To rethink and redesign learning for students, we as educators need to practice new ways of thinking and approaching challenges. A few weeks ago, I participated in a Design Thinking Bootcamp facilitated by Greg Bamford (@gregbamford), Carla Silver (@carla_r_silver) and Alyssa Gallagher (@am_gallagher) from Leadership and Design. Powerful learning stretches us beyond our boundaries, pushes us out of comfort zone, and leads us to new insights. This is exactly what I experienced. Here are my top five take-aways from the Design Thinking Bootcamp:
Make it Fun! Throughout the week, the facilitators emphasized “moving at the speed of fun.” The entire week was action-packed and sprinkled with heavy doses of fun. We played Zip, Zap, Zop and Ro-sham-bo and engaged in improv activities. At the outset of improv, I felt a bit nervous (what if I messed it up?) and uncertain about whether I could actually do the activities (I’m not an actor). Yet, what struck me was that by opening up to the experiences, laughing at my missteps, and letting go, I felt more comfortable stepping into the unknown. The game-like atmosphere reduced the need to do things perfectly. A misstep during an improv “Ta-da” opened up laughter and created safety to take risks. What a powerful learning opportunity to take into my work. To move our schools and districts forward, we need to create a space for fun to open up possibilities for taking risks, challenging our ideas and trying out new practices.
Hard v. Uncomfortable — There are things that are hard and those that are uncomfortable. And, some things are hard and uncomfortable. Throughout the institute, I experienced times when I felt uncomfortable. Working to design project with people I had just met, stepping out of my usual role, seeking to understand other perspectives by going out into the community and talking with real people in front of a local store — all of these experiences challenged me to move out of my comfort zone. In the process, I came away with a profound appreciation for how moments of struggle, grappling with discomfort can lead to amazing growth and learning. By working through being “uncomfortable”, I was able to stretch myself and see challenges from different perspectives.
Maintenance is as important as Tasks – One of the key principles of design thinking is “radical collaboration” — bringing diverse perspectives together to create innovative approaches. To do this effectively, teams need to attend to both tasks and maintenance.
Teams generally form to get things done. As such, we tend to focus on tasks — the doing. While this is critical for teams to function well. In The Paradoxes of Group Life, Kenwyn Smith and David Berg highlight the need to also pay attention to maintenance, the behaviors to ensure that the team is effective and functioning productively. Taking time to check in on norms, address group needs, be mindful in delivering feedback and yes, having fun, are all important to maintaining a healthy and productive team.
Throughout the bootcamp, we focused on tasks (doing fieldwork, asking questions, generating ideas, prototyping) and we focused on maintenance (checking in on how the group was doing, taking time to play). Reflecting over the past few months, I realized that I have focused more of my energies on the task side of the equation. As my bootcamp experience reminded me — maintenance is essential. What I took away from this experience was that maintenance operates on two levels — me and we. I came away with a clear sense of the importance of taking time for self care and taking care of the group.
Yes, and… Approaching the world with an either-or, yes-no perspective closes down possibilities. The power of improv lies in embracing “yes, and”, building upon others’ ideas and discovering new insights. We practiced the “yes, and” move in our improv activities. When my partner began a scene, my goal was to take what she offered and take it to the next step. In one scene, we played as siblings retelling family stories. My partner began the story. I responded, yes, and then remember when we… As we acted out the scene, the story took twists and turns that neither one of us could have predicted. And, I discovered that by adopting this stance, we created new openings to move the scene forward. How much more powerful could our collaborative efforts be if we applied this insight to create innovative learning for our students?
Practice deep curiosity. Start with questions. Empathy is the starting point of design thinking. The goal is to strive to understand different perspectives and human needs. To understand, institute facilitators urged us to adopt the stance of an anthropologist by asking questions to go beneath our commonly held ideas and assumptions. Practicing deep curiosity nudges us to ask: How might we? What if? Tell me about a time when… Why?
Starting with questions, rather than answers and solutions, holds the potential of opening ourselves up to genuinely engaging with our students, with our communities, and with our colleagues. This year, we approached our district planning process with these kinds of questions. It was a challenge to withhold our usual approach of jumping into solutions. Yet, I could see that even in our initial attempts to start with inquiry based on empathy yielded far richer insights. As we move forward, I want to continue to explore how we might use this approach as we redesign learning spaces and opportunities for our students.
So, how might we apply design thinking to truly transform how our schools and districts empower students for their future? I’d love to hear your thoughts.