Tag Archive for thinking

Design Thinking and School Change

I recently facilitated a discussion on design thinking at EdCampPDX. Design thinking is a process for solving problems promoted by IDEO and Stanford’s d.school, among others. The design process includes the following steps:

  • Interviewing users
  • Seeking themes in identified issues
  • Brainstorming solutions while reserving judgment
  • Prototyping and revision

Our discussion group explored the potential of design thinking for student instruction, technology innovation, and school management. The discussion quickly turned to the question of school change — how may a school broadly adopt innovative forms of teaching and management such as design thinking? One school leader expressed concern that students would be less prepared for college admissions as a result of such a change in instructional methods. Others in the group advocated for instructional innovation and risk-taking.

This debate happens frequently when discussing innovation, and school change is difficult to lead. It feels safer to continue to practice the current methods that to try something new, because the promise for improvement is only theoretical, and others have to buy into the change for it to succeed.

At the same time, I left this discussion with a new idea; that design thinking itself could help an instructional team build support for design thinking and other educational innovations. That is, the protocol for discussing design thinking should itself model the design thinking process.

Let us interview students directly and find out whether they are actually passionate about their studies or rather just “doing school” (Pope). Let us seek themes in identified issues to find the problems for which solutions would most benefit students.

When considering possibilities for change, let us set a protocol to reserve judgment and only build on others’ ideas. Nothing kills a discussion more quickly than a veteran teacher standing up to denounce a new idea when it has only just been proposed.

Let us prototype design thinking as an instructional method within our school, with small groups or short units in the year, collect feedback on prototype performance, revise, and try again. Let us evaluate the potential of an idea not just by discussing it but by trying it.


Systems Thinking

Photo by zachstern

Today, Debbie Freed taught us about systems thinking, a framework for understanding school conflict and dilemmas through their underlying causes. She urged us to identify: 1) what is the presenting issue; 2) what is the real issue; 3) why now? Issues framed in terms of personalities are nearly always¬† reflective of systems conditions within a school. Is the presenting issue really the issue or just a symptom of a deeper issue? Who did a new staff member replace? Who really makes decisions within the school? How does the school’s history inform current conflicts? How do people’s belief systems inform our understanding of conflicts?

For some reason, I have thought of schools in this way for a long time. My introduction to Catlin Gabel helped deepen this understanding, as I found myself on the wrong side of a staff replacement scenario and learned to understand the place of the technology department within a complex web of decision-making entities.

Debbie encourages us to first understand ourselves and what role we play within the system. Leaders should define reality, in opposition to crisis. Leaders should exercise clarity, articulation, and alignment. People rise to the occasion when they know their purpose, role and are held accountable. Often missing from schools are effective accountability measures (e.g., evaluation and professional development), due to a culture norm of conflict avoidance.

My favorite quote of the day: “some people think that shared decision-making means that you make a decision and then share it!”