How might Design Thinking transform our schools?

This blogpost is the final 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.

Let me start by looking at the title of this blogpost. Something that’s common in design thinking practices is to use the phrase “how might we” (often abbreviated to HMW…which doesn’t stand for ‘homework’!) to pose a framing question. I find these three words powerful. “How” implies something is possible, but it’s a broad question word which encourages immersion and exploration. “How” is free from agenda, in the sense that it doesn’t imply that the answer is already known and that rubber-stamping is being sought. “How” asks us to problem find, as well as problem solve. “Might” is another open word which encourages free flowing ideation without judgement or bias. And “we” is utterly inclusive. I like this way of framing a question as it encapsulates the design thinking mindsets: empathetic, curious, collaborative, growth-minded, biased towards actions, requiring deep thought, and focused towards an as-yet-unknown outcome. So, how might we use design thinking to transform our schools?

(Side note, the verb that follows the ‘how might we’ requires careful thought and consideration too. Choosing one often sends me towards a thesaurus and I usually write multiple versions in search of the perfect nuanced combination. I love this post by Mary Cantwell of DeepDT on this very topic.)

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Image Credit

So, if you’ve followed along with me so far, you’ll have learned that for me design thinking is extremely powerful, and I believe that it has much to offer us in the education sector. But you’ll also be aware that I actually can’t answer my own ‘how might we’ question, as it will be up to you in your own specific context to explore how design thinking might disrupt and transform your school. Instead, I thought I might pose a series of ‘what if’ questions. (Design thinkers like those too!)

What if we…

  • Used design thinking to craft a strategic vision for our school, and then use this overarching vision to inform whole school planning?
  • What if we embraced the design thinking mindsets and actively encouraged question asking, risk taking and a ‘just do it’ approach within an iterative feedback loop?
  • What if we wrote bug lists in our staffroom and classrooms…and used these to inform our next steps? (NB: A ‘bug list’ is not a list of the insects to be found in the school grounds, but a list of things that ‘bug’ – i.e. annoy and irritate – you.)
  • What if we explored radical collaboration to give voice and agency to learners, teachers, and the community?
  • What if, by embracing a whole school design thinking approach, we could short-circuit change management concerns because we had engaged empathetically with all involved?

By way of an example, I’d like to return again to Grant Lichtman’s book #EdJourney (Jossey-Bass, 2014), where he tells the story of the Los Altos School District in California that comprises nine schools. They wanted to be able to capture student voice in order to truly revolutionise learning. So, they created “Student EdCon”, a three day design thinking conference that was student centred. In the book, Alyssa Gallagher, the director of strategic initiatives and community partnerships, reports that at the conference they “exposed the students to thought leaders who would resonate with them and their interests. Then they learned about the design process, and had a chance to develop solutions they had created for different ways to approach learning.” (p. 155) I wonder what students themselves would create if we opened up thorny issues like curriculum design and timetabling to them in honest and democratic ways?

Because, I guess, that’s what all this design thinking business is about for me: What if design thinking gave rise to a movement to drive innovation in our schools?

Further reading:

Edutopia: Design Thinking in Education

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Teacher Professional Learning and Development

This blogpost represents my current thinking and learning about the role and the effectiveness of professional learning. It is a personal reflection both in terms of my role at The Mind Lab by Unitec and also my CORE eFellow research

I’ve been reading the summary of “Teacher Professional Learning and Development: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration”, by Helen Timperley, Aaron Wilson, Heather Barrar, and Irene Fung, MOE (2007). But before I get there, I’d actually like to start with a quote from something else I’m reading at the moment:

‘It’s all about the kids’ is an almost universal mantra at schools and pretty much expresses our collective mission. But in the case of changing education to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world, it’s really all about the adults. The kids get it; they are naturally adaptive and flexible thinkers; they use new technology easily; they see learning as fun as long as we allow it to be playful and interest-based and not dreary. Changing what and how learning takes place is an exercise in retooling the adult skill set…”

Grant Lichtman#EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education (2014), p. 40

For me, this quote neatly encapsulates the moral purpose behind my position as Postgrad Programme Director (Wellington) at The Mind Lab by Unitec. It’s less about feeling like ‘the kids will be okay’, but more about ensuring that the lead learners in classrooms are equipped to work alongside our 21st Century learners. On a side note, for me it’s also about scale – the hope that I can accomplish more with the diverse group of teachers participating in the postgrad programme than I can inside one school.

So, it’s about the adults. But what do we know about what’s effective in professional learning? What prompts substantive, sustainable change that makes a difference for students? Luckily Timperley et al have synthesised a number of studies and have reached some really useful conclusions. The key summary is this:

“Seven elements in the professional learning context were identified in the core studies as important for professional learning in ways that impacted positively and substantively on a range of student outcomes: providing sufficient time for extended opportunities to learn and using the time effectively; engaging external expertise; focusing on engaging teachers in the learning process rather than being concerned about whether they volunteered or not; challenging problematic discourses; providing opportunities to interact in a community of professionals; ensuring content was consistent with wider policy trends; and, in school-based initiatives: having leaders actively leading the professional learning opportunities.” [emphasis mine, p. xxvi]

What I have been particularly struck by though is this:

  1. “Teacher participants rarely believe that they need to engage in deep learning or to change practice substantively, whereas providers typically believe they will but do not necessarily disclose this to the participants.” (p. xxix)
  2. “…it should not be assumed by providers that teachers’ current theories of practice are problematic or that providers’ theories are, by definition, more effective….Negotiating meanings, and debating and testing evidence of the effectiveness of both providers’ and teachers’ theories, are part of the process of achieving mutual understanding and effective practice.” (p. xl)

Firstly, I do not wish to be misunderstood. I am reflecting on these statements personally, not passing comment about The Mind Lab postgrad course nor its teachers. I believe the course itself stacks up against the criteria for effective professional learning and development as outlined in this Best Evidence Synthesis extremely well. And I know the facilitators of this course to be passionate, committed, reflective practitioners.

I want to own these two quoted statements myself. In seeking to lead transformative change in education, I do think teachers may well have to shift their practice substantially. And, underpinning that, I guess I have held a falsely superior view that I did know better. Yikes.

So, instead, what I keep coming back to are two things. Respect and transparency.

Each week I find myself in awe of the commitment teachers are making to their professional learning for the betterment of Kiwi kids. I want this to ring through what I say and in how I interact with the teachers on The Mind Lab course. My attitude is one of: let’s work together to explore what might work for you in your context and in your classroom.

And I need to be transparent in the expectations and assumptions I hold. Now this part is tricky, because they are my assumptions and sometimes I don’t even know I have them until I’m some way down the track. What I’m hoping that is by opening up conversations, participating in dialogue, and consistently positioning myself as a co-learner, I can confront my own assumptions and own them when they arise. I think this is respectful practice too.

So maybe I keep coming back to one thing only: respect. Aretha had it right all along.

Musings on ‘Transformation’

9k=  9k=-1

The eFellows were in Christchurch. For many of us, it was the first visit post-quakes, so a visit to Cathedral Square was mandatory. Little did we know how powerful this walk was to become.

For me, the walk developed into a living metaphor for this second hui of the 2015 CORE Education eFellows. Straight after the walk, our mentor Louise Taylor facilitated a discussion where we unpacked what we had witnessed around the theme of transformation.

That change is messy. It is disruptive, in all senses of the word. That rising out of the ashes could come creative, innovative, human-centred spaces. That it requires resilience.That it requires new relationships to be forged, and it can offer fresh perspectives. That the most effective transformations hold a strong vision at its heart.

The following day, we visited Breens Intermediate School and Te Pa o Raikaihautu. I would like to thank the staff, students and whanau for making us feel so welcome at both schools. The visits were utterly fascinating, and helped me to cement my learning about transformation. In both schools their vision is clearly encapsulated and, more importantly, embodied in their day-to-day way of being. Both schools are unashamedly who they are, and if that’s confronting, that’s okay because it sparks conversation, and out of dialogue comes learning. Both pay testament to the idea that, as principal of Breens, Brian Price, said: ‘Out of crisis comes creativity’.

This statement was to continue to come back to me over the remainder of our visit to Christchurch. At a pot luck dinner with CORE staff and eFellow alumni, I was recounting this to Ali Hughes, who added onto the idea, saying: ‘Creativity and implementation is innovation.’ It’s not enough to have the idea. It must be enacted for innovation to occur. I like this very much, and brings me back to Breens and Te Pa. It’s not enough to have a mission statement, a strategic plan, or a vision for a school. This must be tangible, must be made concrete to be transformative.

I’ve not left teaching, I’ve just left school.

Last night I dreamt I was a primary school principal (male, of course. Don’t you love the weirdness of dreamscapes?!) and I was directing the school show. It was chaos but we were having a ball.

Ah, back to school dreams. (Aside from the obvious complications of never having been a) male b) a primary school teacher c) a principal.)

Except, this year, for the first year since 1999, I haven’t gone back to school.

Some people were shocked when it was announced I was leaving my high school teaching job for a new adventure with The Mind Lab. I do love the classroom. I love being paid to talk books all day. I love teenagers. I love school. And yes, I’m worried that I’ll miss all of those things.

But, these days, I kind of have a bigger picture in mind for education. Being a part of #edchatNZ, and learning through my PLN, and attending conferences like ULearn, has taught me to want more. And shown me that I can play a part in bringing more to New Zealand education.

I think we should be offering a 21st Century education for our 21st Century learners. I believe that the purpose of education is to empower citizens. I believe that design thinking can help to energise and spark a transformation along these lines. I believe that the key to achieving this is by reaching teachers. And I don’t believe I can achieve this from my classroom on the kind of scale I imagine.

I believe assessment is driving education. I believe many of our secondary school learners are impeded by the keeping of learning areas in discrete silos. I believe that a timetable is not just a schedule for ordering the day, but a hiding place for a closed mindset and upholding status quo.

I want change. Wholesale, drastic, transformative change.

So, here’s what I’m doing. I’m helping organise #educampwelly (have you registered yet?!), I’m helping run #WellyED (follow us on Twitter @Welly_ED), I’m a CORE eFellow (as I may have mentioned before), and I’m the Postgrad Programme Director (Wellington) for The Mind Lab by Unitech. And I’m going to change New Zealand education one teacher at a time. I love teaching. I’m an educator by vocation. I just don’t work in school anymore.

Now there’s a dream.

Image source: http://th05.deviantart.net/fs48/PRE/i/2009/192/2/5/Just_a_Dream____by_enricoagostoni.jpg

Pick Me!

This post is my application for a 2015 CORE eFellowship.

#edchatNZ steering committee. L-R: Heather Eccles, Sonya van Schaijik, me, Matt Nicoll, Alyx Gillett, Danielle Myburgh, Mel Moore
#edchatNZ steering committee. L-R: Heather Eccles, Sonya van Schaijik, me, Matt Nicoll, Alyx Gillett, Danielle Myburgh, Mel Moore

My application presentation can be found here.

My Twitter profile
My Twitter profile
The kind words of Steve Mouldey
The kind words of Steve Mouldey

Reflections on a professional reading – Take 1

I am in the process of reading through this research report: Supporting Future Oriented Learning and Teaching – NZCER.

I have read the executive summary twice, and find the ‘teacher friendly’ curriculum update really accessible: NZC Update 26.  I actually read the executive summary as almost the first piece of initial exploring I did into this area and upon recently re-reading it, it’s amazing how much more sense it makes now!  Thus, I’ve been inspired to read the whole kit and caboodle.

The introduction seeks to define ’21st century’ or ‘future’ learning and to capture what the current educational situation is like in New Zealand.  While only being a third of the way through the report as a whole at present, something I’m finding consistent and striking is a call for a “system transformation” (p. 9) in order to support every single student to “develop the skills, competencies, knowledge, and understanding required to participate in, and contribute to, our national and global future” (p. 9).

The metaphor that is used to capture this need for systemic shift is that of ‘unbundling’ – taking apart structures in order to reassemble them in newer, more meaningful ways.

Acknowledgement: https://plus.google.com/109042623230585069530/posts

I like that the report directly addresses the why of change, and that this response is not just about economy or changing careers, but also about the fact that more is known about how learning occurs, and that there has been a fundamental shift in the way “knowledge is thought about and used” (p. 11).  The two supporting tables which explore these latter two concepts on pages 13 and 15 I find particularly useful.

For example: “It is no longer possible to accurately predict exactly which knowledge people will need to draw on as they move through life in the 21st century.  It has been argued that students need, among other things, opportunities to build their sense of identity, become self-reliance, critical and creative thinkers, be able to use initiative, be team players and be able to engage in ongoing learning throughout their lives” (Table 2: Old and new views of knowledge, and the implications for schooling, p. 13)  for me, this is real confirmation and justification for my focus on what I’ve been calling the ‘3Cs’ of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.

And: “To learn, people need to be actively engaged – they need to be doing something, thinking something and/or saying something that requires them to actively process, interpret and adapt an experience to a new context or use.” (Table 3: What we know about learning, p. 15).  This is calling for thinking and having experiences to think with.

Speaking of thinking – something I need to do more thinking about is the concept of ‘wicked problems’ – I almost certainly will come back to this at a later stage.

Finally, I have just finished reading the section on ‘personalising learning’, which is the first of six “themes” that the report deals with as those “linked with contemporary views of learning for the 21st century” (p. 9).

The distinction that is made between ‘deep’ and ‘shallow’ practice of personalisation has struck a chord with me.  I can see that staff in my school are genuinely making steps towards the ‘shallow’ end of personlisation pool: offering “choices about which activity(ies) [students] will undertake to master the knowledge determined by the teacher” (p. 19).  This report suggests, of course, that we should be working towards ‘deep’ personalisation where “students’ learning activities and the curriculum/knowledge content they engage with are shaped in ways that reflect the input and interests of students, as well as what teacher know to be important knowledge” (p. 19).

My gut reaction to this was one of guilt – I’ve been kidding myself that offering ‘shallow’ choices to students was allowing for the personalisation of learning.  However, I see that we all have to start something – and the intention behind the choices is a genuine one.  We can’t go from zero to hero in one fell swoop (to mix a metaphor).  I’m also reassured – but need to make sure I don’t use this as an excuse to try ‘deep’ personalisation within my classroom – by the concrete examples of deep personalisation supplied in the report from two New Zealand schools.  I particularly like the model outlined on page 23 that comes from Albany Senior High.  Here we can see the recurring call for a transformation at a systemic level in practice – ultimately this is what is needed to create genuine transformation.

Now, to keep reading…