”
As the Future Forum Committee digs into disruption and the wide-open work of helping to prepare WT’s students for an uncertain future, they do so enthusiastically embracing the changes they, too, will be asked to make.
“A critical part of preparing for the demands of a changing world is to be open to changing ourselves,” admits Narasimhan. “And for this we need to amass credible knowledge from experts in various fields and learn to make connections to our work for more integrated solutions. Sometimes, this may mean starting all over again and other times, it may mean adding important spokes to a tried and tested wheel. Our hope is that Future Forum discussions will operate as a knowledge platform helping us sow seeds for the best future we can offer our whole community.”