Thinking in a New Design

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Into the school year 4 weeks, I cannot help but to reflect about the great things this summer has taught me. One experience that has truly shifted my mind frame was my experience with my new family at The Teachers Guild in San Francisco, CA.

It is funny how the stars align because in the spring I attended an event hosted at SteelCase on Design Thinking through The Teachers Guild but had no idea that I would later be selected as a Summer Fellow for them. Thank you Jordan Pedraza of Remind for suggesting I apply and giving a raving recommendation alongside my principal, Dr.Gene Taylor.

So my journey began with little knowledge about what Design Thinking was or what I had just gotten myself into. At this point, it was entering a space and time zone (literally) I had never experienced before. I didn’t have a colleague nor my family to travel with but I was excited nonetheless to….LEARN and TRANSFORM!

As I exited the plane, my nerves rattled but I countered them with thoughts of conquering fears and doubts. The train ride from San Jose to San Francisco gave me time to soak in the opportunities that exist daily for us all to “make moves.” As I headed on into the pier, I stopped to smell the roses and literally couldn’t contain my excitement. The view from the pier as the sun hit the water reminded me to sparkle in all I do. There in close proximity was IDEO.

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As you enter the red door into the building, the mission of this space is plastered on the wall so there is no confusion about its purpose.

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I was ready to work, learn, bring the better parts of me to the table and learn from those seated at the round table with me. We began with an overview of our mission and ultimately how design thinking can be married to education. With this being said, we began our summer design on how to build character in students on Day One.

I was so amazed with how supplies were not rationed out in portions with a warning note about making it stretch across the months or year. There were sharpies of all colors and sizes, post it notes, large foam boards, computers, televisions, attachments and cords for their functionality and sharing features, books/magazines that inspire, food, drinks, flexible seating, quiet spaces and collaborative ones alike. This was a teacher’s WonderLand!

As we began to brainstorm ideas on how to teach character but addressing it from the angle of the user, it was clear to me that when we talk about student-centered learning we are approaching it all wrong. Students are usually never given the microphone to amplify their voice. Yet we are putting programs in place for them. This is problematic and made me uncomfortable thinking about how we have convinced ourselves that we alone know what is best for kids.

As we moved into the next phase of interviewing and hearing from the Voices in the Field, we gained some valuable insight. It did help that my co-fellow, Kim Vinh and I were practicing educators. During this process, I understood that questions matter! It is necessary to ask the right questions in order to yield more accurate results. Kim and Emma really pushed my thinking here.

Emma helped me to see the importance on getting the answers to those questions in a timely manner and then being able to act upon them or create a product in a timely manner. Her focus and ability to crank things out was a superhuman ability. She simply ROCKS!

Molly had a zest for life that was proven in her  experiences from traveling the world and ability to speak another language or two or three. Her heart for people was clear on how she interacted with the workers that made sure the building was clean, dishes were cleaned, and food remained stock. She wore a lovely smile whenever you saw her and this made you feel safe and welcomed! I know her classroom would always be inviting and full of a serious case of the giggles!

Brett helped me to realize that how you communicate is important. If you want the work you are doing to have reach and an impact then this matters. I really enjoyed  being able to push beyond the edges in this area to ensure that we explore more platforms where educators hangout. However, we wanted to make sure that there were spaces and forums for teachers to grow and cultivate relationships with each other and the existing team. We moved into Voxer so we the conversations went beyond 140 characters. Brett and Kim both helped to open my eyes on the analytics side of things which gave critical information about our users but also on how to be more effective at the work we were doing.

I cannot forget about Matt as the design King. He could put together any visual, brochure or related item together and make it stunning! I just want hours of sit down sessions so I can create and teach my students to do the same.

The process was chock full of phases and stages which included onboarding new users, hearing existing users’ experiences, and touching base with coaches for their input.

All the meat and potatoes cannot be served in this post but I included a link below that summarizes the learning that both Kim and I shared.

Our Learnings from Build Character Design Sprint

In conclusion,  I will share 5 takeaways from this journey:

  • Design Thinking is more than just me putting my ideas and concepts out there and asking others to receive it. In the classroom, we have often “scripted” the learning in such a manner that isn’t relevant to the user and we’ve failed to really be human centered in our design. Asking the “how might we” Question_Card inquiries to get us to go beyond a one and done solution but dive deeper over a period of trials and try agains. This is where empathy and the human-centered approach make their mark.
  • As a system of educators, we tend to function as singletons  and separate the real world from classroom learning. This is contradictory to our mantra for preparing future innovators. Their training ground is flawed and doesn’t equip them for the battle ground. Therefore, I recognize my view on how they should learn cannot be up to me. During week one of this school year, I made sure to redesign how we think and learn. 20160819_142456
  • Every learner is afraid to give the “wrong” answer but the reality is that no idea is a bad one. Those concepts just need to be revisited and improved upon until they are built to become strong! What a magnifying lens on how my students may have often viewed themselves or approached failure! 20160827_133738 (1)
  • Any member on the team can only be as strong as the weakest link. Every individual holds a strength that isn’t meant to dim the light of others but instead brighten their spark. I learned so much through this process about myself from the talents of Kim, Emma, Brett, Molly and Matt. We are the real life Big Hero 6! image1 (2)
  • The future depends on our ability to advocate for them because we are the agents of change. The experiences we design will impact who they become. Our traditional way of thinking no longer has a safe place to nestle with the kids of today nor the ones of the future.  I am thinking in a new design–won’t you join me? Hats off to…SMASHING BOXES!