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Q&A: Thomas Murray on How K–12 Is Becoming Future-Ready

Learn more about Murray’s vision for educational technology.

Influential education leader and blogger Thomas Murray’s name is associated with technological anticipation. That’s because Murray, the state and district digital learning policy and advocacy director for the Alliance for Excellent Education, helps lead an ambitious, forward-looking initiative called Future Ready.

EdTech: Focus on K–12 caught up with Murray to find out more about the initiative’s past, present and future.

Thomas Murray

“School leaders have more opportunities than ever before, but more on their plates at the same time,” says Thomas Murray.

EDTECH: What is Future Ready?

MURRAY:  Future Ready is an initiative lead by the Alliance for Excellent Education, a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C., alongside the U.S. Department of Education and more than 50 national and regional partners, that is free for schools. Our goal is to empower district leaders to systemically plan for high-quality teaching and learning accelerated through technology. To date, more than 2,000 school superintendents have signed the Future Ready District Pledge and have committed to taking a stand for their district.

EDTECH: Where did the idea for Future Ready originate from? Why was this effort important to you personally?

MURRAY:  President Obama has been a strong leader in understanding the role that technology can play in student learning. His ConnectED initiative was a vast success, with businesses pledging support for our nation’s schools in many ways. Richard Culatta, the former director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, convened a number of superintendents and educational technology leaders in Washington, D.C., during the spring of 2014 to determine how best to build off of ConnectED to make an impact nationwide in our schools. Out of this planning meeting came the Future Ready District Pledge, a partnership with the Alliance to run a number of regional summits, and a kickoff with the president at the White House in December of 2014.

As a former teacher, principal and technology enthusiast, this initiative aligns perfectly with my personal passions and my 14 years of experience in a public school district in Pennsylvania. Billions of dollars are being spent nationwide, often with districts wondering what the ultimate impact of technology may be. I’m fortunate to be working to support districts, helping them develop systemic action plans, so that smart decisions can be made, and so that students received a more personalized approach to their learning.

EDTECH: What are some of the challenges that districts experience when trying to equip themselves for more digital learning initiatives, and what is Future Ready trying to do to help?

MURRAY:  Today’s school leaders face myriad challenges — from implementing higher state standards, ensuring sustainability of the digital conversion and dealing with stagnant school budgets to questions about privacy and finding ways to move from a sit-and-get model of professional learning to one that is more relevant and personalized, and ultimately shifting pedagogy in the classroom. School leaders have more opportunities than ever before, but more on their plates at the same time.

The Future Ready Framework was developed to support districts in all areas of implementation. Purchasing the technology is the easy part. In shifting the instructional pedagogy and working through all of the areas of implementation — from community engagement and professional learning to curriculum and privacy — there are many areas, which we refer to as “gears,” that have to be systemically planned and implemented. Future Ready also offers the Future Ready Dashboard, a systemic planning tool, where districts can utilize a series of self-assessments and receive customized feedback including scores, gaps and strategies, as well as an action planning tool filled with hundreds of resources from our coalition partners.

EDTECH: Phase 1 of Future Ready launched in 2015 with a series of summits. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

MURRAY:  In 2015, 13 regional summits, attended by more than 2,000 school leaders from almost 450 school districts were held nationwide. The first day of the summits focused on leadership and school culture, and day two was lead by many of the coalition partners with deeper dives into many of the gear areas. Summits were free for school leaders because of the incredible support of the LEAD [Leading Education by Advancing Digital] Commission, which made it all possible. Districts were able to have a great professional learning opportunity due to their leadership. Also at the summits, school leaders built capacity in each region and networked to problem-solve and collaborate. School teams left with the beginnings to their Future Ready action plans to move their district forward.

EDTECH: What can we expect for Phase 2?

MURRAY:  This past December, Phase 2 kicked off at the White House. This phase of Future Ready will host between five and eight nationwide summits, a number of training workshops to support the use of the Future Ready Dashboard, a series of professional learning opportunities, a large number of regional partners to further support the work, and a leadership hub as part of the new Future Ready website, which will soon be released at futureready.org.

EDTECH: Say a district is ready to start its digital transformation. Where should leaders there go for more information?

MURRAY:  Superintendents can start by taking the Future Ready District Pledge, plan on attending one of this year’s national summits, engage with our regional partners and check for the latest at futureready.org. It’s vital that school leaders have a starting point for their visioning moving forward, and the Future Ready Dashboard, supported by a vast coalition of partners, is an excellent starting point. Leaders also can take advantage of the Future Ready Leaders project lead by the U.S. Department of Education and the Future Ready Hub, a one-stop shop for Future Ready support moving forward.

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Feb 18 2016

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