To be continued…

So, thanks to a spot of laser surgery to rectify a small tear in the retina of my right eye, this weekend this keen reader isn’t really up to doing much reading. No problem. I have a bank of podcasts I often complain I can’t find the time to listen to. Case in point, this Serial podcast I’ve heard so many people go on about.

And never being one for half measures where text is concerned, I managed to listen to the entire first season in one day.

This is what struck me: nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Everything is complicated. Like, everything. My recollection of an event is not the same as yours. It gets filtered through my experiences, my bias, my senses, my brain. What strikes you is inconsequential to me. And vice versa. This reminds me very much of why Memento is one of my all-time favourite films, with this as one of my all-time favourite quotes from it: “Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They’re just an interpretation…” 

Before I go too far off track here, let me just say that I am profoundly interested in the intersection between stories and identity. The way we interpret and understand the world around us is through stories. Stories are our identity. And stories are multifaceted, they are layered. They are complex.

Image Sources: Change Management, Complexity

Which is why something like ‘change management’ structures irritate me so badly. Change is multifaceted, layered and complex. It cannot be stuck into boxes to follow a set pattern which will magically get everyone working together with the same goal in mind.

A good comeback at this point might be to say, okay, sure Philippa, you don’t like change management processes, but you’re a bit of a raver for design thinking…what’s the difference, really? And fair enough. The way design thinking is often portrayed is as a linear process: first this, then that, and then the other.

But.

The first thing? Immersion: empathy building. Sitting with the complex, the multifaceted, the layered. And seeking to understand it from another’s point of view. When you do this, you honour the stories of another. You honour who and what they are, and who and what is important to them.

I’m still grappling with these ideas (one of the reasons why it’s been so long between blogposts), and you can hear my grappling as well as some more of my thoughts here in a podcast I did with Pete Hall of Network for Learning. But there’s something about language, stories, identity and empathy and what these might offer us in education to invite others into agentic practices that has gripped me and is occupying a lot of my thinking. I guess this is an episode that for me is to be continued…

 

Why use Design Thinking?

This blogpost is the second in a series of five where I intend on exploring Design Thinking in an education context. I want to come back to the questions we have about design thinking when we’re first starting out. I want to think about what design thinking is, why we might use design thinking, how we can use design thinking in schools, where to go for resources and help, and finally, how design thinking can transform our schools.

So if we’ve established a bit of a common understanding of what Design Thinking really is, and remember the ‘sound bite’ from last week was: “Design Thinking is an approach to learning that focuses on developing children’s creative confidence through hands-on projects that focus on empathy, promoting a bias toward action, encouraging ideation and fostering active problem-solving…” (Kwek, 2011, p. 4let’s now turn our attention to why we might embrace a design thinking approach to teaching and learning. What might it offer our learners?

Perhaps the place to start is with the idea of ‘21st century’ skills, a phrase which is a bit amorphous, but is often used as an umbrella term for the kinds of skills that educationalists, researchers and future thinkers regard as being key for our current (and future) learners in order for them to be active and aware citizens. These 21st century skills are sometimes alliteratively grouped as three or four Cs: creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.

framework_for_21st_century_learning
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As a group works through a design thinking process using the design thinking mindsets, they cannot help but hit all four of these Cs in a meaningful way. There will be the collaboration of the group itself as they work iteratively through the framework. Many proponents of design thinking actively encourage diverse groupings in order to encompass a variety of voices and of perspectives. Collaboration cannot be done without communication. Additionally, there will be communication with the users, the people for whom the design solution is being sought. Empathy building will require some kind of interview, survey, research – or all three – to be conducted. This also draws on critical thinking, particularly as the group moves from an immersion to an ideation phase. Synthesising a wealth of information requires a hugely critical eye. Finally, one of the reasons I personally feel drawn to design thinking is the way it provides a semi-structured way to develop creativity. The ideation phase in particular targets this. But creativity will also be fostered in imagining ways to communicate effectively and deeply with users, creating prototypes, pitching an idea for feedback.

In New Zealand, our ‘21st century skills’ are really the Key Competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum:

  • Thinking
  • Relating to others
  • Using language, symbols and text
  • Managing self
  • Participating and Contributing.

Hopefully even with only a cursory glance at this list, we can see that again design thinking will hit meaningfully on these too.

As notosh says: “Design Thinking can be a powerful vehicle for deeper learning of content, more divergent thinking and building the thinking skills capacity of learners. Key to the process’s success in learning, is that it provides the platform for learners to become problem finders.” I’d like now to consider a further this idea of problem solving and problem finding. It might seem a little odd, but let’s not consider these two things as separate from one another.

You may recall from the previous blogpost, that Jean-Pierre Protzen (2010) looked at tracing the origins of this phrase ‘design thinking’ and in the process of doing so, focused on ‘thinking about design’. In his article, he makes a salient point about problem finding by quoting Horst Rittel: “formulating the problem is the problem.” Rittel uses the phrase ‘wicked’ to discuss design problems, as, among other aspects, “Every problem can be seen as a symptom of another and problems cannot be separated into disciplines.” (Protzen, 2010, p. 6)

‘Wicked’ problems are not just limited to problems of design (in a narrow sense of the word). Rachel Bolstad and Jane Gilbert (et al, 2012) discuss these in an educational context in their superb “Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective”. They define wicked problems as those that “cannot be solved using straightforward puzzle-solving or mathematical solutions. They span multiple domains: social, economic, political, environmental, legal and moral…” For example: climate change, poverty, drug trafficking. “It is argued that education for the 21st century needs to support learners…to actively develop the capabilities they need to productively engage in 21st century wicked problem solving.” (Bolstad and Gilbert et al, 2012, p. 12)

I believe that design thinking offers one way to begin to tackle wicked problems. Working in a cross-curricular, trans-disciplinary, collaborative manner to hear the voices of those ‘on the ground’ seems to me to be a way to bring highly complex challenges from the abstract to the concrete and thus begin to find workable, realistic solutions; finding the problem in order to work towards solving it. Thus I believe design thinking fosters active, agentic, empathetic citizenship. More than developing and nurturing 21st century skills, design thinking offers hope that things can change for the better.

Sources:

Bolstad, Rachel and Gilbert Jane (et al). (2012). “Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective”, Retrieved from http://www.nzcer.org.nz/research/publications/supporting-future-oriented-learning-and-teaching-new-zealand-perspective

Kwek, Swee Hong. (2011). “Innovation in the Classroom: Design Thinking for 21st Century Learning”, (Master’s thesis) Retrieved from http://web.stanford.edu/group/redlab/cgi-bin/materials/Kwek-Innovation%20In%20The%20Classroom.pdf

McIntosh, Ewan. (2014). “The Design Thinking School”, Retrieved from http://notosh.com/what-we-do/the-design-thinking-school/

Protzen, Jean-Pierre. (2010). “Design Thinking: What is That?”, Retrieved from http://www.ced.berkeley.edu/downloads/pubs/faculty/protzen_2010_design-thinking-what-is-that.pdf

Wero

My star sign is Libra. The scales. Justice, fairness, equality. These values are dear to my heart. So I have been enjoying wrestling with the challenge presented to me via amazing educators Ann Milne, principal of Kia Aroha College, and Deanne Thomas, of CORE Education, to think more about social justice and equity with regards to The Treaty of Waitangi and the success our Maori learners experience in New Zealand schools.

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The Ministry of Education strategy for increasing Maori achievement in schools is called Ka Hikitia and is now supported by the professional learning development of Kia Eke Panuku. These documents refer to Maori enjoying success “as Maori“. But what does this mean?

The highlight for me at ULearn15 was Ann Milne’s presentation entitled: “Leadership and achievement through culturally responsive, critical, social justice pedagogies”. This was exactly the kind of confronting, crunchy learning I love from ULearn. While I can’t say yet I fully understand all of Ann’s talk, nor can I say I necessarily agree with some of the specifics of her message, I can say, totally in line with my word for the year, that the learning was powerful.

In her presentation, Ann unpacked the concept of “as Maori”. She was superbly supported by the action research of her “warrior scholars” who have dived into this morass. Some of the ideas she raised really had an impact on me and resonated with me. I was particularly struck by the idea that learners shouldn’t have to leave their identity at the door – that Maori (and, I would argue, all learners) have the right to an education that affirms who you are. I wonder what I have done as a teacher to support Maori learners in their identity as Maori, and whether I have positioned Maori identity as an asset and as a key to success. I frankly acknowledge that I have a lot to learn about tikanga Maori and te ao Maori, but this is learning I am excited to engage with.

Ann spoke of Kia Aroha College’s “pedagogy of whanau“, which has been fully unpacked to tangibly define it in all, and I mean all, aspects of school life. The question of ‘where’s the whanau in that?’ is a great tool to keep focused on this central vision. It is powerful in its simplicity and complexity.

I can see connections here to the learning I have been doing this year around relationships, where I have come to (re)discover how crucial manaakitanga and whanaungatanga are to me both professionally and personally. And I wonder, building on the session Deanne Thomas facilitated for us 2015 CORE eFellows, how digital technologies/eLearning/future-focused learning might support and enhance tikanga Maori.

Certainly the ideas of shifting the locus of control away from the teacher, allowing greater equity of access to knowledge (but in Te Reo?), and thus learning moving towards being student-centred and personalised, must allow space for relationships to be fostered and nurtured. How else might schools enable Maori learners’ success as Maori? Where’s the whanau in our mainstream schools at present?

Feed the Hungry: Applying design thinking principles to invigorate teachers’ professional learning

This blogpost is a written version of the ULearn presentation I gave on 8 October 2015, as the culmination of my CORE eFellowship research. 

 

Here I will seek to share some insights into my research as part of my CORE Education eFellowship where I wondered about how my design thinking pedagogy might invigorate teachers’ professional learning.

By way of an ultra-brief introduction to design thinking, it is a process or methodology of problem finding and creative problem solving that seeks to keep users at its centre. There are various iterations of the process, but the d.School in Stanford, and the NoTosh representations have been most influential in my thinking.

For the purposes of this research, I have focused on the design thinking mindsets, and these have particularly informed my professional learning facilitation in my current capacity as the Postgraduate Programme Director (Wellington) at The Mind Lab by Unitec.

In this role I facilitate a 32 week programme, the first 16 weeks comprise weekly four hour, face-t0-face sessions, ultimately working towards a Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital and Collaborative Learning). I joined The Mind Lab because I was hugely inspired by its founder, Frances Valintine, and her vision of having 10,000 teachers complete the course in the next five years. To me, this represents a real tipping point, a disruption to the New Zealand education system.

Hence, when it came to choose a particular focus from the design thinking mindsets for my research, I gravitated towards ‘bias towards action’ – it wouldn’t be enough for me to contribute towards this disruptive vision with ideas, something tangible and concrete would need to come from the teachers who complete their DCL. I was going to change the world one classroom at a time.

I figured that, if that was my aim, then I had better learn about what makes for effective professional learning. I started with the Timperley et al (2007) Best Evidence Synthesis. And immediately came to a crashing halt. I felt there was a certain arrogance in my role as facilitator – was I assuming I knew better than the teachers who willingly give their precious time to this professional learning opportunity? Were we being upfront with teachers about our assumption/expectation that a shift in their practice is needed? Other facilitators seemed to be provocative, to play the role of devil’s advocate, but I felt I didn’t have the stories or the experience to do that. And isn’t that a bit rude anyway? Who was I as a facilitator?

After thrashing around in the dark for a fair bit, I decided I needed to come back to first principles – those of the design thinking mindsets. What I realised/remembered was that empathy is key to design thinking – it’s actually what separates design thinking from other inquiry or problem-based learning models. Design thinking is user-centred design; it is a deeply human process. I felt much more comfortable with this, but still harboured a secret desire to disrupt…while disliking the word itself…

Then, the amazing Louise Taylor, one of our CORE Education research mentors, handed me the phrase that set me back on the path: “disrupt with humility”. It suddenly all made sense to me. Focus on respectful practice. This aligned perfectly with both my personal and professional values.

So the arc of my research process went like this: reflecting on my own practice and blogging about it; a ‘goldilocks’ survey to find out what the teachers thought I should do more of/less of/was doing just right; listen to teachers to hear their stories, and from this conduct interviews to hear some particular stories in more depth. I unpacked these interviews to tease out ways in which we might disrupt with humility.

Disrupt with Play

I don’t think we value play nearly enough as a powerful learning experience for adults. Every session at The Mind Lab includes a ‘play’ element, and design thinking itself, I have come to see thanks to Keryn Davis, is playing with ideas. In a dedicated design thinking session, one of the teachers on the course, Imogen Warren, was so struck by the process that the following week she instigated a challenge with her class: ‘How might we make Room 9 even better?’ One conclusion the class reached was to have an Imagination Club. The design thinking session sparked a creative force in the class whereby learners are now actively encouraged to explore their creativity and individuality – and thus Imogen reports that it “changed the culture of the class in an afternoon.”

Similarly, another teacher reported that by experiencing a live, hands-on demonstration of a Twitter chat facilitated by me and Tim Gander, Education Director of The Mind Lab in Gisborne one Wednesday evening, this sparked the realisation that Twitter can be a powerful source of professional learning. So much so, that he returned to his own school to spread the word amongst his colleagues.

Disrupt with Dialogue

There is immense power in conversation, humour, asking questions, following tangents. One teacher spoke of how being with a colleague on the course, and car-pooling with this person drove her back onto the path of being interested in leadership. The opportunity for critical reflection and to develop critical friendships was seminal. In fact, the time to converse with fellow teachers, to network across the educator sector, to build a community of practice, was a key theme emerging from the goldilocks survey. Teachers want to connect, to converse, to share their stories, and this is what is most valuable to their learning.

Disrupt with Time

Thus the connector between the themes in my research became obvious to me: time. It takes time to play, to think, to talk, to discuss, to reflect. While the individual stories the teachers generously shared with me were all very different, the concept of having the time to embark on a learning journey came through loud and clear. Because it takes time to learn. We have this myth of a sudden ‘eureka’ moment, but we know this flash of insight or inspiration rarely comes like this. Instead ideas develop iteratively, as a ‘slow hunch‘, combining, building, colliding, from which deep learning occurs.

And these teachers’ stories disrupted my thinking. What were the implications of espousing respectful practice? I began to examine my own assumptions, starting with the very title of this research: ‘Feed the Hungry’ which comes from the phrase ‘feed the hungry; don’t water the stones’. I also referred in my research outlines to ‘willing and curious’ teachers. Who was I to call some teachers ‘stones’? Who was I to judge some teachers as ‘willing’ and thus position others as ‘unwilling’? Where was the respect, the empathy, in that? I began to wonder about the language we use to refer to the so-called ‘resistant teachers’.

Maurie Abraham, principal of Hobsonville Point Secondary School, gave me a new analogy. What if we ‘invited teachers on the bus?’ He spoke of inviting teachers on a learning journey, on a bus. They could wait at the bus stop if they so chose, but the bus was on a public transport loop and would come around again. At which point, they would be invited on the bus. This warm but demanding metaphor fits much more comfortably with my need for respectful, empathetic practice.

So what have I learned about design thinking as a tool to invigorate teachers’ professional learning? I have come to realise that learning is a deeply emotional experience – it sits right at the heart of who we are as people. Design thinking takes empathy as its core tenet – it has a human-centred focus – and this is why the two fit together so beautifully.

Really, I have come back to where I started: how might we invite teachers on the bus?

List

Acknowledgments

Introducing the “Imagination Club”

As a teacher, you don’t necessarily know what makes an impact and what doesn’t. It’s the same as a facilitator.

Being passionate about design thinking, it would come as no surprise that I leapt at the chance to shape a design thinking session for our postgrads completing the Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital and Collaborative Learning) offered by The Mind Lab by Unitec. What was a joyous surprise to me, however, was how warmly it was received by the Wellington teachers when we ran this session in June.

Even more exciting though was when, the following week, one of the teachers kindly let me know that not only had she gone away and trialled a design thinking process with her class, but it had been extremely successful.

The question Imogen posed for her class at Tawa Intermediate was: How might we make Room 9 even better? And out of that, the Imagination Club was born. Two students lead the club, which has been timetabled into a weekly slot. Initially, students were asked to ‘audition’ by drawing something from their own imagination. One of the lead students sidled up to Imogen as everyone was sketching to quietly let her know that everyone would actually be allowed in.

GetAttachmentRecently, the Imagination Club finished their first project: creating a class mascot. Named, rather appropriately, Sparkle, the mascot is testament to the students’ self-direction, ability to sustain their interest, engagement and, of course, imagination, over an extended period of time. I was lucky enough to visit the Imagination Club in their planning phase.

But, even more than this, is the way Imogen reports how this design thinking challenge has marked a real turning point in the learning journey of the class. She told me how it “fostered…spawned…[a] kind of creative force in the class.” Students are now actively encouraged to put their own creative spin on any activity. In this way, creativity and individuality have become honoured. Design Thinking “put a spotlight on a new path” – one of “being creative and embracing their [the students’] own individuality”. Imogen believes that the challenge “changed the culture of a class in an afternoon.”

Powerful, inspiring stuff.

So, what are the implications of this, beyond the obvious reported success of design thinking in the classroom? Imogen herself says that, for her, it was the suspension of judgement, particularly in the ideation phase, that attracted her attention.

  • ‘Yes, and…’ is an empowering phrase.

This story of the Imagination Club has also helped me to reflect on my own practice as a facilitator, and given more fuel to my fire that design thinking is a way to play – to play with ideas.

  • We don’t value the power of play in adult learning, and perhaps we should.

And we can never truly predict, not as teacher, not as a facilitator, what will make an impact on others. Therefore it is always important to treat others with empathy, and to offer opportunities to learn in a multitude of ways.

  • Teaching is about opening doors.

Manaakitanga

This one’s for you, Dad.

One of the really important things my Dad has taught me is that you should treat everyone the same. For him, he sees no difference between the farmers, the scientists, and the academics he works with. Everyone has their own story and their own experience and thus are due respect.

I think this kind of appreciation for the individual is part of what makes up manaakitanga. During our most recent eFellows hui in Wellington, Deanne Thomas presented us with several challenges, one of which was around what manaakitanga and whanaungatanga looks like in schools, and looks like in a digital environment.

A seed of an idea has been slowly growing in my mind since then, and it wasn’t until last week that it finally sprouted a bit.

On Friday I had the great privilege of visiting Paraparaumu College and meeting its inspirational principal, Gregor Fountain. He was able to clearly articulate for me his vision for the College. This vision, to me, captures in a coherent and compelling way the connection between e-learning, culturally responsive practices, and nurturing positive relationships: relational pedagogy.

And these weren’t just edu-babble buzz words, either. The commitment to this path, and the care and respect for each individual in the school was immediately obvious to me. Gregor knew the name of each student we came across on our tour of the school, and asked each one something particular to them which showed me he knew them. The same thoughtful and respectful nature was extended to me, as a visitor, and to his staff. This genuine interest was sincere and natural.

It reminded me of my Dad. It made me think about manaakitanga. And it made me reflect on my own learning journey this year.

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e-Learning is not about technology, it is, among other things, about access to information. Teachers are no longer required as content experts. Their job is to work alongside learners to help them navigate knowledge for themselves. Some teachers might find this threatening or confronting. That is understable. But instead of viewing ourselves as redundant, we should view ourselves as more important than ever, because what is left when we take information out of the teacher-student equation? Relationships.

In a similar kind of way, my exploration of design thinking this year as part of my eFellowship inquiry has led me to the same conclusion. I started with a hiss and a roar, wanting to inspire teachers to take arms against the education system and to transform it, one classroom at a time. I wanted a bias towards action. How to spark this revolution though, was at odds with who I am as a practitioner, and as my father’s daughter. It is rude to assume I know better than others. Disrupting with humility and respect was much more authentic to me. The emphasis shifted to where it should have been all along: empathy. Design thinking is first and foremost a human-centred approach.

And this is what my Dad has been teaching me, and this is what I witnessed at Paraparaumu College last week. As I have previously stated, to me big picture is really small picture. Systems must keep the individual firmly at their centre, otherwise they become bureaucracies only interested in sustaining themselves. In order to do this, a system must be flexible, adaptable, responsive. It must put the emphasis on relationships, on manaakitanga, on whanaungatanga.

He aha te mea nui?

He tangata

He tangata

He tangata

Questionable Leadership

This blogpost is prompted by my reading of A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger (2014).

What if our school leaders asked more questions?

I’ve been wondering what it might be like to work in a school where there is a culture of questioning. I think this would need to start at the top to role model acceptance of potentially disruptive questions. Berger posits that there is an inverse relationship between questioning and expertise. That is, as we get more knowledgable about a topic we question less. I wonder if this isn’t often (sometimes? occasionally?) the case with school leaders.

What if we were more comfortable with our own ignorance?

If we are comfortable that we don’t know, and aware that we don’t know, then we might be prompted to ask questions. How else do you learn if you don’t first pose a question? How else can you understand others’ assumptions or the systems of an organisation if you don’t ask: why We could even start by centring the foundation of the school around a question.

What if we had mission questions instead of mission statements?

A question is engaging. It points forward. It can be a motivating and collaborative experience. “Tim Brown, the chief executive at IDEO, points out that questions, by their very nature, challenge people and invite them to engage with an idea or an issue – and could therefore do likewise in engaging employees with a company mission.” (p. 163)

What might a culture of questioning be like?

I think questioning is a great leveller. If leaders are prepared to ask questions borne of their own genuine curiosity to discover more, this can fundamentally shift power structures. A leader is no longer the sole expert. Others might have the answers that you seek. If we were to, as Berger suggests, let listening inform questioning (p. 98), I think this could be transformational.

To listen is to be respectful. Respect, I think, builds empathy and trust. Questioning is a way to bridge divides. Berger quotes Jon Bond, who considers “questions to be ‘the verbal equivalent of nonviolent conflict resolution’” (pp. 205-6). If we seek to understand another’s point of view, then we might be able to find a way forward.

I think this process would take time. It is an investment in people. But I think it could be powerful and ultimately transformative. Questioning is a way to disrupt with humility.

What question might you ask today?

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Image Credit

From Quagmire to (some) Clarity

The eFellows learning journey continues!

A fortnight ago I was struggling to write the first draft of my abstract for ULearn. I have written abstracts for conference (research) papers before. And it would be fair to say I pretty much hate the practice. In Design Thinking terms, how on earth can I talk about where I’ve got to while I’m still in the immersion stage? And ‘immersion’ would be a very polite term for how I was feeling. Stuck in the mud of seemingly disparate ideas. Floundering to find footing. Lost.

I managed to bang something out (but you know you’re in despair when you start doing word counts on the eFellows14 abstracts to compare to your own) and was actually reasonably happy with it. Then it came time to firm the abstract up for submission. Cue wheels well and truly falling off.

It was time for desperate measures. I took myself off to one of the ‘phone boxes’ in the CORE Education Wellington office. I remained standing and looked hard at the messy ideas I had.

The two ideas that have really stopped me in my tracks during this learning journey have been:

  1. Design Thinking as play, and the role of play-based learning for adults. (Which has lead me onto a tangent as to what constitutes effective professional learning, and exploring the perceived differences between pedagogy and andragogy.)
  2. How the goal of disrupting teachers’ preconceived ideas about their practice conflicts with being respectful. This has lead me to re-evaluate my Design Thinking pedagogy and shift my personal emphasis from ‘bias towards action’ to ’empathy’.

And then – how on earth to mesh all this together with my original inquiry question of: How I might employ design thinking principles to invigorate teachers’ professional learning in order to nurture critical and creative citizens?

<Insert scream here.>

Luckily, as always, our amazing mentor Louise Taylor, had handed me the key by way of introducing us to the phrase: Disrupt with Humility.

<Insert angels’ choir and clouds parting here.>

Suddenly, on a square of blue note paper, it all fell together. My Design Thinking principles have shifted to put empathy at the centre. This allows me to work in a respectful way aligned with my personal morals and values. I can disrupt, but with humility. And for me, often times, this incorporates the element of play and fun. Design Thinking as a process aligns with this as it’s all about opening up conversations, being human-centred and creative; playing with ideas. When we’re having fun, even if it’s hard fun, we are engaged and motivated. In turn, hopefully, this prompts us to trial new things in our teaching context, and hence take action.

GetAttachment

So, in case you’re interested, my abstract is complete and submitted, and here it is:

Feed the Hungry: Applying Design Thinking Principles to Invigorate Teachers’ Professional Learning

In this presentation I will share some insights into my research as part of my 2015 CORE Education eFellowship where I have wondered about how my design thinking pedagogy might invigorate teachers’ professional learning.

Passionate about future-focused education and the role design thinking might play in this, I have moved from being a classroom English teacher and future learning facilitator, to being the Postgraduate Programme Director (Wellington) of the Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital and Collaborative Learning) offered by The Mind Lab by Unitec.

Using a qualitative approach, I have listened to the stories of teachers currently completing the postgraduate certificate, as well as reflecting deeply on my own practice. I have found myself

wrestling with the idea of ‘disruption’, concluding that before we can disrupt educators’ mindsets we must first engender respect. Thus I will offer those with an interest in design thinking a different context in which to consider its power, and offer those embarking on their own professional learning inquiries, or designing professional learning for others, some food for the journey.

Delegates will:

  • Hear new research around design thinking mindsets and professional learning.
  • Be challenged to consider the centrality of empathy and respectful practice.
  • Be inspired to disrupt with humility.

You’re all cordially invited to attend if you’re at ULearn this year. I can’t promise I’ll stick to this plan as there may well be further disruptions to my learning journey ahead, but, for now, I’ll enjoy a moment of clarity.

Andra-what??

When I shared my CORE eFellowship research plans with my lovely colleagues at The Mind Lab, I received some wonderful endorsement from my new colleague Tim Gander, himself an eFellow in 2014. He said to me that all pedagogy starts with andragogy. I smiled to myself, thinking, ‘OK, that makes sense: teachers learning (education as an adult – andragogy) about how to teach young people (pedagogy),’ and the comment went no further in my brain.

And then I recently read this blogpost by American educator Tom Whitby, “The Importance of Andragogy in Education“, which got me thinking further.

I’m no expert in andragogy, and in fact, sometimes I confess to thinking that some of the things people more expert than I list to consider when engaging with adult learners are equally important when working with young people. Take this list from Tom Whitby’s post for example:

According to an article, “Adult Learning Theory and Principles” from The Clinical Educator’s Resource Kit, Malcolm Knowles, an American practitioner and theorist of adult education, defined andragogy as “the art and science of helping adults learn”.

Knowles identified the six principles of adult learning as:

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed

  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences

  • Adults are goal oriented

  • Adults are relevancy oriented

  • Adults are practical

  • Adult learners like to be respected

I’m not entirely sure that this is so different to what works for younger people too – it’s just that maybe their ‘life experiences and knowledge’ haven’t been gained over the same amount of time. And that maybe younger learners need more help to be ‘internally motivated and self-directed’. (I don’t know – share your thoughts with me below…)

Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean a list like this isn’t useful, nor that it should be dismissed. And it’s the final bullet point that I want to think about today, that ‘adult learners like to be respected’.

I’ve been reflecting a lot recently about respectful practice. I started this eFellow journey in conjunction with my work as Postgrad Programme Director at The Mind Lab by Unitec with the intention of transforming education one teacher at a time. (No quiet, humble goals for me!) I want to use Design Thinking as my pedagogy (or is that andragogy now??) to bring about this shift. The Design Thinking principle I was seeking to embrace was ‘bias towards action’ – participate in the learning at The Mind Lab with the intention of changing your practice and thereby the world. But now I have started to doubt myself: who am I to disrupt the thinking of classroom teachers? Is there not an inherent disrespect in thinking I know a better way to ‘do’ education?

Image Credit: https://dschool.stanford.edu/groups/k12/wiki/6c04c/Visual_Resources.html
Image Credit: https://dschool.stanford.edu/groups/k12/wiki/6c04c/Visual_Resources.html

But in the midst of this doubt, which still continues, one thing has become abundantly clear to me: I hold genuine admiration for these teacher-learners who come faithfully every week to learn with me at The Mind Lab. They embrace playing with new technology, they share ideas, and are willing to consider new ideas. They devote time out of the scheduled sessions to read, view, think (and complete assignments!). They clearly just want the best for the young people in front of them. They embody a growth mindset. I am lucky to be part of their learning, and they are teaching me a lot about myself in the process.

So, instead the Design Thinking mindset or principle I find myself embracing is empathy, human-centredness. And maybe this is a more important starting point.